ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN by Gavriel Savit . . . When I first read descriptions of this book with comparisons to THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS and LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, I didn’t think I would like it very much. THE BOOK THIEF is another apt, if imperfect, comparison. The language here is beautiful, and is enhanced even more by the audiobook.
When Anna Lania woke on the morning of the sixth of November in the year 1939–her seventh–there were several things that she did not know.
Anna did not know that the chief of the Gestapo in occupied Poland had by fiat compelled the rector of the Jageiellonian University to require the attendance of all professors (of whom her father was one) at a lecture and discussion on the directions of the Polish Academy under German sovereignty, to take place at noon on that day.
She did not know that, in the company of his colleagues, her father would be take from lecture hall number 56, first to a prison in Krakow, where they lived, and subsequently to a number of other internment facilities across Poland, before finally being transported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany.
She also did not know that, several months later, a group of her father’s surviving colleagues would be moved to the far mor infamous Dachau camp in Upper Bavaria, but that, by the time of the transfer, her father would not longer exist in a state in which he was capable of being moved.
What Anna did know that morning was that her father had to how
away for a few hours.
In her father’s absence Anna will join forces with the mysterious Swallow Man as they wander the countryside. The story has that same fable-like quality as some of the aforementioned books, not to mention a very young child in a very adult story. Perhaps some would argue too adult. There is an uncomfortable scene late in the book where Anna is forced to strip down for pharmacist in exchange for medicine, but aside from that I think this one is easily within the Newbery range. Someday My Printz Will Come has already discussed this book, too.
ANOTHER BROOKLYN by Jacqueline Woodson . . . Shortlisted for a National Book Award in the Fiction category, there is no denying the literary excellence here. Once again, sample some of the wonderful prose.
If we had had jazz, would we have survived differently? If we had known our story was a blues with a refrain running through it, would we have lifted our heads, said to each other, This is memory again and again until the living made sense? Where would we be now if we had known there was a melody to our madness? Because even though Sylvia, Angela, Gigi, and I came together like a jazz improv–half notes tentatively moving toward one another until the ensemble found its footing and the music felt like it had always been playing–we didn’t have jazz to know this was who we were. We had the Top 40 music of the 1970s trying to tell our story. It never quite figured us out.
The question here is does this book have an intended potential child audience? I think I can argue either way. No, because it was published as an adult book. If Woodson had intended a child audience to read it, then it would have been published as YA. Yes, because any book that has the name Jacqueline Woodson on it has an intended potential audience for children, especially since childhood is such a prominent part of the novel. We might have made similar arguments about Louise Erdrich’s THE ROUND HOUSE and Neil Gaiman’s THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE.
I really do think this is an academic discussion, however. Given the excellent field of books explicitly published for a child audience there is no need to go looking elsewhere. This is your annual reminder that (a) unlike the Printz committee the Newbery can consider adult books and (b) that once upon a time the Newbery committee occasionally selected such books.
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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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