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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Recommendation from Under the Radar: Stoneflight

stoneflight Recommendation from Under the Radar: StoneflightI’m going to cheat today and use a review I originally wrote about this book back in September of 2005.  This was a Viking Press title that hit the shelves in 1975.  With the sudden appearance of the book Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher just this year, I thought it only fair to show that the idea of statues coming to life was not original.  This one, for example, thought of it first.

For quite some time I have, for reasons of my own, been trying to find fictional books for children in which statues comes to life. The few titles I’ve been able to find are scattered. It was, therefore, will great delight that I discovered the completely forgotten but surprisingly well-written, "Stoneflight" by Georgess McHargue. Set in the Morningside Heights area of Manhattan, the story follows a girl with a startling ability, and the remarkably normal homelife from which she hopes to escape.

It isn’t that Janie doesn’t love her parents. It’s just that it’s obvious that no one in her family has been happy for a very long time. Her mother is constantly laboring under the mistaken belief that once the family gets some recognition, they’ll all be happy. Her father harbors modest ambitions that grate with his wife’s newfound hopes and dreams. Janie, lonely and bored over a summer where all her friends have gone away, is caught directly in the middle of the two of them. She finds herself often escaping to the rooftop, where she spends her days cleaning a beautiful stone griffin that sits on guard there. It almost feels natural to Janie when she finds that she has the ability to bring Griff (as she has named him) to life beneath her hand. Now Janie’s problems are far behind her as she swoops and soars on Griff’s back at night over the New York skyline. It’s only when she attempts to bring about a gathering of all the stone creatures in New York City that Janie discovers that sometimes being a soft malleable human with the ability to be hurt is a good thing.

It’s funny, but when you read plot synopsis’ (not mine) of this book, they all tend to mention an exciting climactic threat that appears literally 20 pages before the book is done. This is because the book isn’t quite so hot on the whole bad guy thing. This is a book of delicate family relations. In such a light, New York statues coming to life almost seems a kind of afterthought. Originally written in 1975, McHargue’s choice of overshadowing Janie’s tale with the prospect of divorce was probably rather daring at the time. The fact that this divorce never goes through isn’t important. Instead, Janie’s journey and slow acceptance of the fact that adults very rarely know what they are doing, is well-thought. There’s a great deal of intelligence to the tale. So when you see Janie jump on the back of a griffin and fly high and wide, it almost jars. I know that in all good fantasy tales the fantastical elements of the story should be taken with a bite of reality. Just the same, it seems that McHargue has attempted a new kind of "Wrinkle In Time" (which she quotes from liberally) but with more emphasis on the parental elements than the whole bringing-stone-to-life situation.

Personally, I found myself continually delighted by the locations in this book. This is probably because I live in Morningside Heights. I know exactly where Janie was probably living during the events in this tale. I’ve viewed the statues she "quickens". I’ve even entered the Morningside Heights Library mentioned more than once in the context of the tale. Of course, I had to wonder whether or not these same details would make the book LESS accessible to a kid in rural Alabama who picked it up on a lark. Illustrator Arvis Stewart obviously is New York based as well. When we see Griff perched above the city, he is facing in the correct direct (with the river on his left) and in such a way that certain confusing elements of the plot suddenly fall into place. This is the work of an illustrator who has read every word in this book and has made the corresponding pictures as accurate as possible. Arvis apparently was much enamored of that wacky wavy-lined drawing style so popular in the early 70s because this book comes across at certain times like a misplaced scene from "Yellow Submarine". They’re fun pictures and I think kids could definitely still get something out of them, but for some adults they’ll be instant time machines to a mighty groovy era.

You know a book is old when the narrator briefly mentions the "new" World Trade Center. In spite of this (and the book’s current forgotten state), "Stoneflight" is well worth remembering. It has just as much oomph and pizzazz as it did when it first came out. Though it lingers a little too long on its human elements, no one can accuse this book of not grounding its fantasy in plain good sense. A fun New York tale that is, in a sense, truly timeless.
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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. nw says:

    Thorne Smith’s NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS came out in 1931 . . . though I’m sure someone will know an even older story about statues coming to life.

  2. Adam Rex says:

    Well, there’s the golem, which would date back a few thousand years.

  3. eisha says:

    And Pygmalion & Galatea.

  4. Corinne Schmidt says:

    I loved this book as a kid. A couple of months ago I looked for it but couldn’t remember the title. No searches seemed to turn it up. What a delight to find it once more! Thanks!

  5. Hannah says:

    I just found this book at a library sale. I decided to give it a go. I grew up in rural Kentucky and yeah, the location doesn’t translate well. The largest city I’ve ever been to is Cincinnati, OH. But even though the city area doesn’t come across the little things like Janie’s kid attitude, her way of thinking, and the echos of divorce all ring true. I can relate to all of it. I come from a home where the divorce did follow through. There’s so much to Janie’s story that just works. I admit, the griffin waking up at first make me grit my teeth, it was really sudden, barely any buildup at all. And the end scene that was oh so dramatic in the cover flap seemed to take five minutes. All in all the book was very good though. From the perspective of life in a home with fighting parents it’s an almost perfect snap shot. If only we all had stone animals to help us escape.