The Rebecca Caudill Book Award

Comments by Kevin Killion (

This years' Caudill books are best classified into two groups. I call them "The World Is A Cold, Cruel Place", and "Find The Spin".

Group 1: The World Is A Cold, Cruel Place

  • Jip by Katherine Patterson - The New York Times Book Review said, "Poverty, child abuses, slavery, racism, rape, insanity and death may not be what you expect to find in a novel for young readers".

  • Kids At Work by Russell Freedman - Text and photos show the use of children as industrial workers

  • Junebug by Alice Mead - A young boy who lives with his mother and younger sister in a rough housing project in New Haven, Connecticut, approaches his tenth birthday with a mixture of anticipation and worry.

  • White Lilacs by Caroline Meyer - In 1921 in Dillon, Texas, twelve-year-old Rose Lee sees trouble threatening her black community when the whites decide to take the land there for a park and forcibly relocate the black families to an ugly stretch of territory outside the town.

  • The Well: David's Story by Mildred Taylor - In Mississippi in the early 1900s ten-year-old David Logan's family generously shares their well water with both white and black neighbors in an atmosphere of potential racial violence.

  • Belle Prater's Boy by Ruth White - When Woodrow's mother suddenly disappears, he moves to his grandparents' home in a small Virginia town where he befriends his cousin and together they find the strength to face the terrible losses and fears in their lives.

  • Tell Them We Remember by Susan Bachrach - This presents the story of the Holocaust and shows how it affected the lives of innocent people throughout Europe

  • Behind the Bedroom Wall by Laura Williams - Thirteen-year-old Korinna must decide whether to report her parents to her Hitler youth group when she discovers that they are hiding Jews in a secret space behind Korinna's bedroom wall.

  • Hannah In Between by Colby Rodowsky - As she starts seventh grade, twelve-year-old Hannah can no longer ignore her mother's increasingly erratic behavior caused by drinking.

  • Shiloh Season by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor - When mean and angry Judd, who has never known kindness, takes to drinking and mistreats his dogs, Marty discovers how deep a hurt can go and how long it takes to heal.

  • The Junkyard Dog by Erika Tamar - With the advice of her stepfather, eleven-year-old Katie takes on the job of feeding an abused junkyard dog and building it a doghouse for shelter during the hard winter.

  • The Only Alien On The Planet by Kristen Randle - After moving to the East Coast, Ginny enters her senior year of high school and uncovers the secret behind a new friend's refusal to speak. An Amazon review says, "The otherwise strongly drawn characters sometimes delve into dialogue that sounds like social-work parlance, but we can forgive because the overall impact of this psychological novel is so powerful. It is about a boy who is locked out from the rest of the world because of a traumatic swimming accident when he was two."

  • The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker by Cynthia DeFelice - After his family dies of consumption in 1849, twelve-year-old Lucas becomes a doctor's apprentice.

  • Poppy by Avi - Poppy, the deer mouse, urges her family to move next to a field of corn big enough to feed them all forever, but Mr. Ocax, a terrifying owl, has other ideas.

  • The Bookstore Mouse by Peggy Christian - A mouse living in an antiquarian bookstore learn the true power of words when he literally falls into a medieval tale and helps defeat the dragon Censor. (Oh, yes, we must fight that evil notion that anyone should guide children in what they read!)

  • The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman - In 1849, twelve-year-old California Morning Whipple, who renames herself Lucy, is distraught when her mother moves the family from Massachusetts to a rough California mining town.

  • Group 2: Find The Spin

    The first group we called, "The World Is A Cold, Cruel Place", and it constitutes the bulk of the Caudill nominees.

    The remaining group is much, much smaller. By and large, the content appears harmless. But parents may wish to take a close look at these titles as well, to determine if the content is worth your child's time, or if there is a "spin" for politically correct issues.

  • Far North by Will Hobbs - After the destruction of their float plane, sixteen-year-old Gabe and his Indian friend, Raymond, struggle to survive a winter in the wilderness of the Northwest Territories.

  • The Richest Kids in Town by Peggy Kehret - New to town and homesick for his old life, fourth-grader Peter teams up with a classmate to earn money for a trip to his old hometown but all their moneymaking schemes have unexpected results.

  • Once On This Island by Gloria Whelan - Twelve-year-old Mary and her older brother and sister tend the family farm while their father is away fighting the British in the War of 1812. (Note that this topic is right in line with the low-content, child-centered philosophy of progressivist education: this is not an engrossing, educational story about the War of 1812, rather it is about the kids at home.)

  • Frindle by Andrew Clements - When he decides to turn his fifth grade teacher's love of the dictionary around on her, clever Nick Allen invents a new word and begins a chain of events that quickly moves beyond his control.

  • I don't have a problem with my son learning about all facets of the world -- that's all part of life. But why is the category I called "The World Is A Cold, Cruel Place" so huge?

    And why are there 18 fictional works, while there are only two topics from the entire factual, real world -- and those topics are child labor and the Holocaust?

    While it is important for a child to learn about the realities of the world, shouldn't there also be a place for positive, uplifting themes?

    Why not?

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    -- Kevin Killion