Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Newsletter
Volume 2, Number 4. October, 1997. Page 3.
This issue of the Children's Literature Newsletter is sponsored by:
Carol Hurst, Consultants.
Storytelling and language arts for your workshop, conference and classroom.
New Book Reviews
It won't take you long to read Jacqueline Woodson's new book The House You Pass on the Way (Delacorte, 1997 ISBN 0-385-32189-9 Hardcover); it only has ninety-eight pages. However, within those pages for a young adult audience, we get beautiful, almost lyric writing, insight into the sexuality and choices of two very different teenage girls, a look at the effects of interracial marriage, a loving family that dares to defy convention, a glimpse of heroism on the part of a long dead couple, and the effects of anger, racism and grief on them all. Yet nothing very much happens.
Staggerlee, living outside a small, Southern town, is a loner, set apart from her classmates in so many ways. They consider her stuck-up and attribute that to the fact that her grandmother and grandfather are town heroes. (They were famous entertainers who lost their lives while lending their fame to a protest march.) Her mother is also a loner, perhaps because she is one of the few white women in the mostly black community. Staggerlee's father has been shunned by his family since he married a white woman, but he remains open and friendly. Dotti, Staggerlee's older sister, is also very popular in the community, but Staggerlee walks alone until she meets Trout, an adopted cousin who comes to stay with the family for a summer. Immediately, a bond is made between the two girls made stronger because they are both gay. Suddenly Staggerlee has someone to talk and walk with for one idyllic summer. Although they don't act on their sexuality, both know that, next summer Trout will come back and the relationship will continue. However, a letter from Trout changes everything. Yet, that happy interlude changes Staggerlee. Things are better for her next year at school and we sense that the lessons she learned and the acceptance she gained will go with her a long way. This is a fine, sensitive novella for kids in grades six - nine.
On a very different note, those of us familiar with Ann Turner's work pick up her latest with great anticipation. Often she writes about the prairie years. Not this time. Finding Walter (Harcourt, 1997 ISBN 0-15-200212-x. Hardcover) takes place in a far less spacious area -- mostly the interior of a dollhouse. I didn't think I'd care where Walter was after I found out he was a missing inhabitant of that dollhouse. I was dismayed when Turner asked me to care about those dolls even see them as symbols of love and caring. Then, I started caring. Such is Turner's skill that Emily and Rose, the little girls whose father is recuperating from a heart attack, became important to me. They've moved in with Gran, their father's mother, for the recuperation period. It's their Aunt Alice's dollhouse they've discovered covered with dust, grime, spider webs and mouse droppings in Gran's attic. Almost immediately Emily senses what the dolls are saying. It takes longer for Rose to get through her anger enough to hear them, and what they hear is that Walter, the baby doll, is missing. This is an old-fashioned kind of story usually done best by British authors, for some reason, but in Ann Turner's hands, it's splendid.
It's very hard for me to keep up with Sharron McElmeel's work. She's a prolific author of professional books for librarians and teachers. Her ideas are always practical, her suggested activities possible, and the links she makes between books are often unexpected and delightful. One series is her Educator's Companion to Children's Literature, Volumes 1 & 2 (Libraries Unlimited, 1995 & 1996, ISBN 1-56308-329-9 Paperback & 1-56308-330-2). In these books, McElmeel gives lots of good author information and quotes. She relates their lives to their books and shows ways to use this information to help their books gain more meaning for readers. She also deals with genres such as biography, giving the teacher/librarian useful information about the genre, such as the fact that standards for biography have changed. (We no longer tolerate fictionalized biographies in which dialogue is invented and situations surmised unless the book is clearly labeled historical fiction.) Her annotated bibliographies are useful and contain many titles not commonly seen in such booklists.
Another very useful and timely book by Sharron McElmeel & Carol Simpson is Internet for Schools (Linworth, 1997 ISBN 0-938865-59-5 Paperback). Everyone is sure that we must get all of America's schools hooked up to the Internet, but many are not sure why. Internet for Schools goes a long way toward telling us why. There's a concise explanation of what the Internet is, how to access it, and what the various terms such as URL mean. It also contains information to help school systems establish an acceptable use policy and the advisability of informing parents about internet use in the schools. It's impossible to keep up with the changes on the Internet but Simpson & McElmeel give teachers and librarians struggling to understand and to use it productively in schools a good start in that direction.
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