Tuesday, April 26, 2011

1995 - Walk Two Moons

Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech, has been sitting on my shelf for quite a few months. If I had had any idea of what a marvelous book this was, I would have read it long ago!

This is, quite simply, one of the best novels for young readers that I have read. “Richly layered” begins to describe it. There are several stories going on at once here, and they weave gracefully between each other, building interest and intrigue.

What makes a book delicious for me is when the author keeps a close hand in revealing details, secrets, motivations. They are parceled out, each naturally in its own time, the characters becoming more rounded, their actions more meaningful as the story progresses.

Sal, the 13 year old protagonist has to leave the farm in Kentucky that she grew up in after her mother left. She’s dropped into a new situation in the town where they move, starting school, making friends. Everyone around her has interesting secrets, some for her to find out as she is able to bear to hear them, and some that are revealed in the stories she tells about them. There are some stories-within-stories, as Sal tells the tale of Phoebe, her new friend, to amuse and distract her grandparents during the drive out west they take to visit her mother.

Creech crafts what would be ordinary points in her book to become charming, memorable treats to the story. I loved the telling of how Sal got named and what it was supposed to mean.

I let this book set on the shelf for awhile because the title didn’t appeal to me. I thought it was a character’s “Indian name,” and that it might be more meaningful than entertaining, not what I was in the mood for. Instead, it refers to a saying, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins,” a gentle theme of the book as Sal and those around her do learn to see things from other’s points of view.

I picked this book up at Goodwill for about a buck and a half I think.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

1997 - The View From Saturday

I picked this book up, used, at a Thrift store. On the surface, it didn’t look like anything special, and the title was strange and not very revealing. But then I saw the familiar gold seal on the front and knew it would be worth a read; it was a Newbery Medal Winner.

The writing method used in this book is a little unusual. In the hands of someone less skilled, it might have been confusing and disjointed. But The View From Saturday is not; it draws the reader in to know and care about the characters, and to share the growing excitement to the conclusion.

Mrs. Olinsky has brought her 6th grade team to the Academic Bowl Championships, an unheard-of accomplishment, not only for their school, but also for their grade level. As each question is asked, she knows which one of her team will answer it and how they had come into the knowing.

At this point, the 3rd person narrative shifts to the 1st person telling his or her own story, starting earlier, back when each of the four had started becoming interconnected with the others. At times the stories overlap; one’s relatives are related to another’s, this person’s father is another person’s dentist, etc. The final boy’s story to be told makes the magical connection, like a puzzle that is made stronger and finer by putting the last piece in.

You can start thinking this story is all about the kids, but we are given glimpses of Mrs. Olinsky’s feelings, her pride in the kids, her situation of becoming a recent paraplegic. Yes, this book is about the kids, it is in their voices after all. But adding depth to Mrs. Olinsky brings a layer of richness to the story.

I did find the word usage a little odd at times. I don’t know of any 6th grader who uses the word “prepubescent” to describe a peer. And the lack of contractions in their speech recalls Portis’s True Grit.

Throughout the book people ask the teacher, why these kids? Why didn’t she pick the academic stars of the school, the A honor roll? She gave good answers, but couldn’t find the words for the real truth of it. The answer, coming at the end of the book, is not as much a revelation to Mrs. Olinsky as it is a confirmation of what she had seen in all of them when she began to pick them.

Because this book doesn’t have a huge plot, after the first time I read it through, I enjoyed it and then promptly forgot most of it. I enjoyed it just as much re-reading it and hope I retain more of it this time!