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Three Winning Losers

I don’t know quite how I managed it, but I sure picked some winning losers to read this week! I’m still scratching my head, wondering if the authors purposely intended their readers to come away with such thoughts as I share below. I mean, families that hate each other and failed attempts to commune with the dead (although any attempts for that matter) don’t make for good, fuzzy-feeling endings. But what do I know; each of these books either won a Newbery Medal or was an honorary mention. Sigh … you just can’t judge a book by its cover. And that’s why I’m sharing these with you – so you can be spared three unnecessary reads.


Title: Al Capone Does My Shirts
Author: Gennifer Choldenko

Thoughts: I really wanted to like this one. I visited Alcatraz a few years ago and saw this book in the gift shop. I thought it’d be a fun and interesting read about a family living on the island. Instead, it was pretty disappointing. I’m not sure that all of the crooks were contained behind the prison walls; at least one (the warden’s daughter) was living at large. A chronic liar and manipulator, she bullied most of the kids living on the island into doing what she wanted, including some things that her father had forbidden.

The family that the story centers around is pretty dysfunctional. The mother lies and manipulates, which the father goes along with for the most part (occasionally they’ll get into a fight, but he eventually backs down). The son is usually angry, bitter, or upset at his mom because she seems to only care about the welfare of her mentally challenged daughter. She often asks her son to watch over the daughter, “take her along with you and your friends,” which the son resents.  During one of these outings, he looses track of her for a time, only to discover her talking to and holding hands with a convict. At first he’s worried sick about what the convict might have done when they were alone but the more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that “it’s terrible and it’s good.”

It doesn’t end with the family learning how to overcome life’s challenges together; no, that would be too good. Instead, it ends with Al Capone saving the day. That’s right – the convict.

And of course aside from all of this, is the name calling, the brother seeing his sister naked one day and the father giving his son a beer. There’s more, but why go on.


Title: Missing May
Author: Cynthia Rylant

Thoughts: I can understand wanting to write a children’s book about coping with death and the questions it raises. I just don’t get why you would mix so many religions together in your attempt to provide an explanation. Unless, … your intent was to keep the reader confused. Maybe that’s what the author was going for.

In any case, be prepared to follow a girl’s journey of loss with numerous explanations of heaven, angels, spirits, spiritualists and the like. Oh, and there’s a plan to meet with the Reverend Miriam who is a medium that can help the grieving family members get in touch with their loved one. But no worries; when they show up to her house, they find out she’s been dead for a year herself, gone to the Spirit World, so there’s no seance scene in the book (such a relief).


Title: Bridge to Terabithia
Author: Katherine Paterson

Thoughts: Here’s another great book about a dysfunctional group of people. (This family might even be worse than the family in Al Capone). I can’t remember a single time the entire family got along – including Christmas!  But if you’re wanting some world-class sibling fight scenes, look no further. There’s some prize-winning battles in here.

Along with the constant brawls, is the continuous use of the Lord’s name. I’m not sure why the family mentions God so often since after the mother got mad at the preacher three years ago, they only attend church on Easter; not that the rest of the family cares – they all think church is boring.

And then there’s the crush the boy has on his teacher. But it seems to be reciprocated. What’s up with that? She gives this ten-year-old special attention in class, even taking him out for a day (just the two of them – kind of like a “date”).

While the book does end with the brother taking his little sister into his imaginary land (in the place of his friend), I just can’t see that that makes up for everything else. That’s a lot of wading just to get to something like three sweet paragraphs at the end.


So there’s my little rant. I really can’t think of a good enough “redeeming quality” in any of these books to warrant even a half recommendation. But books there are aplenty, so follow up with me next week to see what I think of my current pile!

Hi! I’m Luisa and I’ve always been an avid reader and lover of books. Well… at least that is to say since I was about eight years old when my mom encouraged my sister and I to do a summer reading challenge. After that, I was always getting in trouble for not doing my chores, my school, or staying in the bathroom too long haha, because of a book! Read more about me here