Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Newbery Hopefuls From Our Reading Friends (Day 3): Hearing From Our Friend, Don

Today's predictions come from our friend Don. Don Zancanella is an Associate Professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He teaches several classes of children's literature. Don is also the author of Western Electric, a collection of short stories that is part of the Iowa Short Fiction Award series.

Here is what he says about this year's Newbery Award:

The Newbery Medal always brings to the surface what to my mind is the most important fact about children’s literature: it’s written by adults for children. By letting adults pick the best book for children (written by an adult), the Newbery just adds another layer of complexity to this already vexed situation. That said, here are the books I think might win (or in some instances, the ones I think should win), along with a few comments:

The Wednesday Wars
by Gary Schmidt

I’m a sucker for books set in the sixties (there it is already, a preference I have as an adult reader that no kid is likely to share) and Schmidt’s book captures much of what it was like to be growing up then. The use of Shakespeare’s plays is a clever plot device but I’m kind of fed up with authors who sneak classic authors into children’s books. And Holling is a little too precocious for my taste. But it all still works. It’s funny and charming and uplifting.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Graphic novel meets mystery novel meets silent film. I predict this one will win mostly because it’s different and because we do seem to have entered the era of the graphic novel. It didn’t involve me as much as I’d hoped it would, mostly because I thought the plot had kind of a clunky, old-fashioned feel to it. I’m sure that was Selznick’s intention (the old-fashioned part, not the clunky part) but I thought it was a little too self-consciously done.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I might very well pick this one because I like Alexie very much. However, I haven’t read it yet. I could say the same thing about Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days.

The Wall
by Peter Sis

This is my personal favorite. Yes, it flies right in the face of the adult/child problem I started with, but it’s just too good to ignore. I’ve heard people comparing it to Maus and Persepolis and it deserves those comparisons. A couple of Sis’s titles have been Caldecott Honor books, but like his earlier Tibet Through the Red Box (a 1999 Newbery Honor Book) this one blurs the Newbery/Caldecott boundary. It’s an outstanding piece of writing with wonderfully integrated illustrations--just a very fine book. Not to mention that shows us a more interesting picture of the 1960s than even The Wednesday Wars does.

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