Sent far from home to a family member, an independent, self-assured eleven-year-old girl spends the summer exploring the area, all the while learning more about her mother and bonding with her family. In discovering a world that was completely foreign to her, the girl also learns a little more about herself and her own intrinsic strength. Written at an accessible level and length for elementary kids, the book packs a punch with realistic characters, clever dialogue, colloquial expressions, historically accurate details, and evocative settings.So my only issue with today’s Newbery books is that the above description could be used for either one. Yeah, I’ll give you a moment to process that. Like I talked about at the beginning, it still seems problematic to me to use the only children’s literature award that everyone knows to showcase two books with the same basic themes. However, the other problem becomes which one wouldn’t be honored, because they are both perfect books for young readers. I intended to skim both books so that I could discuss them today, but I was unable to do that... because I ended up actually reading both of them again. I was so sucked in by the writing that they were too good to skim.
For instance, Turtle in Paradise has such a perfect opening: “Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco Wafers, but I’ve lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten. The only difference between grown-ups and kids is that grown-ups go to jail for murder. Kids get away with it.” BAM! Right from the start we get a sense that this is a past time (Necco wafers), the that speaker is young (using the word “grown-ups” instead of “adults”), and is hardened by life (kids are rotten). Good writing. I love this book. The setting is described very naturally within the context of the story. I could picture every moment very clearly. (You know, this would be a good movie. Just sayin’.) Turtle is a great character. Strong and self-reliant, she says what she thinks. She’s tough, but she’s also caring and curious. The book didn’t rely on the standard of small-town books — quirky characters — instead giving us a realistic and interesting picture of life in Key West during the depression era. My only complaint about the book is that it ended rather abruptly, not allowing enough time to play through the emotions of the conclusion. But that’s a small shortcoming for an otherwise splendid book.
One Crazy Summer also started strong, but I was really sold a page later with this part: “That’s mainly what I do. Keep Vonetta and Fern in line. The last thing Pa and Big Ma wanted to hear was how we made a grand Negro spectacle of ourselves thirty thousand feet up in the air around all these white people.” Again, good writing lets the reader know we’re dealing with an older sister who keeps her siblings in line, but she’s still young enough to call her father “Pa.” “Negro spectacle” sets not only the basic time period, but a sense of the family relationship. Reading that, I sense that grandma uses that phrase a lot. At the same time, it makes me a little uncomfortable, unsettled. I feel like I’m hearing something that I wasn’t supposed to know, but yet by knowing it I understand so much more. The book packed in many of these uncomfortable moments regarding race and family relations. The mom says that she should have gotten rid of these kids when she had the chance. Damn! When an older lady gives the girls nickels basically for being tidy, well-mannered colored girls, the reader squirms with and for Delphine. All through the book we feel for these girls, but Delphine’s strength and independence don’t allow us to pity them. If pressed to list a flaw, I’d say that at times it was obvious that the education center scenes were meant to educate us, the reader. But I think that they were necessary for both the story and the reader, so I wouldn’t want to change them either.
Now, at the beginning of this post I said that I couldn’t imagine cutting one of these titles, even if they were so similar because I really like them both. And it’s also worth mentioning that, with minor changes, that same description fits Moon Over Manifest. Considering that, what should have been awarded? What do you think about today’s titles?
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