Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Probably too much more, to tell the truth. As I was reading The Long Ride, I felt that it was trying to stuff too many themes and plot points into a book that's right around 200 pages. Some of the subplots are so briefly developed that they might as well not be there (it's hard to remember that Jamila's service as campaign manager for an acquaintance's bid for class president even happened), while others seem rushed or less than fully explored. This also affects the pacing, which I thought had a certain stop-start nature that worked against the story.
The book that The Long Ride reminded me of most was Glory Be, Augusta Scattergood's 2012 novel. Both volumes are exceptional in the way that they conjure up a specific place and time, and help the reader feel what it was like to be a child there and then. Both attempt to meld a story about family relationships and friend dynamics with larger issues of civil rights, racism, and justice. And, to be honest, neither book is really able to achieve this goal; they both end up having bitten off more than they're able to chew.
Marina Budhos's previous work has been for adult and young adult readers, and she's received starred reviews, nominations, and awards for many of those books. If The Long Ride doesn't quite hold together, it may be that Budhos is still becoming comfortable with writing books for a younger age group. I don't think The Long Ride will seriously contend for the Newbery, but it does make me curious about the next story that Budhos will choose to tell.
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
One day, while Pitu is out hunting, a blizzard hits. He manages to survive the storm, only to find himself transported to the world of the spirits -- a dangerous place filled with frightening beings of enormous power. It will take all of his skill -- as well as finding the right allies -- if Pitu is to make it back home to his village, his family, and the woman he loves.
I found myself captivated by the world of Those Who Run in the Sky. Aviaq Johnston, herself an Inuk author, perfectly conveys the arctic setting and Inuit culture without compromising them or watering them down. The back matter includes a helpful glossary and a thoughtful author's note, but it's entirely possible to enjoy the book without having to constantly refer back. The setup for the main plot is fairly long, but I didn't have any trouble with the pacing -- and the last 50 pages are a thrilling burst of adrenaline.
Those Who Run in the Sky is more YA than juvenile, but I think you can argue that it scrapes the top of the Newbery age range. If I were evaluating the book for the Newbery and using the award criteria, I'd note that it's outstanding in its interpretation of theme, development of plot, and especially, delineation of setting. The delineation of characters is somewhat weaker, and though the style is appropriate, the prose overall is more workmanlike than exceptional for most of the novel. Those Who Run in the Sky was published in 2017, and I would have loved to have included it in our Maryland Mock Newbery reading list that year. I don't know that I would have voted for it over Landscape with Invisible Hand (my favorite from that list), or Orphan Island (our MMN winner), but I think it would have sparked some fascinating discussions. (For what it's worth, recognizing that it's just my opinion, and Your Mileage May Vary And Probably Will, I do think I would have voted for Those Who Run in the Sky over that year's actual Newbery winner, Hello, Universe.)
Sadly, Those Who Run in the Sky wasn't eligible for the Newbery, as Aviaq Johnston is from Nunavut, and still lives in Canada. If I could change one rule about the Newbery, it would actually be the prohibition against Canadian authors specifically; the American Library Association has many Canadian members, and the ALA annual conference has actually been held in Canada six different times (most recently in 2003, as an ALA/CLA joint conference). It frustrates me that we welcome participation from Canadian librarians on our committees and boards, but don't allow Canadian authors to compete for what's possibly the most prestigious literary award we hand out.
Alas, I don't make the Newbery rules. What I can do is encourage you to read this book, buy it for your library, and get it into the hands of kids who will appreciate it. A sequel, Those Who Dwell Below, was just published last month, and I'm excited to see how Pitu's story continues beyond the confines of this novel.
Published in 2017 by Inhabit Media
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
The latter category includes, among others, the so-called Indian Termination Policy of the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, the Federal government unilaterally ended its recognition of over 100 Native American tribes, ceasing to recognize those tribes' reservations and land claims, and cutting off all Federal aid. Congress also passed the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, which provided some financial benefits and vocational training for Native Americans who would move from reservation land to urban centers. It did this at the cost, however, of breaking up communities, and placing Native Americans in areas where racial discrimination was often heavy; additionally, not all of the promised benefits always materialized for Native Americans who entered the program, and many participants ended up in low-wage jobs with little hope for advancement. The Termination Policy was ugly, and the Native American community had essentially no say in designing or administering it. They did, however, organize to fight back against it, and by 1968, President Lyndon Johnson was publicly calling for the policy to be ended. Though the US began re-recognizing some tribes as early as 1973, the policy wasn't officially abandoned until 1988(!).
This brings us to Indian No More, a novel that is set during the Termination period. It's narrated by Regina Petit, whose Umpqua family lives on the Oregon reservation of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. After the Grand Ronde's recognition is terminated, Regina's family moves to Los Angeles to try to take advantage of the Indian Relocation Act. Regina's father is excited by the prospect of moving to the city, but the rest of the family is less enthused -- especially Chich, Regina's grandmother. As the story progresses, opportunities and new friends do await in the city. However, so do culture shock, racism, and family tensions over preserving their Umpqua identity.
Indian No More has a fascinating, though bittersweet, genesis. Charlene Willing McManis, who was, in the words of her biographical note in the book, "of Umpqua tribal heritage and enrolled in the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde," came to a writing career late in life. This book, her only novel, was honed in a We Need Diverse Books mentorship with Margarita Engle, and picked up by Tu Books, a Lee & Low imprint. It's based on McManis's own childhood experiences; her family also moved to L.A. after her tribe's termination.
Sadly, McManis died in 2018, before the book was entirely finished. Before her passing, McManis personally asked her friend Traci Sorell to complete the manuscript. (Sorell's name may be a familiar one to our readers, as her We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga picked up a Sibert Honor this year.) Fortunately, Sorell, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, was able to fulfill this request, and bring the book to a state ready for publication.
As far as the Newbery goes, I doubt Indian No More will end up on the stand -- though the setting and the cultural research are magnificent, the plot meanders a bit, and the prose doesn't stand out as exceptional to me; in the kind of strong field we have this year, it probably won't rise to the very top. What I do hope is that libraries purchase this book and that many, many children read it, hearing a story that they probably don't know yet, but that needs to be told.
Publication in September by Tu Books / Lee & Low
Tuesday, July 2, 2019
In this gentle book, it's the characters who really shine. Hanako's Jiichan (grandfather) and Baachan (grandmother) are the sweetest little old people ever, and I just wanted to give both of them a hug. But each member of Hanako's family is nuanced and complex, grappling with big questions. Hanako herself deals with fitting into a different culture, as one might expect from the book description, but she also struggles with her impulse to be compassionate, balanced with her own family's privations. Should she give food to a bomb-scarred war orphan? What if it means that her own little brother will go hungry that night? This concentration on emotions and morality necessitates an inward focus, so there's not a lot of action in the book's plot. In some ways, this is an ur-Newbery book: deeply contemplative historical fiction with a female protagonist, with strong character development at the expense of plot. I'm not trying to denigrate the book; just saying that it follows a venerable tradition of strong, well-written Newbery contenders.
I don't think this book is well-served by either its nondescript title or its bland brown and yellow cover, but of course, neither of those factors has any bearing on its Newbery eligibility. A Place to Belong received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist, and though it's up against strong competition for the Newbery, I think it has at least earned a spot at the discussion table.
Published in May by Atheneum Books
Monday, July 1, 2019
We're feeling pretty excited here at For Those About to Mock today, because we have a new blogger joining our team! Please join us in welcoming Misti Tidman to this space.
Longtime readers might already know Misti's name, as she's done three guest review for us in the past. She and I attended the Morris Seminar together back in 2014, and since then, she's done some great work over at the Guessing Geisel blog. When we were considering expanding our roster of bloggers here, Misti was the first person I thought of, and I'm ecstatic that she's elected to sign on!
Friday, June 28, 2019
There are two things that I think My Jasper June does exceptionally well. The first is its respectful, honest portrayal of the inner lives of its main characters, girls at the awkward intersection of tween and teen. This was also a feature of Laurel Snyder's previous novel, Orphan Island (which won our 2017/18 Maryland Mock Newbery), and represents one of her key strengths as a writer. Leah and Jasper both felt real and recognizable to me, which helped me care about their adventures and fortunes.
The other area in which My Jasper June excels -- perhaps more so than any other book for children that I've ever read -- is in its laying bare the double bind that those grieving a traumatic loss often find themselves in. At the very moment when they need the most support, they often experience isolation, as those around them no longer know what to say to them or how to act around them, distancing themselves from the griever as a result. Without going too far into sad details from my own experience, I'll say that I've seen this dynamic and the pain it causes in real life, and Snyder does magnificent work in limning it. The scene in which Leah finally loses all patience and calls a school teacher out on this behavior at the public swimming pool is cringey in exactly the way the incident might play out in reality.
In a lot of years, My Jasper June would be my immediate choice for Newbery frontrunner. This year also features The Lost Girl and The Moon Within, so it's more complicated than that. But it's at the very least in the conversation, and I heartily recommend that you pick it up and have a look for yourself.
Publication in September by Walden Pond Press / HarperCollins
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
This is the kind of story that's happened dozens of times during the course of my library career. But this time was different, because my daughter devoured this book, returning the verdict that The Last Martin was her FAVORITE BOOK EVER. To this day, that's an opinion that she stands by. Regardless of what other books she may read in the future, I think it's safe to say that, at the very least, The Last Martin stands as one of the defining novels of her childhood.
In the wider world, Friesen is an author who's picked up a big ALA award (the 2009 Schneider Award, teen division, for Jerk, California), and The Last Martin garnered starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. The book didn't show up in the Newbery rolls in 2012, however, nor did it make the Notables list. As of this writing, it's still in print, but doesn't seem to have attracted a significant following outside of my daughter -- the most recent reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are both from 2016.
But, that's the thing about books. Sometimes, a book simply happens to be the perfect book for a reader at a specific point in time, regardless of said book's popularity. When I think back on the books that I remember with exceptional fondness from my own childhood, that list includes well-known titles such as Corduroy, The Hobbit, and Interstellar Pig. It also includes an obscure, mostly forgotten Barbara Dillon/Chris Conover picture book, The Beast in the Bed. Ranganathan's Third Law of Library Science, after all, is "Every book its reader," and that's as true now as it was in 1931, when Ranganathan wrote it.
As for The Last Martin, it's the story of middle schooler Martin Boyle, an unassuming budding writer, who lives with his little sister, Lani, his frenzied, germophobic mother, and his father, a professional military reenactor. On an annual visit to the family cemetery, Martin makes the startling discovery that, beginning with the 1790 birth of his military hero namesake, there has always been a Martin Boyle -- and that every time a new Martin is born, the previous Martin dies. Since Martin's aunt is six months pregnant, and plans to name her new baby boy Martin, does this mean that the current Martin is cursed to die in three months? It's up to Martin and his ragtag group of friends -- his best buddy, Charley; his crush, Julia; and Poole, a Huck Finn-esque orphan who's been living in an abandoned boxcar in Martin's backyard -- to solve the mystery and end the curse before Martin's time runs out.
On a purely literary level, I can see why The Last Martin didn't win any ALA awards. The characterization is often cartoonish, some of the pacing seems occasionally off, and the prose is competent without being particularly noteworthy. But I can also see why my daughter loves it -- there's mystery, humor, romance, and a group of friends banding together to overcome a seemingly insurmountable problem.
And maybe the lesson I should take from the book is that a novel doesn't have to be "perfect" to be enjoyable. I spend a lot of time evaluating and analyzing books, enough so that I sometimes forget that a story can sweep you away and draw you in even if it doesn't check every box that a literary award-winner would. The Last Martin has plenty of flaws, but it also tells a fascinating story -- a story that has found at least one lifelong fan.