Newbery Honor: Vaino, A Boy of New Finland

[Written right before posting:] So I finally gave up on this... miserable object... (I tell you, I'm really regretting right now that I didn't make this blog R-rated) and decided to post what I had. In hopes that people will wail back at me and share my pain. O_O

In other notes, I've finally realized that putting the warnings in the actual post body as well as in the cut would be useful for anyone who ever gets linked here from anywhere. I'll do that from now on, and at some point go back and edit them into all the old liveblog posts. :D

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[Earlier:] ...I have no idea whether "New Finland" here means a place that is not Finland, like New York or New Zealand, or whether it means "contemporary Finland" as opposed to "traditional Finland with Lapps and reindeer and that".

LET'S FIND OUT. (Since I only have this book on interlibrary loan till October 7. ;P)

WARNINGS: normative arranged marriage, suicide, misogyny, classism, wildly skewed Finnish history... I may have missed something there because after 'suicide' the problems started coming so thick and fast I forgot to warn at the time )

* You know what? I'm done. This book is SO BIASED, and every bad sort of -ist possible [except maybe racist, which it made up for by being AS CLASSIST AS POSSIBLE, like the Dynne in The Phantom Tollbooth whose middle initial "A." stood for "AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE", only with classism]. I have no more interest in it whatsover. Blaaaaaaah. Done.

ETA: I found and fixed my own overflowing link. Aren't you proud of me? ;P Yes, this book has addled my brain. Addled, I say.

Review: The Tangle-Coated Horse and Other Stories, Episodes from the Fionn Saga (Ella Young)

Summary: Retells in English the life story of Fionn mac Cumhall, one of Ireland's great mythic heroes, and of his comrades the Fianna, from Fionn's boyhood through to his old age.

Reaction: Ella Young, like Padraic Colum, was a member of the Gaelic Revival and Celtic Revival movements in the early 20th century. Like Padraic Colum, she is an AMAZING writer in her field -- incredibly talented at use of language and at structuring a retelling so a reader without background knowledge can follow it and find it fascinating.

Conclusion: Five stars. Highly recommended for anyone with any interest whatever in Ireland, Irish mythology and legend, or good writing.

Newbery Honor: The Tangle-Coated Horse and Other Tales, Episodes from the Fionn Saga (Ella Young)

Sorry about the delay in posting. I had a day. A couple of days.

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Today in Returning Newbery Authors we have Ella Young, whose previous tour-de-force The Wonder Smith and His Son was made of awesome and win, and took the second of our six five-star ratings so far. :D Once again she's retelling pre-Christian Irish folk tales -- this time from the story of Fionn mac Uail (pronounced "Finn Mac Ool"), one of Ireland's two best-known legendary folk heroes. (The other one is Cúchulain.)

let's go! )

That was a good book.

Review: Pran of Albania (Elizabeth Cleveland Miller)

Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: The most heteronormative possible treatment of a set of cultural customs with a LOT of potential for questioning gender relationships. about spoilers )

(I use past-tense verbs because the Communist takeover of Albania included efforts at eradicating gender oppression, and I don't know the current situation very accurately.)

And it's treated of in a GAAAH ) and none of the gender oppression stuff is questioned at all, just treated as an integral part of the structure of the story. Which is one way to handle writing about oppressive cultures, but I VERY VERY STRONGLY judge Ms Miller's choice to write this particular narrative (rather than, say, spoilers )). :P

Also, it's an incredibly slow book, laden down with exhaustive detail about Albanian rural life of the (unstated) time period. And due to a couple of odd wordings about a festival Mass, I don't even know how much I trust the author's research. O_O

Also also, in the spot where changing one attribution would have made Pran the first female Newbery protagonist to have agency - just letting her, instead of her boyfriend, suggest that she go have an effect on the plot ), and then just not having her GO ALL WIBBLY AND UNSURE ABOUT IT! - she, well, doesn't. :P One word. I'd have given this book four stars (lopping off the fifth because it's slooooow) if that had been the case. :PPPPPP

Conclusion: One star. Because the use of language and the research is relatively good, but I'm so angry about how pointless it was to make our formerly quite assertive-seeming heroine into a wishy-washy catspaw of her beloved Man-Hero at that one spot. BLAAAAAAAGH.

Newbery Honor: Pran of Albania (Elizabeth Cleveland Miller)

This is an out-of-print interlibrary loan, 257 pages long. Here goes.

a book, a book! )

This was a really slow book. And I'm really disappointed with the one pivotal scene that kept this from being the very first Newbery book about a female protagonist with agency. :P

Review: Little Blacknose (Hildegarde Hoyt Swift)

Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: After a slow start, a surprisingly sweet little book, quick to read and full of memorable, likable characters. By the end of the book, I really cared quite a lot about the welfare of this train engine. ^_^ Highly recommended. WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE OUT OF PRINT. :P If I am ever a multi-millionaire, one thing I'm going to do is buy up the rights to some of these books and reprint them for modern readers.

Conclusion: Four stars. I docked it one for the slow start and for some infelicitous language choices, like the use of spelled-out "Negro dialect" in the one spot where an African-American porter appears.

Review: The Funny Thing (Wanda Gág)

Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: I think I like this one maybe even a teeny bit better than Millions of Cats, since it doesn't have the slightly gruesome turn of that book, but keeps the Grimm's Fairy Tales feel and the truly glorious pen-and-ink artwork in double-page spreads. Babar artist Jean de Brunhoff pioneered the oversize picture book a child could "climb into", a few years after Millions of Cats and The Funny Thing came out, but I'll definitely argue in favor of Wanda Gág as a precursor of the same trend.

I also really enjoyed Bobo's gentle, genre-savvy sporking of the "sermonizing" type of child's picture book in one place. :D

Conclusion: Five stars. I wouldn't say this book should have won the Newbery over Hitty, but I'd definitely give it a Mock Pre-Caldecott for the year. ;-) (The actual Caldecott medal wouldn't be awarded till 1938.)

Newbery Honor: Little Blacknose (Hildegarde Hoyt Swift)

Little Blacknose by Hildegarde Hoyt Swift... is apparently about a train engine. Specifically, the Dewitt Clinton -- the first steam engine built for the New York Central Railroad, according to this book's blurb. It ran between Albany and Schenectady, and literally the only other thing I kind of vaguely know about it is that there was a torchlight procession or some such thing when it was commissioned. I think. This factoid appeared in a Boxcar Children book one time. Unless it was about the opening of the Erie Canal under New York governor Dewitt Clinton. ;S

here we go! )

* And you know, I'm glad he gets a happy ending, at least in the story. I've come to love this little old engine over the last 150 pages. :-)

Mock Newbery: The Funny Thing (Wanda Gág)

I put this on the list because Millions of Cats and ABC Bunny were both on it, and because this is one of those picture books I've read in anthologies but never in the original format. I'll be glad when the Caldecotts start up in 1938 and I don't have to draw comparisons between Wanda Gág picture books and Rachel Field research tours-de-force. (Tour-de-forces? I don't speak French.)

anyway )

I love this book. :D

Review: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years (Rachel Field)

Summary: First-person narration tells the life story of a wooden doll named Hitty (short for Mehitabel), from the time she is carved in Maine in the late 1820s to her placement in an antique shop in the late 1920s.

Reaction: This is a really well-researched, really well-written book. Hitty's narrative voice is clear, distinctive, and always in character. There were a couple spots where I questioned Ms Field's decision to write a book that would naturally include this particular naive perspective on, e.g., post-Civil-War black life in the US South; but I never questioned that, given Hitty's origins, life experience, and her personality as established from page one, the perspective was the one she would have.

(I also don't question at all that the Major Traumatic Plot Twist around the 40% mark was a deliberate stylistic decision. It was obviously deliberate, and it works. It could have felt like Before The Twist and After The Twist were two separate books jammed together in an accidental train-wreck, but it doesn't. I may feel that it was a fairly upsetting stylistic plot choice - this is one of those books like Watership Down that should carry a warning, "Do not assume this book is appropriate for sensitive children just because it's about [a doll/rabbits]", although unlike Watership Down it is for mature kids rather than for adults primarily - but it makes the book what it is, and I can't argue with that.)

Conclusion: Four stars, because I don't want to give five to a book whose portrayal of non-white people I do dispute, on a Doylist level if not a Watsonian one. But this book did very, very definitely deserve the Newbery Medal it won. This is children's literature in the highest sense of the word.

Newbery Medal: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years (Rachel Field)

So. Hitty.

This is a really hard book for me to liveblog. It "seem[s] a bit above my likes and dislikes", to quote JRR Tolkien. It's... it's Literature, I guess, in a way that the other Newberys so far have not been: I can interrogate the text all I want, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what I or anyone else thinks of it. The book stands alone.

but it's still a Newbery and I still have to deal with it )

...okay, you know what? I give up. This book has defeated me. It took me forty minutes to write the section above, and that covers four pages. It'd take me most of a forty-hour work week to finish the book at that rate. I'm not enjoying it enough to do that.

So I'll just run through a quick chapter-by-chapter summary of the plot here, with some Thoughts where appropriate.

summary and Thoughts )

DONNNNNNNNE DONE DONE DONE DONE!!!!! :D I skipped so many details. This is a long book. It's only 207 pages, about half the length of a lot of 1920s Newberys, but it's so very tightly packed! O_O

Review: The Jumping-Off Place (Marian Hurd McNeely)

Summary: Four siblings, seventeen years old and younger, move to South Dakota to live on a homestead there for fourteen months, beginning in summer 1910. They encounter not only blizzards and hard work but evil claim-jumping neighbors. Eventually they triumph over all odds.

Reaction: I wanted to like this book. I really, really did. The first few pages were so well-written in a spare, casual, well-pruned style. And it's set in South Dakota! Land of my heart. :-)

But. :P this got long )

And then there was the bit where I flipped to the end and found the author agreeing with seriously nasty victim-blaming, and just ugh. I'm going to link the online edition for completeness, but I really don't recommend it.

Conclusion: No stars. Which is a shame. It had potential. :P

Newbery Honor: The Jumping-Off Place (Marian Hurd McNeely)

I don't think I know anything about this book, except that it's a 1930 Newbery Honor Book and that it's out of copyright (available here). So!

DISCOVERY! )

:PPPPPP I'm done. I'm just done. It's quite obvious that everything will work out fine for the Linville kids, but that I'll keep calling out unfortunate turns of phrase and weird implications bordering on the offensive, or (as here) crossing well over that border, for the rest of the book. Blah.

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...why did I flip to the end. WHY. Now I have icky victim-blaming defense of domestic violence ) stuck in my head. :PPPPPP