I’m going to let the comments on Jonathan’s Party Pooper post rattle on a little longer as I more fully gather my thoughts on When You Reach Me. Meanwhile–
Last year, Sharon and I had a really difficult time identifying nonfiction titles that we thought would bear up in Newbery discussion. (We picked Fleischman’s The Trouble Begins at 8 for discussion, though it didn’t get our votes in the end. Fleming’s The Lincolns and Nelson’s We Are the Ship were strong titles, but were dependent on their overall package–not just text–for their strength.)
This year, I believe we’ll have no problem. Here’s just one example.
Last weekend, catching up on my to-read pile, I tackled Mission Control: This is Apollo and Almost Astronauts side by side. While the former is certainly a good read, there was nothing that stood out stood me in the text that cried "distinguished!" Thus it was that all of a sudden two hours later, rising my head from the thrall of Almost Astronauts to respond to the desperate hunger pangs of my poor stomach, I realized I’d come across just that.
How do you write an engrossing story about something that failed to happen? I’m not sure, but Stone has done it. Her journalistic tone respects the facts as well as the audience. She understands how to weave setting, exposition, and analysis to keep the reader’s perspective fresh and involved. And she gives her reader the benefit of full documentation of her quotations and references.
She does this with literary cunning that shouldn’t be lost on the aspiring-writers among her audience. Here’s an example on page 55 of the ARC. "August 1961. Here are the bare facts." She then lays out a number of sequenntial facts, but titles them "Domino number one," "Domino number two," etc. "Bare fact" suggests objectivity; but the context of linking them as causal "dominoes" is a subjective trick that implies disaster coming. She doesn’t try to hide this analysis–she gets right into it: "This explanation is clear, simple, straigthforward–and fairly meaningless….And that is where the story of the ‘almost astronauts’ gets deeper and darker."
I believe this is an example of the best kind of interpretation-of-events that is "history" in literature for kids. What are your thoughts?
(For interest, read Stone’s article in SLJ about the writing of this book, as well as thoughts from Marc Aronson.)
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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