One Star Review Guess Who? Newbery Birthday Edition | The Newbery at 100

Not everyone loves a winner. Match Newbery books to these terrible reviews.

Illustrations by Travis Jonker


In 2012, I began a series on my blog, “100 Scope Notes,” called One Star Review, Guess Who? I kept coming across negative (and sometimes very funny) reviews for books that are considered classics. Often, they were books that had won the Newbery Medal. I post the review and challenge readers to name the book.

Why do this? Well, first of all, some of these one star reviews are just amusing. But there’s a bigger reason as well. It’s a good reminder to me that readers are not monolithic. While one reader might call a book a classic, another might call it “one of the most disturbing books for young readers ever written” (as a one star reviewer wrote about Stuart Little). It’s a reminder to me, as a school librarian, to read and recommend widely, because no single book is for all readers. And that’s OK.

So with that in mind, let’s play.

Below are one star reviews for well-known Newbery titles.
Can you name the books? Scroll to the end for answers.

1. “The cover is very cute but the content is incredibly snoozesome, and I’m not so interested in reading about yucky pigs and gross spiders (I’ve had a spider hatch eggs in my room; it was not a pleasant experience. The baby spiders were cute until they started nesting ALL over my bed. I had to pick them all up individually and take them outside. I was there for AGES! PLUERGH!)”

2. “I really did not like this book. As a parent I couldn’t comprehend having to send my child to some work camp in the desert. I understand that it was just plain old good storytelling, but the thought of those boys digging day after day was too much for me.”

3. “This book should be called Gorilla, Interrupted because it’s as depressing as Girl, Interrupted but told from a gorilla’s perspective. Why this is recommended as a top summer reading book is beyond me. And it won a Newbery Award!”

4. “I can’t understand how it won the John Newbery Medal. The witches were plastic and seemed to serve little purpose; the bad guy, a concept embodied in a shadow, had no motivation; . . . and the father seems to have no backbone and no sense of decency when it comes to saving his son. I’m not about to recommend it to anyone young or old. Unless it’s to ask that person to help me understand what the big deal is.”

5. “My trouble with the book is that it has no story, and no drive. Rather, each chapter centers on some holiday during the year. And with each holiday, we get another droll incident about something mildly shocking done by the grandma. At first, I thought it was charming. And then, pretty quickly, I thought it was getting old.”

6. “I’ve heard many people tell me that it was a good book. I do not understand. I thought time travel was debunked by Stephen Hawking.”


7. “[W]hat two kids would run away to an ART MUSEUM?”

8. “Well, there’s five hours of my life I’ll never get back! I went into this book with such high expectations: a Newbery-Award winner, rave reviews from readers of all ages . . . What could go wrong? I just didn’t get it . . . maybe because I don’t usually like mysteries? Maybe because I didn’t play Clue as a kid.”

9. “I can summarize this story with these questions and answers coming from the snot-nosed, little children in the novel: Will we have a mother? Will she like me? Will she stay? Yes. . . .Boring. Thank God Glenn Close made the character somewhat more tolerable in the made-for-TV version of this book.”

10. "I have never met a more plain literary character! And you were raised BY GHOSTS! Neil, your writing is great, but sadly, you forgot someone in the background screaming 'GIVE ME MORE VA VOOM!'”

11. “Awful. Boring. Mildly racist.”

12. “What character, that’s not under the influence, picks up a stray dog in a supermarket parking lot. Really Kate?”

Travis Jonker blogs about children’s books at “100 Scope Notes.”


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