Thursday, January 28, 2010

The 2009 Newbery and Caldecott award winners

This week I was lucky enough to be able to read and review two new award winning books. One is the 2009 Caldecott winner, The lion and the mouse by Jerry Pinkney. The other is the 2009 Newbery winner, When you reach me by Rebecca Stead. Pinkey's artwork delighted me so much that I looked through the book four times before I wrote my review. As for When you reach me, well it just blew me away. I usually find books that talk about time travel confusing. This one was so magical that I starting telling everyone I know that they should read it as soon as possible.

When you reach me

Rebecca Stead
Ages 12 and up
Scholastic, 2009, 0385737424
Miranda’s problems seem to begin after one of the neighborhood boys punches her best friend Sal in the stomach. Sal retreats from Miranda’s company, and suddenly she finds that she is all alone. She has to walk past the “crazy guy” on the corner by herself, and she has no one to spend her time with. Quite by chance, soon after she loses Sal, Annemarie’s friendship with Julia goes south, so Miranda and Annemarie start spending time together. Then Colin joins their little duo, and the three children begin to spend their school lunch break working at a local sandwich shop.
   After her first day of “work” Miranda comes home to discover that her apartment door is not locked. Nothing has been stolen, but Miranda finds out that something was left behind – a note. The writer of the note tells Miranda that he or she is “coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” He or she also asks Miranda to write a letter and to “mention the location of your house key.” The writer talks about a trip and how he or she “will not be myself when I reach you.” What on earth is going on?
    This is only the first of several letters that Miranda finds. They all appear under the most mysterious of circumstances, and what they say makes no sense at all. What does become apparent is that the writer seems to know what is going to happen before it happens. How is this even possible?
   In this extraordinary book, Rebecca Stead takes her readers on an incredible journey into the fantastic. She explores time travel and friendships, and she gives her readers a mystery that is tantalizing, intriguing, thought-provoking, and even magical. Without a superfluity of words, Rebecca Stead’s novel is a powerful tour de force that will leave readers spellbound and perhaps slightly dazed.
   The title won the 2009 Newbery Award.   

The lion and the mouse
Jerry Pinkney
Picture Book
For all ages
Little Brown, 2009, 9780316-01356-7

One morning a mouse, who is very distracted, accidentally runs up the back of a sleeping lion. Needless to say, the lion is not pleased. He could easily eat the little mouse that sits quivering in his paw. Instead, the lion, in an act of compassion, lets the little mouse go.
   Then one day, some hunters set out a trap, which the lion walks right into. Though he is the king of the savannah, the lion cannot free himself from the hunter’s rope net. He is well and truly caught. The little mouse hears the lion’s roar, and she quickly runs to where the lion hangs from a tree, trussed up in the rope net. Though she is just a very little mouse, there is something that she can do to help the great lion, and she gets to work.
   This beautiful retelling of one of Aesop’s most beloved tales will delight readers of all ages. The only words in the book are sound words; squeaks and roars, the hoots of an owl, and the “Putt-Putt-Putt,” of a car engine. Jerry Pinkney perfectly captures the essence of the fable with his gorgeous paintings, which are rich with the golden colors of an African grassland. Readers will have no trouble seeing that this story not only looks at the gift of compassion, but it also highlights the fact that even the smallest and weakest individuals have something valuable to give. The “meek” can truly have something to offer the “mighty.”


Aaron Mead said...

I also loved the Lion and the Mouse. Such a wonderful book.

I think the most striking thing about it for me is the space Pinkney opens up for a subtle reinterpretation of the traditional moral of Aesop’s fable. The traditional moral: “Little friends may prove great friends.” Traditionally, then, the story is meant to embolden the meek (“You may be a great friend one day!”) and to encourage the proud to look out for the little guy.

However, in Pinkney’s version, the moral is not so tightly constrained, largely because the only words Pinkney uses, as you note, are onomatopoeias. This textually minimal approach lets the story breath in new ways, broadening the possibilities for the story’s moral. While the range of possibilities still includes the traditional moral, in my view the most obvious teaching of Pinkney’s version seems to be that mercy is a virtue. In other words, the moral of Pinkney’s version is that mercy is a good character trait that human beings ought to embody.

The central aspect of Pinkney’s version that shifts the book toward this interpretation is that since there is no dialogue, we do not get the lion laughing derisively when the mouse suggests that the lion may need her help one day (as in the traditional telling). Rather, all we see is the lion letting the mouse go free, which looks more like an act of mercy than an act inspired by the lion’s arrogant amusement. Moreover, as a result, the mouse’s liberating action looks less like mere payback and more like mercy as well.

Marya Jansen-Gruber said...

Aaron, I quite agree with you regarding the mercy aspect of the story. It makes the story a gentler more loving one, and the soft colors of Africa beautifully reflect this.