Monday, August 07, 2006

Sister Basil won't make our list

I have finished three of the four books that were on the top of my pile: VICTORY, THE LOUD SILENCE OF FRANCINE GREEN, and WEEDFLOWER.

No cool teachers in any of them, least of all in FRANCINE GREEN (Sister Basil borders on evil)...although Sister Pete might be nominated for a list of cool librarians, even though her library itself seems woefully limited.

I'm intrigued by the similarities in these three books. In each, there are two perspectives or two stories that sometimes balance each other (Francine and Sophie), sometimes serve as a contrast to the other (Sumiko and Frank), and sometimes merge and blend and become one (Molly and Sam).

They are all three historical fiction, which is often a hard-sell to young readers. I think kids would be most likely to read FRANCINE GREEN (1950's California, a world at least vaguely familiar from TV and movies), not at all interested in VICTORY (1800's naval history, Admiral Lord Nelson, Battle of Trafalgar) in spite of the parallel story of the modern girl homesick for England and learning to adjust to her mother's remarriage, and unwilling to even open WEEDFLOWER because of the uninspired title and the cover that doesn't match the book in any way, shape, or form (except maybe the blurry barbed wire).

All three could, should, and hopefully will cause some discomfort and questioning by readers. Of the kidnapping of men and boys by the press gangs who "recruited" for the Royal British Navy in VICTORY, I hope there will be at least a, "Did they really DO that?" or a, "Isn't that a bit like the involuntary draft in the U.S.?" In FRANCINE GREEN, (so many...where to start...), "Did the nuns really DO that?", "Did the government really DO that (Red Scare)?", "Isn't that (fear of communism) a bit like today's fear of 'terrorists'?" And in WEEDFLOWER, of the interment of the Japanese during WWII and of the Native Americans on reservations, "Did our government really DO that?", and "Why was that allowed to happen...and could it happen again?"

Along with the discomfort and questioning, all three have strong main characters who find a way to take a stand, whether by completing a circle, crossing a line, or breaking a silence.

All in all, three books I liked a lot, both jointly and separately. Not sure any will make it to the top of the Newbery pile. Still looking...

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