2023 Newbery Buzz #1: A Rover’s Story

It’s that time again, readers! The hour for selecting winners of the world’s most prestigious children’s book award draws near. Redeemed Reader has little (that is, NO) influence on that decision, but we like to speculate. This year we’ve set apart five likely buzzed-about titles for a closer look. Betsy leads off with Jasmine Warga’s A Rover’s Story.

Betsy: Jasmine Warga is no stranger to Newbery love: Other Words for Home earned a Newbery Honor in 2020 (see our review). Other Words for Home is a novel in verse about a refugee girl; A Rover’s Story centers around a robot headed to Mars. The rover’s name is Resilience, Res for short, and it narrates much of the story. The daughter of one of its designers, Sophia, writes Res letters as she would a diary; those mix seamlessly with Res’s own “thoughts.” At the beginning, the big question is whether the rover will manage to successfully launch from Earth, travel to Mars, and land safely on the red planet. Once there, assuming all goes well, Res is tasked with finding a missing previous rover as well as analyzing soil and rock samples in hopes of finding water.

On the surface, Other Words for Home and A Rover’s Story seem quite dissimilar. However, I thought A Rover’s Story read almost like a novel in verse, with its short paragraphs and chapters. I kept wanting to classify it that way. Additionally, the rover’s experiences learning English and trying to understand humans bears resemblance to a refugee trying to navigate American culture for the first time. Janie, I haven’t read Other Words for Home. Do you think the stories are similar thematically? Did you find A Rover’s Story poetic, like a novel in verse?

Janie: I love that comparison with Warga’s earlier novel, Betsy! I’ll admit, it didn’t occur to me, and it’s been a while since I read the previous book. But I think you’ve got something there. Rez is like a child at the beginning, gradually becoming aware of the surroundings, mistaking contexts and having more questions than answers. Even later, as a more “mature” robot, his knowledge has significant gaps. Though “poetry” didn’t occur to me, the narrative is poetic in its immediacy and emotional power–I never felt such sympathy for a machine! His developing relationship with Fly, a surveillance drone programmed to support him on his mission,  was also touching.

Emotion is a quality we don’t associate with mechanical objects, but responsive robots test the boundaries of our imagination. As I mentioned in my Redeemed Reader review, Res is an appealing character. How did his human-like qualities appeal to you?

Betsy: First of all, I kept thinking of Res as a person! But one dynamic struck me early on: the similarities between this caring, sentient “being” trapped in his own “skin” (metal casing), unable to communicate with those nearby—and people who are trapped by their disabilities in like manner: unable to communicate with those nearby due to mental or physical difficulties. I imagine that deaf children might have similar struggles, or perhaps an autistic child who has picked up on social cues he or she cannot quite understand. Even an average toddler faces the same difficulties with communicating their wishes to parents, hence the proverbial toddler tantrums. I’d love to get someone’s take on this who has more experience with special needs communities, especially a teacher in a classroom. This book is a terrific story of empathy: A Rover’s Story will open readers’ eyes to those around them in new ways.

What was your favorite part of the book, Janie? Do you think a book like this is “distinctive” enough in Newbery terms to have a shot?

Janie: It’s definitely distinctive! Anthropomorphic robots appear in humorous novels for kids, but I can’t recall any other fictional treatment that explores the idea seriously. Not that it’s a serious novel, but it strikes a winning balance between humorous touches, engaging characters (including the humans!) and interesting ideas. Though there are sad notes in Sophia’s missing her mother and Rez losing his pal Fly, the story is positive about both humanity and science. The multicultural appeal should be attractive to the committee as well. I think it’s a solid contender, and I’d be pleased with it winning either gold or silver.

Betsy: I’d be pleased to see this one in the lineup as well. One of the advantages of a title like this, too, is its broad age appeal. It’s so nice when there’s a Newbery that a 5th grade classroom can really enjoy as opposed to those that seem to barely fit that age 14 cutoff. It’s also a book that I think kids will really like. Unfortunately, some Newbery winners seem destined to linger on library shelves, beloved by teachers and librarians more than their target audience.

Janie: We’ll find out on January 30, when the American Library Association announces their selections in New Orleans–and we’ll report all!

Stay Up to Date!

Get the information you need to make wise choices about books for your children and teens.

Our weekly newsletter includes our latest reviews, related links from around the web, a featured book list, book trivia, and more. We never sell your information. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Support our writers and help keep Redeemed Reader ad-free by joining the Redeemed Reader Fellowship.

Stay Up to Date!

Get the information you need to make wise choices about books for your children and teens.

Our weekly newsletter includes our latest reviews, related links from around the web, a featured book list, book trivia, and more. We never sell your information. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

FREE Bible Guide!

Get a guide to the Best Bibles for Children and Teens. Perfect for an Easter gift.

Janie Cheaney

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

We'd love to hear from you!

Our comments are now limited to our members (both Silver and Golden Key). Members, you just need to log in with your normal log-in credentials!

Not a member yet? You can join the Silver Key ($2.99/month) for a free 2-week trial. Cancel at any time. Find out more about membership here.

1 Comment

  1. B on January 10, 2023 at 11:25 am

    Thanks for the discussion! I am in the process of choosing novels about disability to compliment Beyond Suffering for the Next Generation as a high school elective for my children. I would never have thought to try this book. I’ll check it out and see if it will work. There are some great novels that bring the disability experience to life.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.