Monday, March 7, 2011

1968 Honor- The Egypt Game

My children told me how much they liked a book called The Egypt Game, a Newbery Honor book, so I was pretty pleased when, just a few days later I found a copy for sale at Goodwill. The author, Zilpha Keatley Snyder has written several other books I have read, such as The Witches of Worm and The Headless Cupid.

Right away I recognized a commonality with Snyder’s other books—an annoying, somewhat unlikeable, but exciting young female protagonist. In The Egypt Game, young April Hall has been sent to her Grandmother’s to stay while her Hollywood mother pursues her career. April is not easy to like; she’s haughty and seems insensitive to the feelings of others while being touchy herself. But she is vulnerable inside and has to handle the feeling of rejection from her mother that she can no longer deny.

April does make some friends, Melanie, Marshall and Elizabeth, and draws them into a game she creates, the Egypt game. The back yard of an old man’s antique store becomes their secret land of Egypt, and they decorate it with the trappings, customs and religions of ancient Egypt. Elaborate rituals and play-acting dominate their imaginative game. But a neighborhood menace threatens to take away their Egypt game, which has come to mean so much to them.

While I did enjoy reading the book, because I could not identify with April, I was less than enthusiastic about it. She is the ringleader type, who tends to drag innocent friends and bystanders into trouble. She has no qualms about praying and bowing to the ancient gods, all part of her reality within the role-playing. I wonder how I would have felt about the book if I had read it when I was a kid. It did make me think about some of the imaginative games I used to play with my sisters and friends.

I appreciated the subtle and realistic way Snyder deals with changes April’s character, how she becomes a better friend and begins to appreciate her grandmother, but always remaining April.

I bought this book used for 25 cents at a Goodwill.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

1928 - Gay-Neck

I wonder, how many Newbery Award readers have read the one of the first winners of this prize, Gay-Neck, written in 1927 by Dhan Gopal Mukerji? It is sort of an odd book, I think partly because it is older and partly because it takes place in India and is written by an East Indian in a different style than we might be accustomed to.

I found this book as a library discard, and I was pretty excited, first because it was a Newbery book I had not come across before, and second because it was written by Mukerji. Years and years ago, I had a favorite book, Chief of the Herd, also written by Dhan Gopal Mukerji. I had the good fortune as an adult to find it again in a used book store and snatched it up. I was looking forward to something of the same caliber with Gay-Neck.

Gay-Neck is a pigeon, a carrier pigeon who is hatched from a pair of pigeons belonging to the narrator, a boy, and becomes his special pet. We are treated to descriptions of how Gay-Neck is trained and of his various escapes from dangers. Over a couple of the chapters, we employ our imaginations and read Gay-Neck’s first-person telling of a particularly harrowing odyssey and his visit to a monastery. The latter half of the book concerns the little pigeon’s service with the British War Department.
It was sweet to feel the boy's affection for his bird, and I enjoyed an animal story about a novel pet--a pigeon. But connection and engagement with Gay-Neck only came fleetingly; the writing got in the way.

I couldn’t help comparing Gay-Neck with Chief of the Herd, written in 1929.
With the two books stacked up to each other, Chief of the Herd is clearly the winner. Learning about Asian elephants and India was fascinating (even if some of it was myth, such as the "Elephant Graveyard"), and the relationships the elephants had with each other, and the themes of loyalty and love drew me into the exciting story. But Gay-Neck was rather dull, and I finally just couldn’t wait to be done with it.

If you get a chance to read Gay-Neck, you should skim through it, just for the experience. And if you get a chance to read Chief of the Herd, then do, to see what this author is capable of, the one that should have won the award!