Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013 Contenders: Penny and Her Doll, by Kevin Henkes

So after my post on Penny and Her Song, a couple of our readers chimed in to opine that I might have picked the wrong Penny book to highlight. Not that they didn't like Song a lot, but they thought that the sequel, Penny and Her Doll, might have been just a little bit better. This intrigued me enough that I decided to have a look at Doll as well.

In this installment, the titular heroine receives a doll as a present from her Gram. She loves the doll, but figuring out a name for it proves to be a real challenge. Which name is the right one?

One of the things I like most about Kevin Henkes is that he has an exceptional grasp of the issues many children take to heart, and a respect for those issues, whether or not an adult might consider them "important." What to name a cherished toy falls firmly into this category, and Penny's parents treat the question seriously, which is nice to see. The love that this family has for each other jumps off the page, and it creates a mood that's sweet without being cloying.

Is it indeed better than Penny and Her Song? In my mind, it's close to a dead heat, but Doll might be ever-so-slightly superior. There's probably a stronger conflict-resolution plot in Doll, and the ending flows satisfyingly from the rest of the book. Doll doesn't have anything quite like the magical childlikeness of the actual words of Penny's song in Song, but the sheer beauty of its construction might nudge it a bit ahead. (It's also worth mentioning that the Notables committee seems to feel so too, since Doll is on their Nominated Titles list, and Song isn't.)

Do I think that little bit extra is enough to make Penny and Her Doll show up on the Newbery list? No, not really, for the same reasons that I mentioned in my post about Song. I think it might well be the front-runner for the Geisel award though.

Published in September by Greenwillow / HarperCollins

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