When ESPERANZA RISING was published, it immediately leaped to the top of my Newbery list and remained there for most of the year before being nudged aside in the fall by SILENT TO THE BONE. Of course, the Newbery went to A YEAR DOWN YONDER and none of my top three–with THE ART OF KEEPING COOL rounding out my list–got so much as an honor. I’ve been a big Pam Munoz Ryan fan ever since, but ESPERANZA RISING remains my favorite. I do like THE DREAMER, would be pleased to see it recognized, and could even vote for it myself in the right situation. I’m not crazy in love with it the way I was with ESPERANZA RISING . . . but I really want to be. Do I like this book for its own merits? Or am I simply a big fan of the author?
I was on the Rita Williams-Garcia bandwagon long before it was cool to be on the Rita Williams-Garcia bandwagon. I especially love the fearlessness she displayed in EVERY TIME A RAINBOW DIES (a rape victim falls gradually falls for a boy who witnessed the act from afar) and NO LAUGHTER HERE (female genital mutilation). That latter title was one of my personal favorites (THE SUNBIRD by Elizabeth Wein was the other) in the year that KIRA-KIRA won. While NO LAUGHTER HERE would have made Scrotum Hysteria pale in comparison, you really have to marvel at a writer who can tackle such brutality with grace and tenderness. I wouldn’t begrudge ONE CRAZY SUMMER recognition, and I would be genuinely pleased for the author, but I wish I loved this book as passionately as others do. Again, do I like the book for its own merits? Or am I simply a big fan of the author?
Now if you told me, I could only vote for middle grade fiction, then KEEPER, THE DREAMER, and ONE CRAZY SUMMER would be my picks right now (and probably in that order), but I’m feeling just a little bit ambivalent about them. I can be convinced to support them more staunchly or abandon them altogether. I obviously need more reading and discussion on these titles to clarify my position. Here, as with KEEPER in my previous post, I am really not measuring these books against the Newbery criteria just yet, but rather trying to analyze my own personal reading experience. In both of these instances my initial enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that I have such great expectations for their authors. Of course, I’d never get to process this baggage at the Newbery table, but when push comes to shove, and I only get three votes, I’m likely to vote for the books that win my heart as well as my head. The irony, of course, is that I have championed A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS and KEEPER as worthy contenders and yet I know that there are readers who will feel that Turner and Appelt didn’t live up to their great expectations either.