While Jonathan seems very certain, I’m still juggling my choices for my top three Newbery picks for the year. When I posted about Claudette Colvin and Marching for Freedom way back in September, I mentioned that I felt slightly more compelled by one than the other. I just reread both of them yesterday (ah, Holiday furlough), and find I still feel the same, though it’s a very close call.
I found much elegance in Hoose’s crafting of a narrative that switches between the first and third person voices…it’s like a well-done documentary, where the narrator sets the stage perfectly for the protagonist’s own words. He lays out events and comments compelling as elements that create a narrative arc and persuasive account of the Boycott from Colvin’s perspective. I’m surprised that I haven’t heard anyone quibble about this perspective–that it lacks some of the context of the "other" side of the story (of why Colvin was "dropped")–though I wouldn’t feel such a quibble is justified. Like Almost Astronauts, this book strives to re-tell well known events from a less-heard perspective. And Hoose has done a superb job of it. One thing I appreciate especially here that I don’t find in the other nonfiction books on our discussion list, is that Hoose extends his story in the source notes, giving further explanations that might be of interest to curious readers, but would otherwise have bogged down the narrative.
However, Partridge, in Marching for Freedom, does something for me that Hoose doesn’t quite achieve (except perhaps in the Browder v. Gayle courtroom scene), which is to give me that "You Are There" feeling. I find her prose just a little more lively that Hoose’s. She also uses a lot of scene-setting language: moment by moment sensory details that aren’t often available to a nonfiction writer trying to stick to the "real" story, but which she’s able to achieve (I’m making an assumption here) through the personal interviews she did. These details, combined with song lyrics interspersed to effectively tweak the reader’s emotion at the critical moments, make me think I can feel the Movement actually moving. I think a lot of this is due to the perspective of the people Partridge has interviewed. Often we get the stories of the figureheads of movements, but rarely of the people who, by each taking individual responsibility, create a "movement" of sufficient mass to be effective.
One colleague mentioned to me that she found the many different voices in Marching to be confusing, and found Colvin therefore more compelling. But I’m feeling the opposite. The many voices make it come alive, and I think will make young reader think: "I could do that." (I even covered up the photos this read through, to make sure I wasn’t being unduly swayed.)
But, I’m willing to note that I clearly respond well to plays for the reader’s emotion in nonfiction, as evidenced by my appreciation for Stone’s text as well…and that that’s not the only mark of excellence in a nonfiction text. One of the most exciting things about the Newbery discussion is walking into it with well-prepared and reasoned arguments about each title…and a clear, but not fixed, ranking in mind. Through the discussion, I can feel those arguments and rankings either shifting slightly into more substantiated positions, or, sometimes, standing even more firmly where they are.
A mentor has said to me about the Newbery discussions: "Don’t keep an open mind. Go in there with a closed one." From that, I’ve taken: Go in there prepared enough to be sure of what you think is the strongest book. But I leave the door open, because a consensus is more than one person’s decision. And that’s the truth.