What’s not to love about this book? All the storytelling elements–plot, character, setting–are superb, while the elegant simplicity of the language belies the thematic depth that resonates on every page. Seems like a Newbery Medal winner to me!
The structure of this novel is ambitious, from the double stories that frame the three interior ones to the risky decision to leave each of those three stories with a cliffhanger ending that leaves their resolution–not to mention their interrelationship–to the denouement. Because I was invested in each and every one of these kids–Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy–in equal measures, this worked beautifully for me. I have talked to other people, however, who either felt drawn to one story more than the others or who found one to be weaker than the other two. I suspect the success or failure of this book may hinge upon how invested in each of the stories the reader is.
While the book is long, the prose reads well and–much like DiCamillo or Applegate–is accessible even to the youngest independent readers. Sentences, paragraphs, and chapters are all very short which, when coupled with the easy prose and compelling story, make this a quick read for a long book.
A final word about the theme. To me, one of the most powerful ones to emerge from the three interior stories is loyalty–loyalty to family, loyalty to friends, loyalty to country–and it stands in counterpoint to the treachery and fickleness of fairy tale relationships suggested by the framing stories. But there’s a lot we could talk about here. So talk away! What’s your take on this one?
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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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