Thursday, February 28, 2008

Book Review: A Story — A Story

It’s a story so good it had to be named twice. Or is it? Here is the story of a man who knows how to depend on his brains rather than brawn to win the favor of a god. Gail E. Haley “studied African folklore and culture … to capture the flavor of the languages, the people, their customs and life styles.” She did manage to relay this, but perhaps too much so. The unfamiliar African words could have used a pronunciation guide in the text or in a glossary. Even some of the English words (flamboyant, calabash) may be beyond the reach of the younger child for whom this book is intended (ages 4-8). This coupled with the almost babyish language elsewhere in the book (“Gum baby, I’ll slap your crying place.”) create an awkward juxtaposition. The intriguing shapes and vivid colors in the wood cut illustrations (made by the author herself) redeem the book, however, and justify the Caldecott Medal it was awarded in 1971.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Book Review: It’s Like This Cat

This book is a stark contrast to coming-of-age stories like Shiloh that feature a lonely boy and a dependent, loyal dog who become fast companions. That’s because this book is about a boy and his cat. Both are fiercely independent and curious. That curiosity leads both into some scary yet exciting adventures. Author Emily Neville really captures the innocence and exhilaration of catch-as-catch-can life for the main character as well as those who cross his path. Her caricature of both cat and boy behavior is humorous and true-to-life. In addition, her romantic portrayal of New York City through the eyes of youth is magical. At the same time, one feels all the familiarity and intimacy of a small town as she weaves the chapters through landmarks like Gramercy Park and Coney Island and then back to “the neighborhood.” The matter-of-fact portrayal and acceptance of family dysfunction is refreshing in a book more than 40 years old.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Book Review: Shiloh

Newbery Award-winning Shiloh represents everything that readers love about a story that is at once a boy-meets-dog love story and a coming-of-age tale. The empathetic 11-year-old meets with all the classic predicaments (father / son confrontations, right vs. wrong, the spirit vs. the letter of the law, animal and human rights) and he prevails on every level. Sophisticated readers may find the book a bit clich├ęd, however, and the beliefs, mannerisms and attitudes of the characters, at times, make it feel like this book is set in the 1950s instead of the 1990s. The book is written in easy language (for children as young as 8 years old) and is narrated from the boy’s perspective which will allow older children (up to 12) to identify with both his simple day-to-day life and complex moral quandaries.