Children’s Books by Former Newbery Medalists – Mister Max and The Thing About Luck

Mister Max and the Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt

Best known for the Newbery Award winning book Homecoming,  a compassionate and adventurous tale of a lost family of abandoned children, Cynthia Voigt has written a number of children’s books since her first success, with her most recent – Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things – as the first in a new series.  The premise is familiar: Max’s parents mysteriously disappear, leaving him behind to live with his librarian grandmother.  Young Max pursues a series of detective jobs to earn money as the search for his parents continues.

I persevered through Max’s search for a lost dog and his disguises in his actor parents’ costumes (they own the Starling theater), but when he “solves” the case of the mysterious missing spoon by finding that it had fallen behind the cabinet, I skipped to the last few pages to see if Max found his parents. He does – sort of.  Since this is the first of three in the series, Voigt creates a scenario to tease readers into the next book.  Unfortunately, the action is too slow, the crime-solving is tedious, and I found myself not interested in Max’s story.

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata9781416918820_p0_v6_s260x420

Author of the Newbery winning book, Kira-Kira, Cynthia Kadahata’s new children’s book – The Thing About Luck – again taps into the Japanese family ethic, offering cultural insights as the 2013 National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature.

With the hard life of the combine operator who follows the wheat harvest as the catalyst for the story, Kadohata taps into the thoughts of a twelve-year-old girl as she changes into a responsible adult.  Although the details of machine operation and time-sensitive crops were more than I needed, the family dynamics of Summer with her Japanese grandparents who work on a wheat-harvesting crew mix well with the occasional pithy advice.  Overcoming her fears of mosquitos, boys, and growing up, Summer manages to save the family – with a little humor and a lot of inner courage.


Just re-read Waiting, Ha Jin’s novel of a man promising himself that someday, he will make his life right. A recent flurry of emails reminded me that the world inside the beltway (Washington, D.C.) is different than the one outside – it is more intense.  You could call it focused, but maybe it’s really myopic. Waiting reminds us that ordinary people caught up in political changes – in this case China – still have personal lives that cannot be put on hold.

Ha Jin , born in Liaoning, China and a member of the Chinese liberation army during the Cultural Revolution, was a graduate student at Brandeis University when the 1989 Tiananmen incident broke out.   Waiting gives us Ha Jin’s inside look at Chinese culture – contrasting roots in traditional village life with the rigid urban social system of a military doctor.

As a good Chinese son, Lin Kong took a wife who would care for his parents, while he studied to become a doctor. Years after his parents are dead, Lin still honors the marriage with annual visits to his wife, Shoyu, and each year he proposes a divorce so that he can marry Manna Wu, a nurse.

The love triangle has an unexpected twist.   Only Shoyu, the arranged wife with bound feet seems to know what she wants, as the story follows Lin’s struggle to decide.   Ha Jin reminds us that most people plan and wait until the time is right.  In the meantime  – time keeps passing  and life happens – not controlled by plans.

Ha Jin’s most recent work is a collection of short stories focusing on Chinese immigrants in America – A Good Fall Stories.   But if you haven’t yet read this National Book Award winner, what are you waiting for?