This issue of the Children's Literature Newsletter is sponsored by:
Carol Hurst, Consultants.
Bringing children's literature to your workshop, conference and classroom.
The best place to learn about Avi is at his delightful website at:
There he answers questions about his life and work and gives some background information about each of his books. It's a terrific website. Don't miss it.
What can we say about Avi besides all that? We can say that he lives in Rhode Island and that he was a children's librarian and that he didn't begin writing books until he had children of his own. We can't tell you much about his unique name except to say that his sister, Emily, so dubbed him at age one and it stuck. We can say that he is an amazingly prolific and versatile writer.
A quick glance at his work shows us mysteries, adventure stories, fantasies, historical novels, ghost stories, animal tales and comedies. He's done picture books as well as novels and all of his work is of very high caliber. He seems always to take up a new challenge as he sits down to create something new for his readers and so an Avi book always provides surprises.
Let's look at a few of my favorites. His young adult novel Nothing But the Truth is subtitled A Documentary Novel. In it, there is no direct conversation. Through memos, announcements, letters, newspaper articles and transcripts we obtain knowledge of a series of events that ensued because of a lack of communication, really, between a gifted student and his teacher. What starts as a minor act of rebellion that probably should have been ignored mushrooms into a cause celibre for many people, each with their own agenda, who soon override the concerns of the kid and his teacher. The end result is not what either of them wanted. The reader is left to wend his or her way through these documents to arrive at some version of the truth. To propel a plot in this way and get the reader so involved is a remarkable feat for Avi.
Almost in direct opposition to Nothing But the Truth is Who Was that Masked Man Anyway. This very funny book is propelled entirely by dialogue. There is no narration in it -- not even "he said" and "she said". Like the radio shows Avi listened to as a child what we have here is conversation. Again, such is the skill of Avi that we have no doubt what is happening and who is talking. This is a book that begs to be read aloud and makes great reader's theater. You'll want to follow up by playing some recordings of old radio shows. If you're teaching young writers about dialogue, this is the place to go.
Avi deals with some very serious issues in some of his work. Devil's Race (HarperTrophy, 1984 ISBN 0-06-440586-9) is a scary ghost story in which Avi creates a character so totally evil that the reader is as threatened as John Proud, the young protagonist, is. Does true evil exist and, if so, why?
In Fighting Ground (HarperCollins, 1980 ISBN 0-397-32074-4) we get a wonderful novel about the Revolutionary War in which Jonathan, the main character, meets heroes and villains on both sides of the conflict, shaking his belief in the glories of the war.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Orchard, 1990 ISBN 0-531-05893-X) is a melodrama with villains and a strong female heroine. Actually, if you're looking for examples of almost any genre or writing technique, you can find it in Avi's work.
He did a novel in two parts: Beyond the Western Sea: Book One: The Escape from Home (Orchard, 1996 ISBN 0-531-09513-4) and Book Two: Lord Kirkle's Money is a Dickensian effort in which we follow some young people fleeing the famine in Ireland, some villains in London and Liverpool and end up in the United States. These books are wonderful examples of the use of cliffhangers for every chapter ends with one.
Actually, using the work of Avi can lead a class into the discussion and exploration of almost every genre and of many writer's techniques. His books are exciting and compelling reading and readers of almost every ilk can find an Avi book that seems written just for him or her.
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