Connecting the Ancient to the Future and Far Away to the Near By
Has a short story collection contributed by more than a dozen authors ever appeared on the Newbery roster? I don’t believe so.
There have been some gold and silver stickers affixed to the covers of folk story collections. For example, 1925 winner Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger (of South American folk tales,) 1948 honor The Cow-Tail Switch, and Other West African Stories by Harold Courlander, 1969 honor When Shlemiel Went to Warsaw and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and 1993 honor The Dark-thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia McKissack. And that was the last time (25 years ago) that a folk tale anthology received any Newbery accolade, unless one counts the 2010 honor title Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin as loosely fitting into this category since the author did piece together a singular narrative inspired by various Chinese folk stories. (It seems to be the only Asian folklore inspired title to ever be seen on the Newbery roster. Please correct me if this is not the case.)
Although none of the above consideration should enter into the Newbery literary discussion, it nevertheless makes me excited to see Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman’s vision realized so beautifully and completely: an anthology of fifteen entertaining tales, diverse in genres and settings based on many different Asian myths, penned by authors who had cultural, intimate, and personal experiences with the original stories. It is indeed a feat!
To me, the success of an anthology lies in three areas and A Thousand Beginnings and Endings hits the mark for all three – thus warrants serious consideration for the 2019 Newbery.
First, there must have a baseline quality for each of the stories in the collection. Yes, some might be more successful than others, for different readers with different tastes, but over all, each story has to have merits. To me, all of the authors satisfy this criterium and quite a few exceed expectations. For example, the vivid dystopian cautionary tale “Steel Skin” by Lori. M. Lee (Hmong) is thrilling and unexpected. In the South Korean epic myth inspired video-game fantasy “The Land of the Morning Calm,” E. C. Myers delivers an emotionally profound story of mourning. Pure adrenaline fun could be found via the quest of a modern-day teen girl vampire in “Code of Honor” by Melissa de la Cruz (Filipino.) And then there are the realistic slice-of-life middle-school friendship drama “Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers” by Preeti Chhibber parallels the tale of the goddess Durgā (Hindu) and eleven other freshly re-imagined tales.
Second, a successful anthology would have a distinct theme that is carried out thoroughly by all the contributors, under the mindful stewardship of the editors. I especially appreciate Oh & Chapman’s insistence on the divers offerings, the #OwnVoice authorial views, and the informative story notes appended after each retelling.
Finally, an anthology. with many contributors from different backgrounds and with different viewpoints, would deepen and expand the readers’ understanding of the thematic through line. By reading these tales, young readers definitely would see the richness of different mythological traditions and thus gain fresh understandings of the vastness of Asian Cultures which often are mis-represented as a singular, rigid culture by western readers. The choice of having different genres: fantasy, sci-fi, realistic fiction, horror, etc. and several tales set in present day or the future further emphasizes the fact that all these cultures are not in stasis. Rather they are continuously evolving.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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