Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Moving on

Having read all or some of Ask Me No Questions, The Book of Story Beginnings, and Rules...I'll just say that none of these fine books do it for me in terms of Newbery criteria. And there's the secret of reading your way through the Newbery committee: you don't have to finish every book...unless it end up being strongly advocated for by another committee member. Inevitably, someone loves the book you don't. If anyone wants to make a convincing pitch for one of these titles, please do.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The King of Attolia

I digressed from my assigned reading recently to backtrack through Megan Whalen Turner's "The Thief" and "The Queen of Attolia." I'd already read The King of Attolia straight out of the box, though it had been a while since I'd read the first two. It's a testament to her writing that the characters were instantly real again to me, after years. Re-reading the whole trilogy, I'm just astounded at what she pulls off--much as the reader is at her protagonist Eugendies. Her characterization is all about gesture and tone, what is said and what is not. Here's a sample:

"If you are feeling more yourself, there is a problem best addressed immediately," said the queen.
"In my nightshirt?" The king wriggled, as ever, out of straightforward obedience.
"Your attendants. I have spoken to them. You will speak to them as well."
"Ah. They have seen me in my nightshirt." He looked down at his sleeve, embroidered with white flowers. "Not in your nightshirt, though." (page 223 in galleys)

On the surface, this exchange is humorous, and gives you a sense of how the king and queen banter and relate. Within in the context of the situation, there are all sorts of added layers--what the attendants are to be spoken to about...why the queen must press the king to do so...why it actually does matter that they would see him in her nightshirt (because it's not entirely a joke)...and the reader gets all of these layers of intrigue just through the conversational exchange.

There's no doubt to me that this is "distinguished" writing according to the Newbery criteria. What will be interesting is how to defend it in discussion. The Newbery committee is to compare and discuss ONLY books eligible for the award--that is, published this year. When discussing "The King of Attolia," then, the committee should not bring into the conversation either "The Thief" or "The Queen of Attolia." What standards should a sequel be held to? Should it have to stand alone? That seems unreasonable...and other dependent sequels have won the Newbery, including The Grey King by Susan Cooper and The High King by Lloyd Alexander. Given the precedence of sequels with the word "King" in the seems to me this one has a pretty good chance.

Monday, August 21, 2006


First off: I loved Kira-Kira. My Mock Newbery discussion group picked it, in fact. Kadohata is brilliant with character, tone, and setting.

So I wasn't surprised at how much I liked this book...despite its cover (for a fuller review of cover and plot, I'll let you read fuse#8's.) There's a clarity of voice that engages the reader and makes the story feel real...I think a large part of it is the way Sumiko's voice has an edge of humor to it:

"Later that day Sumiko was so bored, she just flopped to the ground right outside her barrack and didn't move. A butterfly fluttered over her. She wondered if the butterfly were actually the ultimate boredom in disguise. She wondered whether it planned to flutter and flutter and then strike! She wondered if maybe she had already lost her mind. It was possible." (p.128 in proofs)

Yet, the book has a couple of clear weaknesses.

The ending. It feels like Kadohata reached the end of her family story, and just if she were too close to the material to pull off a satisfactory completion to the narrative. The ending is probably, therefore, realistic...but I think will leave readers disappointed.

Frank. He's an endearing character, yet somehow a little flat...and just a little off. I don't know enough about the Mohave's experience at Poston to comment more fully on it; but here's the first comment of Frank's that just furrowed my brow a bit: "They take our land and put you on it. They give you electricity. They give you ice. I found a sandwich one of you threw on the road." (p.143 in proofs)

Though this resentment may seem natural, it doesn't actually jive with what I've been able to read about the situation--pretty much the same statement everywhere I poked around, but this is from Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites by J. Burton, M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord:

"The Colorado River Indian Reservation Tribal Council opposed the use of their land for a relocation center, on the grounds that they did not want to participate in inflicting the same type of injustice as they had suffered. However, the tribe was overruled by the Army and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)."

That sentiment is more clearly reflected in a children's book narrative in Blue Jay in the Desert, a picture book by Marlene Shigekawa (Polychrome Press 1993). Also about the Japanese-American internment experience at Poston, on one page a Mohave man on horseback comes to the gates to help: "Here is some corn to plant to help feed your people. We know what it is like to be moved away from our homes."

Compare that statement with Frank's, and I hope you see what makes me just a little uneasy about this character. Maybe it's accurate to Kadohata's family's experience...but I suspect this is a symptom, again, of being too much inside her own story. Is it enough to drag the story down within the Newbery criteria? We'll see--I have a feeling we'll be discussing this one at length. Please comment!

(one more site I found fascinating is the Poston Restoration Project)

Friday, August 11, 2006


Shug, I fail to see the magic. A lovely book--but distinguished? Rather: sweet and predictable as a ice pop that's gone too quick.

I'm counting on those of you who read faster than me to pipe in with comments--pro or con about books that have been suggested...and more titles from the fall lists, as they start coming in. At some point I'll either start winnowing our suggested list...or create a second one to show which titles seem to be the true contenders. The idea is to have no more than ten that we can bring to the final battle.

A True and Faithful Narrative

I have two measures for a really good book: will I read it walking down the street? Does it make me mean enough to glare at my husband when he dares ask how my day was, in the middle of the page? Sturtevant achieved both marks here with her compelling and gripping historical fiction.

I'm just going to steal here from Monica Edinger's posting to child_lit:

"Sturvetant has done her research and does a lovely job giving her readers the flavor of the time, but there are two aspects to the novel that make it truly shine for me. First of all, a good chunk of the book is of Meg listening to Edward, a young man who was captured by Barbary pirates, describe his time enslaved in North Africa. It is fascinating stuff, but by having Meg react as would a girl of her time to his description of Muslim beliefs and actions and by having the young man help her to understand them better, Sturtevant has also helped today's young readers understand them better as well."

"And secondly, there is what Meg does when she writes Edward's story for publication --- adjusting points for reasons she explains to him, deciding what can be eliminated, what needs to be changed slightly, and so forth with the final objective of creating something that will attract readers. According to Sturtevant ( see "Fact, Fiction, and the Stamp Act" on her website:, the problems of fact and fiction in writing were problems in the 17th century as much as they are today. And so Meg ponders, " I might make from such material a narrative that would both honor the teller and satisfy the needs of the told; how I might related enough of truth that our readers would scent it, and draw near, as a doe to water, but not so much tat it would frighten them away with the sound of its splashing." (p. 238)