What an Honor

I have begun my quest to read this year's Newbery and Caldecott winners (see here for full list), and I will start with two that received the honor designation, rather than the winners.

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm received the silver Newbery Honor medal, the third such designation for Holm.  She was previously honored for Our Only May Amelia (2000) and Penny from Heaven (2007).  Set in Depression-era Key West, Florida, Turtle in Paradise is the story of a girl who has been brought to live (unannounced) with her mother's sister and family.  Her mother works as a live-in housekeeper, and her current position did not allow children.  So, Turtle is shipped off and deposited amongst a steaming pile of boy cousins in sunny Key West.  There are the usual adjustments and resentments and reconciliations and adventures that accompany such a change.  And there are the usual "mysteries" about the identity of Turtle's father and her mama's future with her boyfriend, Archie.  In fact, with the exception of the setting (time and place), this novel offers little new under the sun.  I do think it is a good addition as most of our Depression stories for children center around the Dust Bowl and the Okies.  It's good to remind ourselves that the Depression affected every place, and every place was affected a bit differently.  In Key West, the lack of money wasn't felt as harshly as in other places because of their proximity to food.  As Turtle puts it, "That's the one good thing about Key West: there's food everywhere - hanging from trees, in the ocean - and it's all free" (109).  Beyond this broadening of the historical story, though, Turtle in Paradise did not impress me.  It certainly was not bad, and I would not mind any child I know to encounter it.  It was just average because it was so predictable.  And to compare it to some prior Honor books (Pictures of Hollis Woods or The Cricket in Times Square or Charlotte's Web) is to see that averageness writ large.  I'll look forward to seeing how it stacks up against the other Honor designees and especially against the Medal Winner, Moon over Manifest.

On the picture book side of things, we see a bit more innovation in Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave.  According to the notes at the back, the author saw a presentation on African American art which included an image of a pot with a poem written on it.  That pot (and that poem) were made by a slave named Dave.  With that, the author was captivated by this potter and built a book around him.  There was more to learn about this person, and the author did a good job of doing the research without letting the facts overwhelm the book.  The text is nice: a sparse poetic cadence that tells the story gently.  It opens

To us
it is just dirt,
the ground we walk on.
Scoop up a handful.
The gritty grains slip
between your fingers.

On wet days,
heavy with rainwater,
it is cool and squishy, 
mud pie heaven.

But to Dave
it was clay,
the plain and basic stuff
upon which he learned to
form a life
as a slave nearly
two hundred years ago.

The text continues to play with this "To us" and "to Dave" motif, and the accompanying illustrations are quite impressive, especially when you realize they are a combination of watercolor and collage.  The collage part is what is so remarkable.  Unless you look closely, you don't notice the collage aspect at all.  It is so skillfully done that it almost disappears . . . but not quite.  The not quite part is not a failing, though, for the collage is what lifts these illustrations beyond the ordinary. Honestly, for all their loveliness, the pictures don't blow me away - certainly not more than many other amazing artist/illustrators are creating these days; however, Dave the Potter is an interesting little history and a lovely book.  A good choice by the committee.

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