How Low Can You Go?
Each book is to be considered as a contribution to literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other aspects of a book are to be considered only if they distract from the text. Such other aspects might include illustrations, overall design of the book, etc. My argument is that the story of HOOK–plot, setting, and character–is largely conveyed through the illustrations. You can infer some basic information from the text about these elements (just as you can infer an elaborate scenario of time travel with just burn scale, dome, A WRINKLE IN TIME, and diamonds on a ring), but those inferences hardly raise the text to a distinguished level. No, what raises this text to a distinguished level is the style and the theme. Those are the elements that are pertinent to this picture book text; you need not expect to find excellence in the others.
We’ve already noted that the narrative has a very stripped down, spare quality that allows the reader room to draw inferences, make connections, and otherwise be a very active participant in the reading of this text. Moreover, the clipped phrases make for a cadence and rhythm that perfectly mirrors the building suspense and intensity in the story. If there is a more distinguished stylistic contribution to American literature for children, then I would love to know about it. Name names, people!
Brooke noted that this story is a folklore retelling, and folklore retellings can be eligible.
In defining the term, "original work," the committee will consider books that are traditional in origin, if the book is the result of original research and the retelling and interpretation are the writer’s own.
I had not heard this tale (like Brooke had), but when I trolled the internet, I found numerous variations (here and here and here and here), all of them markedly different than Young’s retelling–and markedly inferior.
Many of the reviewers noted a close resemblance to "The Ugly Duckling" by Hans Christian Andersen. Wikipedia reports the following commentary.
Bruno Bettelheim observes in ‘’The Uses of Enchantment’’ that the Ugly Duckling is not confronted with the tasks, tests, or trials of the typical fairy tale hero. “No need to accomplish anything is expressed in “The Ugly Duckling”. Things are simply fated and unfold accordingly, whether or not the hero takes some action.” In conjunction with Bettelheim’s assessment, Maria Tatar notes in ’’The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen’’ that Andersen suggests the Ugly Duckling‘s superiority resides in the fact that he is of a breed different from the barnyard rabble, and that dignity and worth, moral and aesthetic superiority are determined by nature rather than accomplishment.
Young does gives Hook tasks, tests, and trials–and I think that takes this already wonderful fable to a different level. Some of the variants that I looked at did not have the eagle ever realizing that he was not a chicken, while most of them had the eagle taking flight upon the first attempt. In fact, I’m not sure that any of them emphasized the perserverance that Hook exemplifies. That might be an original contribution (or I may not have read all the variants). In any case, if literature strives to explore what it means to be human, I don’t know of any story from this past year that does it as powerfully as this simple one. Again, if there is a more distinguished thematic contribution to American literature, then I would love to know about it. Names!
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at email@example.com
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