Do you have a favorite author that provokes a Pavlovian response? When I hear “Polly Horvath’s new book” I drool. “…two new books..” knocked me to the floor in fits.
Up and dusted, I tried to put my brain in order so that I could read her current titles as objectively as possible…meaning, likely, that I overly-tempered my feelings. ONE YEAR IN COAL HARBOR and MR. AND MRS. BUNNY–DETECTIVES EXTRAORDINAIRE! (both from Schwartz & Wade) are both interesting to consider for Newbery; after first read I set both aside, not hearing wild enthusiasm out there from more than my friends in frothy fandom. As the year wears on however, and we have a field and some distance for comparison, I find myself looking closer. Still not sure if these would get into my nominations field, but they certainly stand for comparison with our other contenders.
ONE YEAR IN COAL HARBOR is truly a “companion” novel (to EVERYTHING ON A WAFFLE), rather than a sequel as Jonathan earlier placed it. It stands alone, only character development aiding readers of the previous, and honestly I felt I was meeting them all again for the first time. Here is the world through the perspective and machinations of Primrose Squab, as she tries to understand and make life better for an amazingly well-drawn cast of quirky side characters in her life. The Newbery Committee had this to say about EVERYTHING ON A WAFFLE:
When 11-year-old Primrose Squarp’s parents disappear at sea, her faith in their return defies all adult logic. Set in British Columbia, Everything On A Waffle combines quirky characters, recipes, and amazing twists of plot in a striking combination of the barely credible and profoundly true.
Committee Chair Kathleen Odean says, “Told with wit and tongue-in-cheek humor, Horvath’s vivid tale is grounded in tenderness and wisdom.”
Isn’t all the same true for COAL HARBOR? I see many Goodreads comments that call this “not as good as” WAFFLE… but to me, all of the strengths in WAFFLE are still here in COAL HARBOR. When I read it, I wanted to be no where else; setting, voice, and character feeling palpably real, inside and out.
MR. AND MRS. BUNNY–DETECTIVES EXTRAORDINAIRE! is a little more “out there,” which to anyone who knows Horvath should make you run for cover. Frankly, I’m still having a hard time with it, though friends in Goodreads seem to get it better than I (note Mark Flower’s review: “It’s a shame this isn’t eligible for the Newbery award since it is a translation from the original Rabbit, but what a translation!”) It requires many leaps up faith, but sets the reader’s expectations perfectly for them, which I find to be one of its tremendous strengths (and reminded me of an undersung favorite of mine in the same vein: Tor Seidler’s MEAN MARGARET). But oddly…I just didn’t find Mr. and Mrs. Bunny to be funny, and it’s their character quirks that drive the narrative, rather than the plot, which is more of a tone than a plot with all of its non sequitirs. I had to wonder if they work better as characters to readers who spend a lot of time with pet rabbits. Or am I just not reading like a 9 year old? Or am I thinking like a Marmot?
I know from Goodreads that many of you have opinions on these two. How do they stack up against you other favorites, or ours?
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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 email@example.com
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