Thursday, January 28, 2010

When You Reach Me By Rebecca Stead

Over the years I’ve found myself disappointed numerous times over the winners picked by the Newbery committee. That’s not to say that I don’t have some favorite books that happen to be a Newbery (Holes, Number The Stars, The Messenger, and The Graveyard Book, to name just a few). Lately, however, I feel as though the committee tends to forget that a book written for children has to appeal to children or they are never going to read it. If a book doesn’t meet that criteria, then it shouldn’t even be considered for the award. Those of you, who know me, have heard all of this before. So I’ll try not to get on my soapbox. Last year I was pleasantly surprised by The Graveyard Book. Strange tale, but one that does appeal to students (at least my students). I wasn’t sure this year’s committee would stick to the trend. But I was wrong. When You Reach Me is not only well written, but it will have an appeal to children. There’s a mystery. There’s a sci-fi angle to it. And there are the everyday conflicts that kids face. What’s not to like? Don’t forget there’s the connection to another Newbery winner – Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. (Perhaps my favorite Newbery of all time.)

I often say that a sign of a good book is if when you read it you feel as though the author has reached out a hand, grabbed you by your collar and pulled you into the story. This happens from the beginning of When You Reach Me. Miranda is a six grader in 1978 New York City. She lives with her single mom who spends her spare time practicing for The $20,000 Pyramid. Miranda’s favorite book is Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. She carries it with her everywhere. When she begins to receive a series of notes from an unknown person claiming to want to save the life of her friend, Miranda must decide if she will tell her story as the notes ask. Readers who have L’Engle’s book recognize the ties between the two plots and adult readers may also recognize a hint of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

This is a well written story with a strong plot. Students will find themselves easily engaged by story. This is one Newbery that librarians will not hesitate to recommend to their students.

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