This year's Newbery Medal winner, "Moon Over Manifest" (Delacorte, $16.99, ages 8-12), written by Clare Vanderpool, is getting most of the attention among lovers of children's literature.
But readers also should take a look at the four books that won Newbery Honors this year. Like "Moon Over Manifest," three of the books are historical fiction, while the fourth is a book of poetry.
Here's a closer look at this Newbery Honor quartet:
-- "One Crazy Summer" (HarperCollins, $15.99, ages 8-12), written by Rita Williams-Garcia, won three top literary honors this year: finalist for the National Book Award's Young People's Literature category; winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award; and chosen as one of four Newbery Honor-winning books.
Set in the late 1960s in Oakland, Calif., "One Crazy Summer" tells the story of three girls who travel from their New York City home to visit their estranged mother, Cecile. The three girls -- 11-year-old Delphine and younger sisters Vonetta and Fern -- are understandably anxious about seeing Cecile, who abandoned them several years before to the care of their father and grandmother.
In fact, the reunion with Cecile is even more challenging than the girls had imagined. Cecile really isn't interested in having them visit, and sends them off every day to a day camp run by the Black Panthers. In the end, however, the "crazy summer" becomes a learning experience for all of them, particularly Delphine and Cecile.
-- Author Margi Preus takes a fascinating piece of history and weaves it into a wonderful story in "Heart of a Samurai" (Abrams, $15.95, ages 8-12). The star of the book is Manjiro, a Japanese boy who is shipwrecked on an island with several other Japanese fishermen in 1841.
Things look bleak until the group is rescued by an American whaling ship. But Japan has isolated itself from the outside world, so Manjiro and his companions are almost more terrified of their rescuers than they are of dying on the island.
Manjiro, however, gradually realizes that the Americans basically mean them no harm, and he begins to pick up their language and customs. After Manjiro proves his courage and prowess during a whale-killing, the ship's captain adopts him and brings him back to New England to become his son, creating a lifelong bond that remains strong even when Manjiro fulfills his dream to return home to Japan.
Preus' book, based on the true story of Manjiro -- also known as John Mung -- makes riveting reading as she follows the young man's progress through an action-packed life. The story of "Heart of a Samurai" is a winner, and so is the book's design, which mixes Japanese-inspired illustrations with artwork done by Manjiro himself. A historical note and glossary round out the glories of this book.
-- Turtle's mother really believes that, as the song says, "Life is just a bowl of cherries." But Turtle knows better. As a Depression-era child of a single mother, Turtle has spent much of her life unhappily living in other people's homes while her mother works as a housekeeper.
As Turtle turns 10 in 1935, however, her mother gets a new job and is told that she can't bring her daughter. So Turtle is sent down to Key West to live with her aunt, uncle and their three energetic boys. In "Turtle in Paradise" (Random House, $16.99, ages 7-10), author Jennifer Holm describes how Turtle is eventually forced out of her hard emotional shell as she navigates life in an often-chaotic household and learns some long-buried family secrets.
Holmes, who has won two previous Newbery Honors and also writes the popular "Babymouse" graphic novels, based her novel on stories of her great-grandmother's life in Key West. Young readers will readily identify with Turtle's skeptical yet perceptive personality and long for her to achieve the kind of family happiness found in her favorite comic strip, "Little Orphan Annie."
-- The sights, sounds and creatures of the night are the focus of the dozen poems in "Dark Emperor" (Houghton Mifflin, $16.99, ages 8-12). But poet Joyce Sidman, who won a previous Newbery Honor, doesn't just wax lyrically about the night; she also includes a short factual sidebar for each subject she tackles, from owls to moths to mushrooms. This is Sidman's specialty -- mixing science and poetry -- and she does it exceedingly well in this picture-book-sized poetry volume.
In one poem, Sidman writes of an oak tree: "I stretch my roots into the hill/ and slowly, slowly, drink my fill." On the facing page, she describes how trees take in extra water and grow new roots at night. In another poem, Sidman gives readers advice from a spider who busily spins a web each night and says: "Someone has to remake/the world each night./It might as well be you." On the facing page, Sidman gives details about nocturnal spiders.
Sidman's pithily beautiful poetry is perfectly matched by Rick Allen's spectacular woodblock-print illustrations.
(Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md.,