Onion John by Joseph Krumgold

Onion John is a Newberry award-winning book by Joseph Krumgold.  The main character of the story is a boy named Andy Rusch, who lives in Serenity, New Jersey.  Andy feels that his father is too controlling of his life.  A strange man named Onion John becomes Andy’s friend.  Onion John is very unusual.  He eats onions as if they were apples, and his language is difficult to understand.  He also has strange beliefs and lives in an old-fashioned hut.  Andy’s father becomes worried about Onion John’s influence on Andy.  Because of these concerns, Andy’s father tries to control Onion John’s life, but things do not go according to plan.

Andy’s father seems extremely sensible and practical.  This might seem like a negative thing at first.  Andy does not always get along with his father, but as the story progresses, Andy begins to understand his father better.  I think Andy’s father might actually be my favorite character in the book.  One of my favorite parts of the book is near the end of the story, when Andy and his father spend time alone together during a fishing trip.  They have time to talk with each other to better understand their different points of view.  I especially liked this part because it teaches valuable lessons about fatherhood.

This is very good book about the challenges of relationships between parents and their children.  I was sometimes confused about Onion John and his strange behavior.  For example, he talks about fumigating the town of Serenity with smoke from an oak tree’s fire that will rid the people of their “evil spirits.”  In a way, Onion John seemed kind of creepy to me.  However, by the end of the story, Onion John indirectly helps Andy and his father to understand each other better.  Even though Onion John is not my favorite character, and this is not my favorite book in the world, I can see why this book won the Newberry Medal.  It teaches some important lessons about parenthood and relationships, in an unusual way.

Onion John by Joseph Krumgold is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois

The Twenty-One Balloons is a Newbery Award-winning novel by William Pène du Bois.  A professor named William Waterman Sherman has been found floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  At the time of his rescue, he is surrounded by the wreckage of twenty deflated balloons.  He had departed three weeks earlier from his home in San Francisco, using a giant gas balloon to fly over the Pacific Ocean.  Somehow, he ended up in the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by twenty balloons.  When he finally arrives home, the people are anxious to learn what had happened to him.  They could not imagine how he could have circled the globe in only three weeks, and why he ended up with twenty balloons rather than the one balloon with which he began his journey.  So, the professor gives a speech to recount his amazing adventure. 

Professor Sherman explains that he had wanted to get away from the world, just so that he could relax for a time.  He decided to drift on a balloon over the Pacific Ocean.  Unfortunately, he crashed on the volcanic island of Krakatoa.  He was greeted there by a man in a white suit and bowler hat.  The man is part of a hidden community in the middle of the island.  As the professor was introduced to the community, he came to realize that this was a highly-sophisticated civilization.

I enjoyed reading about the inhabitants of Krakatoa, and about the professor’s adventures on the island and around the world.  His journey is interesting and exciting.  There were many whimsical and amusing elements to this story as well.  In a way this novel feels like a blend of truth and fiction.  The author seems to include some social commentary about the aristocrats living in Krakatoa, but for the most part this book is simply a playful children’s story.  It was a quick read but very enjoyable.  I can certainly see why this was awarded the Newbery Medal, and I would definitely recommend this book.

-Oliver H.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.