The Rebecca Caudill Book Award

Comments by Kevin Killion (

This years' Caudill books are best classified into three groups. The first two are familiar ones, which I call "The World Is A Cold, Cruel Place", and "Find The Spin". But this year, I'll add a new category, "Surprise"!

Group 1: The World Is A Cold, Cruel Place

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling -- It's the book of the decade, and a spectacular success. It's sparked many a child to take an interest in reading, and the characters are well-drawn and most interesting. But let's be honest ... if books about sorcery and supernatural events and characters were all that your child read, that would be a trifle disconcerting, yes? And while this book is terrific (and a number of the other Caudill books are worthwhile individually as well) my problem is the Caudill list as a whole emphasizes gritty problems, dark themes, and tragedies.

  • The Dark Side of Nowhere by Neal Shusterman -- For Jason Miller, Billington is the definition of dull. But a mysterious death changes the perception. The town has been keeping a secret. ... After Jason's friend, Ethan, reportedly dies of a burst appendix, the web of lies that has wrapped his humdrum existence in a small town begins to unravel. Jason discovers that his parents--and the parents of all his friends--were part of the advance force of an alien invasion, and that none of them--nor their offspring--are human.

  • Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher -- When the substitute for Mr. Fabiano never shows up and his sixth-grade students are on their own, they set out to prove that they can run the class by themselves. But when a fight breaks out between Bastian Fauvell and Rachel White over a classmate, Tommy Feathers, who died six months earlier, everything begins to fall apart. Can Rachel, who communicates by writing notes, deal with the anxieties that plunged her into silence the day Tommy died?

  • Gib Rides Home by Zilpha K. Snyder -- Gib Whittaker's life at Lovell House Orphanage in the early 1900s is pretty bleak. But along with hours of chores, bad food, and paddlings, the boys do get some schooling, and reading and writing are better than scrubbing floors. So when Gib's friend Georgie Olson is adopted, Gib can't help being jealous, even when he finds out that the "adoption" really means being farmed out to work as unpaid labor until the age of 18. Then one freezing January morning Gib finds Georgie hiding in the barn, his hands heavily bandaged. Constantly whipped by his master, then sent to work outside without mittens, Georgie ran away when they threatened to cut off his frostbitten hands. Is this the only kind of adoption there is? When Gib himself is farmed out, he arrives at the home he has always dreamed of. But he's soon aware of barely concealed tensions and secrets kept hidden from him. Will Gib end up like poor Georgie?

  • Last Man's Reward by David Patneaude -- When a chance yard-sale purchase nets five boys a Willie Mays rookie card worth $4,000, their lives seem to narrow and intensify. The boys devise a "last man" contest--the winner gets the Mays card, and the loser gets zip. Twelve-year-old Albert has a life-and-death reason for winning the card: to seek revenge on a particularly disagreeable teacher (and Mr. Rockwood's reason for being ill-tempered is predictably compelling)

  • Maze by Will Hobbs -- Rick Walker, an angry 14-year-old runaway escaping foster homes and detention centers, is alone, on the run, and desperate. Stowing away in the back of a truck, he suddenly finds himself at a dead end, out in the middle of nowhere. Rick stumbles into the remote camp of Lon Perigrino, a bird biologist who is releasing fledgling California condors back into the wild. When two men with a vicious dog drive up in a battered old Humvee, Rick discovers that Lon and his birds are in grave danger. Will he be able to save them?

  • My Louisiana Sky by Kimberly W. Holy -- Tiger Ann Parker is forever teased about her family by the girls in class. Tiger Ann knows her folks are different from others in their small town of Saitter, Louisiana. They are mentally slow, and Tiger Ann keeps her pain and embarrassment hidden as long as her strong and smart Granny runs the household. When Tiger's loving grandmother, who has always run the household, has a fatal heart attack, Tiger is invited to live with her Aunt Doreen in Baton Rouge.

  • Petey by Ben Mikaelsen -- In 1922 Petey, who has cerebral palsy, is misdiagnosed as an idiot and institutionalized; sixty years later, still in the institution, he befriends a boy and shares with him the joy of life.

  • Poppy and Rye by Avi -- Heartbroken over the death of her fiance, Ragweed, Poppy, a deer mouse, journeys west through the vast Dimwood Forest to bring the sad news to Ragweed's family. But Poppy and her porcupine pal, Ereth, arrive only to discover that beavers have flooded the serene valley where Ragweed lived. Together Poppy and Ragweed's brother Rye brave kidnapping, imprisonment, and a daring rescue to fight the beavers. At the same time, Rye -- who has lived in Ragweed's shadow -- fights to prove himself worthy of Poppy's love. Kirkus Reviews called this book an "uneven, heavy-handed sequel", at one point describing how "In language more ugly than colorful, Ereth chews over his feelings for Poppy in several plot-stopping passages, and is last seen accompanying the happy couple back to Dimwood. Readers may wonder who to root for in this disappointing follow-up..."

  • Skellig by David Almond -- In this "odd supernatural tale", a boy who is unhappy about his baby sister's illness and the chaos of moving into a dilapidated old house retreats to the garage and finds a mysterious stranger who is something like a bird and something like an angel. A New York Times book review says, "it goes beyond adventure story or family-with-a-problem story to become a story about worlds enlarging and the hope of scattering death." Here is one parent's report posted on Amazon:
    "I'm glad I read this book before giving it to my 12 year old son. I found it to be unnecessarily grim and depressing. Until the very end, Michael's life circumstances seem hopeless. In addition, I thought it a little far fetched that a young girl would think of a half dead, insect eating, somewhat grotesque man-bird as an 'extrordinary creature.' This is not a story I enjoyed, rather I endured it. Why read something like this when there are so many other wonderful books out there for kids? I did not recommend it to my son, and I wouldn't for yours."

  • Small Steps the Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret -- The author tells of months spent in a hospital when she was 12, first struggling to survive a severe case of polio, then slowly learning to walk again. ... Using fictionalized dialogue, she describes her seven-month ordeal--her diagnosis and quarantine, her terrifying paralysis, her slow and difficult recuperation--and the people she encountered along the way. Kehret supplies a few words about the illness in a foreword, but because there is little sense of how medicine has evolved since her hospitalization, some children may find the vivid picture she paints scary indeed.

  • Tangerine by Edward Bloor -- When his family move to Tangerine, Florida, Paul enters a place where weird is normal. And suddenly the blind can see. While legally blind, nerdy Paul is nevertheless able to see that his parents use praise to cover up his wicked brother's vicious and amoral behavior. ... Bloor fills in the setting with authority and broad irony: In Tangerine County, Florida, groves are being replaced by poorly designed housing developments through which drift clouds of mosquitoes and smoke from unquenchable "muck fires." Football is so big that not even the death of a player struck by lightning during practice gets in the way of NFL dreams.

  • The Turnabout Shop by Colby Rodowsky -- Orphaned and grieving, Livvy is dismayed when her dying mother Althea's wish leaves her in the care of a woman she's never heard of. Who is this Jessie Barnes? An old college roommate, Livvy learns, and a quiet, sensible woman who runs an antiques shop with her own mother, Ivy. When the shop burns down, it's Livvy's turn to help Jessie through a loss.

  • 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 second group, "Find The Spin", has only two members this year, down from four last year. While apparently uncontroversial, 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.

  • Landry News by Andrew Clements -- A journalist to the core, fourth-grader Cara Landry reports the truth even if it hurts. She sets a series of life-changing events in motion when she writes an editorial that accuses a teacher of not doing his job: Mr. Larson, once known for his innovative classes, now lazily leaves students to learn on their own.

  • Riding Freedom by Pam M. Ryan -- A fictionalized account of the true story of Charlotte Parkhurst, opening with the death of her parents when she was two years old, and covering, subsequently, her life in an orphanage, her decision to run away dressed as a boy, her loss of an eye, and her career as a stagecoach driver.

  • Group 3: Surprise!!!

    The third group this year is simply a surprise: On a quick look at the descriptions and various reviews, these books would seem to be positive and uplifting! What unusual entries for the Caudill awards! Could it be that there is a change afoot?

  • Honus and Me by Dan Gutman -- When young baseball nut Joe Stoshack finds the most valuable baseball card in the world, a Honus Wagner T-206, in a pile of garbage, he thinks he's struck it rich. It turns out the card is worth more than money. It's his ticket to an amazing time-travel adventure to a historic world series game, with one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived.

  • My Life in Dog Years by Gary Paulsen -- Gary Paulsen has owned dozens of unforgettable and amazing dogs in his lifetime. In each chapter of this wonderful book, he tells the story of one of these special animals, among them Snowball, the puppy he owned as a boy in the Philippines; Ike, his mysterious hunting companion; Electric Fred and his best friend, Pig; and Josh, the smartest dog in the world.

  • A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck -- What happens when Joey and his sister, Mary Alice -- two city slickers from Chicago -- make their annual summer visits to Grandma Dowdel's seemingly sleepy Illinois town?

  • Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher -- Every night, Shahrazad begins a story. And every morning, the Sultan lets her live another day -- providing the story is interesting enough to capture his attention. After almost one thousand nights, Shahrazad is running out of tales. And that is how Marjan's story begins.... It falls to Marjan to help Shahrazad find new stories -- ones the Sultan has never heard before.

  • Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer -- Hired by Madeline Gladstone, the president of a shoe company, to help her prevent a corporate takeover, 16-year-old Jenna Boller embarks on an eye-opening adventure that teaches both of them the rules of the road--and the rules of life.

  • 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 all 20 books fictional works, with none from the entire factual, real world?

    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