Historical Fiction Rears Its Ugly Head
I had hoped to be able to comment on THE MOSTLY TRUE ADVENTURES OF HOMER P. FIGG, but I have been unable to retrieve my copy from the student, and my hold at the public library has not become available yet, so my commentary on that book will have to wait.
Historical fiction, as many of you already know, seems overrepresented in the Newbery canon–with CALPURNIA and HOMER being the latest additions–especially since the genre is reportedly not very popular with students. I think those rankings of reading preferences can be misleading, however, because historical fiction often has other elements that draw students. For example, readers of BUD, NOT BUDDY probably identify the book as a funny book rather than a historical one.
While I personally thought A SEASON OF GIFTS was the most distinguished historical fiction of the year, I never expected it to earn Newbery recognition for a variety of reasons. While we were busy wrangling over that book, perhaps we allowed CALPURNIA to slide by unquestioned, but now Debbie Reese has asked us on child_lit to consider the "Injun oath" that is invoked several times while Sue Giffard has likewise asked us on ccbc-net to consider the near invisibility of the African American characters that would have run the cotton plantation that Calpurnia lives on. In retrospect, do these elements strike you as problematic?
And finally, when THE STORM IN THE BARN won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, there was some interesting discussion on Oz and Ends about whether that book successfully fits into the genre. In light of the final post on the subject, it might be interesting to see where WHEN YOU REACH ME fits on the spectrum of historical fiction, because while the setting is historical, it does not feel akin to either CALPURNIA or HOMER.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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