105 Ways to Give a Book

Newbery Discussion Week: Turtle in Paradise & One Crazy Summer

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 ParadiseTurtle 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 SummerOne 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?

Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.


Melissa said...

I'm not sure. I do agree that both of these titles are more accessible than Moon Over Manifest, but I had issues with both. I liked Turtle... until the end, as well. But, it didn't last with me. I read it, it was fun, and then I moved on.

I also didn't get the One Crazy Summer love, either. I liked the sisters -- loved their relationship -- but again, the ending didn't sit well at all.

Interesting choices, to say the least.

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

This post deserves a more reasoned response, but here's a quick take: I agree with Melissa about Turtle in Paradise (here's what I wrote about it last month, http://www.bookstogetherblog.com/blog/2011/1/12/turtle-in-paradise.html
I did love One Crazy Summer (the characterization especially) and would have been very disappointed if it hadn't been honored. But--I think Conspiracy of Kings should have won the whole thing. Ha!

Emily Jiang said...

I, too, could not skim these books. Turtle's snarky voice was a delight to read, though I also thought the ending moved a bit too quickly.

I was so impressed with One Crazy Summer, especially how Rita Williams Garcia gracefully integrated the characters into this turbulent setting, as the 1960s multicultural issues were written with a sophistication that I, as a multicultural reader, eagerly welcomed. But what hooked my heart was following Delphine's struggle to protect her sisters while she developed a quietly poignant relationship with their mother.

@Anamaria - I totally agree about Megan Whalen Turner's A Conspiracy of Kings!

Jim Randolph said...

I'm reading One Crazy Summer now and haven't read the other two, so can't say specifically. But I did work on our state's book awards one year and they were pretty good about dividing all the books we read into categories so we wouldn't have too many of the same books in the final voting. These three books would have been in the same general category and we would have had to pick one to go up against the others in final voting. It's tough sometimes, but it works for us.

Jacqueline Jules said...

You verbalized my own thoughts about both of these books just about exactly. Though I was personally a little more taken with Turtle Island. I also noticed that the Newbery winners and honors were all, with the exception of Joyce Sidman's wonderful book, historical fiction.
Jacqueline Jules

Mary Ann Scheuer said...

Love your opening - yes, this description could fit either book, but these writers created such distinct characters, such distinct voices that they are memorable stories. I especially liked Turtle's snarky, spunky attitude.

Tess said...

I haven't read "Turtle in Paradise" yet. I really want to, even more so after reading how much you enjoyed it. But I did read "One Crazy Summer" and had a really huge problem with it. I found both of the parent characters really unbelievable. Perhaps I'm just naive, but would a father really put his three very young daughters on a plane by themselves (during such a tumultous time period) to visit with someone who abandoned them for a whole month? Because "it's time" for them to meet their mother? That seemed very forced to me. And the mother is completely disinterested in her children. That also rang untrue to me. You gave birth to these girls, and raised [at least Delphine] for years, and yet you seem to have no maternal instinct. Now, her forcing the girls to be independent by refusing to care for them really comes in handy when she's sent to jail, but that's not an excuse to me. I felt like she was a forced character too. Delphine and the girls I loved. And the narrative voice and setting felt authentic to me. I thought it was a good book overall, but I feel the need to point out the flaw that both the parental figures in the book were, in my opinion, unbelievably irresponsible.

Tiffany the StorySnoop said...

Turtle was a fun escape to another time and place! And what a spunky and memorable main character! Really enjoyed this one for being unique and funny.