Sunday, March 26, 2017

2015 Honor - El Deafo

I loved this book!

I wanted to get some more contemporary Newbery books in my collection, rather than flip through the old classics always present at the thrift store. I did some research online and came up with a few books to order, this being one of them.

El Deafo, by Cece Bell, is an autobiographical graphic novel of her life from age 4 until about 18. The illustrations are very very fun. Everyone is a sort of animal, my best guess is rabbit. That makes it less about who is pretty, who is not, what ethnicity are they and what does that mean, etc. It's all about, what are they like? What is their personality and way of interacting with their friends? And it's all about the people. No swirling background scenes to distract from the interactions and from the inner life of Cece, the main character and star.

At 4 years old, little Cece was stricken by a severe case of meningitis, which left her without most of her hearing. A hearing aid helped. And that was good. Except that you can imagine what it was like starting school with a bulky device strapped to your body and wires in your ears. What do these kids think about you? Are they staring at you? Are they making fun of you? Cece shares her thoughts, fantasies (which can be very funny, and will also strike a chord if you can remember your childhood fantasies) accomplishments and regrets as she goes along with her life.

And then, when she realizes her superpower, well, that is very empowering. Could the teachers have guessed that having a microphone around their necks so as to communicate clearly with their hearing-impaired student would enable said student to hear what they were doing throughout the school grounds?

I found her relationships with her different "best friends" to be somewhat hilarious. You can think back on different school friends you have had, and name some that match up to these girls! And I totally get the eye-hearts when Cece is thinking about her crush.

I remember being like Cece, who found it difficult to say out loud what what she really thought about things. Watching her grow in the ability to assert herself was rewarding.

Honestly, if you have a kid who is about 4th grade, or a little below, or a little above, get them this book! Or if you are like me, and just have that appreciation for middle-school level literature, get it anyway. And then share it with the kids you know.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

1976 Honor - The Hundred Penny Box

I had never heard of The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis before. And there it was before me on the Goodwill shelf, a slim 47 page volume that looked more like a children's picture book at first glance. The illustrations are ethereal, with a dream-like quality, and also strong with emotion. Was this a simple little book with a nice message, or could something powerful be packed inside?
We don't find out right away exactly what the hundred penny box is, but shortly we do see the family situation. Michael's dad's great Aunt Dew has come to live with them. She is very old, a hundred years old, in fact. Michael loves to visit with her and hear her stories, the stories that inhabit every year of her long and interesting life. And that is what the hundred penny box represents, a penny for each year, all packed into an old rugged wooden box.

Michael's mother is having a difficult time, however. There is little meaningful communication between the two women, and some misunderstanding. His mother has had to discard many of Aunt Dew's possessions when she moved in with them. And now she has her eye on the hundred penny box! To her, it is old and ugly and should be replaced with something newer and more attractive. Michael realizes what his mother does not, that the box is not just a decoration or a holder for the pennies, but that it is part of his family heritage and is the essence of Aunt Dew's self-identity.

The balance of power is never equal in a family. And this imbalance is well-felt by the reader. The lead characters, Michael and Aunt Dew, are the least powerful, as the very young and very old are. Simple things like autonomy of self, where to go, what to say, holding on to a beloved item that is slated for disposal, those can be a battle hard to win.

I paid a dollar for this book at Goodwill.