SLJ Reviews of the 2024 Newbery Medal Winner & Honor Books | Youth Media Awards

The SLJ reviews editors rounded up our reviews of the books lauded at the 2024 Youth Media Awards. Here, the reviews of the Newbery Medal and Honors winners.

The SLJ reviews editors rounded up our reviews of the books lauded at the 2024 Youth Media Awards. Here, the reviews of the Newbery Medal and Honors winners.

John Newbery Medal

The Eyes and the Impossible by Dave Eggers (text) & illus by Shawn Harris. Knopf. May 2023. 256p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781524764203.
Gr 3-7–Johannes, a free dog in an urban park by the sea, runs so fast that humans are blind to him. He is the “Eyes” of the park, and each day he is tasked to report the happenings he sees to the Bison. Meredith, Samuel, and Freya are the elderly bison who must protect the Equilibrium of the Park and watch out for problematic people, known as Trouble Travelers. Johannes’s narration is imbued with humor, complete with exaggerated and sophisticated vocabulary. The dog knows the park is huge, but assumes it’s 10,000 miles long, and thinks elderly Freya must be 6,000 years old. Many other animals coexist in the park, from the ducks who know nothing to the assistant Eyes of the park: squirrel, raccoon, a seagull, and pelican. When a new art museum is built, the mesmerizing rectangles (art pieces) cause Johannes to slow down and get nabbed by the Trouble Travelers. After his daring escape, Johannes decides the Bison should also leave their enclosures and goes about devising a plan, involving his animal friends and visiting goats. Caldecott honoree Harris has taken classical landscapes from hundreds of years past and added Johannes seamlessly to the paintings. Eggers shows animal friendships based upon coexisting and highlighting ones strengths, while helping the greater good. VERDICT Almost proselike, the voices and personalities of Johannes and his comrades are endearing; their unique story will enchant readers and encourage them to focus on what is most important in life.-Reviewed by Michele Shaw 


John Newbery Medal Honors

Eagle Drums by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson (text) & illus. by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson. Roaring Brook. Sept. 2023. 256p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250750655.
Gr 3-6–In this novelization of a traditional Iñupiaq tale, a boy named Piŋa is out hunting alone when approached by an eagle who transforms into a man. Following this eagle, he spends a year and a half learning new skills such as drumming, singing, dancing, and building large shelters. Those skills add to the thorough knowledge of survival and respect for animals that he has learned from his parents. Eventually, he takes these lessons back to his parents and together they share them with the Iñupiat people. Told in beautiful prose, this story evocatively describes life in the arctic, skillfully showing the frustrations and the beauty through Piŋa’s eyes. The pace is slow but consistent with a satisfying surprise at the end. Occasional full-page color illustrations are simple but add to the charm and help provide imagery for readers unfamiliar with the arctic. Across the tops of chapters are traditional imagery such as arrows and ulu knives in repeating patterns. Author Hopson draws on her own Iñupiat heritage and worked with several elders, detailed in her author’s note, to share this tale that forms the basis of the most important traditional Iñupiat feast. VERDICT An authentic, beautiful Alaska Native tale presented as a novel perfect for upper elementary students.-Reviewed by Elizabeth Nicolai 

Elf Dog and Owl Head by M.T Anderson (text) & illus. by Junyi Wu. Candlewick. Apr. 2023. 240p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781536222814.
Gr 3-5–Anderson brings to life the magical world found in Mount Norumbega, in this stand-alone novel. Clay O’Brian is tired of the virus that has forced him to stay home away from friends and enjoys the time he spends in the wilderness exploring. When elf-dog Elphinore is locked out from her home beneath the mountain, she comes across Clay in the woods and their adventures together begin. Elphinore is the reason Clay befriends an owl-headed boy named Amos, while Clay’s older sister DiRossi forms an unlikely friendship with a sad, blue giant named Vud. At the Midsummer Night Festival, when the magical worlds intertwine, the newfound friends will discover whether their bond can withstand strict, fantastical rules. Wu’s illustrations throughout are black-and-white pencil, which adds to the otherworldly quality of the plot. While the story has magical lands and creatures, the backdrop of the COVID-19 shutdown grounds the action in something relatable. The O’Brian family’s stress about becoming ill, paying bills, and finding work allows room to explore the trauma of the pandemic. At times, the world-building is underdeveloped, but the engrossing presentation of the different worlds will draw readers in. Other than Anderson’s companion series, “Norumbegan Quartet,” comparable titles include Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black’s “Spiderwick Chronicles” and The Demon Sword Asperides by Sarah Jean Horwitz. VERDICT A stellar novel with read-aloud potential, this whimsically imaginative adventure will thrill those who want magic mixed with reality.-Reviewed by Hilary Tufo

Mexikid by Pedro Martín (text) & illus. by Pedro ­Martín. Dial. Aug. 2023. 320p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780593462287. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9780593462294.
Gr 5-8–In 1977, young Pedro Martín is preparing, alongside his eight siblings and parents, to embark on a road trip from California to Mexico to help his abuelito take care of an important task before bringing him back to the U.S. to live with them. Martín’s memoir is an unpredictable fusion of humorous and reflective moments in his early life that gives fascinating insights into his family’s many stories while hinting at larger cultural questions and histories. Although Martín’s siblings and parents are ever-present, the heart of the story surrounds Martín’s abuelito and their distanced but invested relationship. The story’s art is vibrant, with a retro palette comprised of golds, teals, and oranges with bursts of rainbow-inspired colors in scenes featuring Mexico. Martín plays with the art styles, mixing his lined illustrations with pixel dot art for depicting heroic, largely dramatized family stories and a softer, khaki-tinted style to depict moments from his father and grandfather’s past. The Spanish language is regularly featured and is conveyed in multiple ways: directly without translation, directly with footnote translations, and representationally via punctuation. Most characters are Mexican or Mexican American; a U.S. Border Patrol agent appears to be white. Back matter includes photos of Martín’s family, as well as answers to frequently asked questions. VERDICT An always entertaining story about the trials and joys of family. Recommended.-Reviewed by Alea Perez

Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow. Disney-Hyperion. Jan. 2023. 320p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781368082853.
Gr 5 Up–Facing trauma from the past is difficult, but this book handles it masterfully. Main character Simon is the only survivor from a shooting in his school classroom. He and his family have just moved to Grin and Bear It, NE—a National Quiet Zone town without internet, cell phones, or television. He hopes it will be the perfect place to find the “now” version of himself. While on his journey, Simon makes friends with Agate and Kevin. All three kids face different types of pressure and support one another as they seek out coping mechanisms and strategies. Simon’s mother works as the town undertaker and his father works for the Catholic Church. It is a very rural environment, and a large part of the story is Simon and his friends experiencing birthing goats, being chased by emus or an attack peacock, training the sweetest service dog ever, and even faking an alien signal to the scientists managing a Large Radio Telescope. In the mix are an incompetent morgue assistant who is constantly losing bodies (or taking the wrong ones!) and a wild squirrel who ate the sacrament. Simon is a funny, lovable character who has lived through an unthinkable event. Simon is white, Kevin is Filipino American, and Agate is white and autistic. Funny and heartfelt in equal measure, this book tackles some tough topics, but the humor keeps readers engaged, and it is easy to care about these characters. VERDICT A solid purchase for all libraries that serve middle grade readers. It deftly handles the sensitive topic of being a young trauma survivor; warning for school shooting content.-Reviewed by Claire Covington 

The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams by Daniel Nayeri (text) & illus. by Daniel Miyares. Levine Querido. Mar. 2023. 224p. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781646143030.
Gr 4-8–This delightful adventure along the 11th-century Silk Road opens with its 12-year-old narrator, Omar (soon called Monkey), fleeing for his life from the monks who had once sheltered him. Monkey is saved by Samir, a merchant traveling in a caravan, who buys him from the monks for six bolts of silk. Monkey joins Samir in his journey to Samarkand and begins to learn Samir’s tricks of the trade. What initially seems like simple bartering tactics and weaving of wild tales turns out to be a recipe for disaster. Samir has earned grudges from many of his former customers, and now several assassins are after him. The thrills never let up in this fast-paced adventure tale that is packed with intrigue, vivid description, and plenty of heartwarming moments. The narrative voice is at times naive, at others snarky, but ultimately readers will find delight in Monkey’s own ability to weave a wild tale that keeps them guessing till the very end. Miyares’s beautiful full-color illustrations animate life along the Silk Road, and an extended author’s note provides excellent historical context for Monkey’s tale. VERDICT An epic adventure with an enduring message about love and family, this is a first purchase for upper elementary and middle school libraries.-Reviewed by Dana West

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