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!


Funder said...

If you're at all interested in pigeons any more, google 'taiwan racing pigeons' - they are hardcore! Here's an example.

Carolyn said...

Good grief! That sounds like serious business!
What I know about pigeons is that my grandfather raised them for eating. It makes me feel bad to read about how nasty urban pigeons are. It would be a fun hobby to play with homing pigeons.