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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

The Money We’ll Save

Cole 247x300 The Money Well SaveIn her recent SLJ article, “Make Way For Stories,” Anita Silvey discusses one of the reasons for the current picture book malaise.

I, too, bemoan the lack of picture storybooks. So much of what we see, no matter how clever it is, can be described as a joke book. Some are very good jokes, but once you’ve read the text, you don’t really need to read it hundreds of times. Words have been pared down to a bare minimum; writers sometimes are told to use no more than 500. You can tell a great story with less than 500 words—think of Where the Wild Things Are (338 words) and The Carrot Seed (101 words)—but you may have to be a genius to do so! And there’s probably a limit on the number of stories that can be told well in under 1,000 words.

THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE, which Publishers Weekly aptly described as “charmingly loopy,” bucks this minimalist trend, offering a great story with a longer text.  I’ve spent this past week reading it to various first, second, and third grade classes.  I find that with a picture book text I really need to read it many times–first to myself silently a couple of times and then aloud to several classes–before I start to fully appreciate its distinguished qualities.  And now that I’ve done that, I find there’s plenty to admire here.

SETTING

While the pictures do a wonderful job of conveying the setting, so does the text, particularly with sentences like this one: “Bridget was in the parlor pulling basting threads from one of the coats Ma was making for the wholesale trade.”  What’s a parlor?  Basting threads?  The wholesale trade?  Cole’s challenging, sophisticated vocabulary provides textual clues to the setting that, in tandem with the pictures, leave readers with an indelible impression of the period.  Those of us who read FLESH & BLOOD SO CHEAP will also remember that this sentence portrays the garment industry before the rise of industrialized sweatshops.

PLOT

The pacing is brisk and the plot logically ebbs and flows from one problem and solution to a new problem and solution.  Each solution is more ridiculous than the previous one, and the final solution is a nice surprise, but one that is not out of character if one reflects on the personality of Mrs. Schumacher throughout the story.  Does she really like complaining that much?  Or is she just lonely?

CHARACTER

Character is just as strong as plot.  While the children, and even the bird, are nicely drawn, it’s really the adults that steal the show here: the long-suffering mother, the well-meaning but absent-minded father, and the nagging Mrs. Schumacher.  It is their personalities, and their actions that drive the story.  The entire family dynamic–the neighborhood dynamic, too–is also nicely done.

STYLE

Cole’s sentences are often quite lengthy and complex, yet they convey their meaning clearly.  The rhythm and cadence of the text is musical, largely because of repetition: alliteration, consonance, assonance.

All the pennies in the purse had been spent on pens and pulleys and laundry soap, so the next day there was nothing to eat but oatmeal with a bit of brown sugar.

Note the “p” sounds at the beginning of pennies, purse, pens, and pulleys–and in spent and at the end of soap.  Also note the “b” sounds in but, bit, and brown (and the next sentence also starts with but so you get four in a row there).  The “p” and “b” sounds are made with the same mouth shape, but the difference is the air and vocal cords.  The “s” and “z” sounds work the same way.  Note the “s” sounds at the beginning of spent, so, and soap–and at the end of purse.  And the “z” sounds at the end of pennies, pens, pulleys, and was.  Assonance is when the vowels sounds repeat but the consonants change.  There are several instances of that in the sentence, but note the long e sounds in the second syllables of pennies, pulleys, laundry, nothing, and oatmeal (and in the single syllable of eat)–and the short e sounds in pennies, been, spent, pens, and next.  While the sentence structure may be complex, the syllable counts are low–most words have one syllable and a few have two–and that lends itself to these kind of literary devices.  Well, that’s probably too much information (there’s more packed in that one sentence–honestly!), but it’s the kind of thing that makes reading this text so much fun–once you’ve wrapped your tongue around it several times.

Oh, and did I mention the story is funny?  The proposition of eating Mrs. Schumacher for Christmas dinner consistently brings the most laughs, but there are many amusing moments that induce smiles and snickers.

THEME

This story reminds me of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”  Oh, it’s not a retelling, but I think it’s reminiscent in a couple of key respects.  The first is the beginning, where Ma sends Pa off to the market with strict instructions about what to buy, but Pa comes back with something else entirely, not magical beans, but a turkey poult–and then the adventure begins.  And the second resemblance for me is the ending, which is kind of a counterpoint to Jack’s story.  Rather than becoming rich (or saving money even), the family in this story lives happily ever after–in poverty.  Here it’s love, not money, that is the root of happiness and prosperity.  And that it happens at Christmas time (which should be a celebration of love, but is often a celebration of money) ties the theme back to the setting, and strengthens it.

CONCLUSION

There may be stronger picture book texts out there this year (and by all means alert us to them in the comments), but this is the best that I have seen.  My standard for a picture book Newbery is DOCTOR DE SOTO and I find that this one measures up very well.  It’s distinguished in all elements–plot, character, setting, style, and theme–and for those of you who found the text-picture relationship of I BROKE MY TRUNK! so problematic, you should be able to get behind this one much more easily.  Ultimately, I also find that it passes Silvey’s test of being able to read it again and again and again–and rather than growing tired of it, I find it even more charmingly loopy than the previous time.

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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. Elizabeth Bird says:

    Mmm. I’m with you on this one. If any picture book deserved a crack at the award it would be this one. Just top notch from tip to toe. And I, for one, was grateful to see that the bird remains cantankerous from start to finish. No sudden personality turnaround for he.

  2. I loved reading this one aloud for the very reasons you’ve articulated here. The use of sounds in words and how those are placed is brilliant. I also love the respect given to young readers that they will get the sophisticated language. (Something I also admire in THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT.)

  3. Brandy says:

    I was skeptical when I picked this one up from the library, so skeptical I waited until just before I had to return it to read it. But dang if it didn’t complete charm me. I loved the characters (particularly Mrs. Schumacher), the flow of the plot, the humor, and the theme (which is subtle, but clearly there).

    I, like Monica, also appreciated the respect given to young readers regarding the language used in the book. My daughter, not as skeptical as I was, read the book on the way home from the library and giggled the whole time. Then proclaimed, “I really really like this book. It is about what Christmas should be.” I didn’t fully appreciate the insightful this comment was until I had read it myself.

  4. Jonathan, I had an all-too-brief chance to read this, standing at a booth at NCTE (all too brief in that by the time I got to the booth, teachers were lining up to choose free books to bring home…) so I had to read the text quickly. Very quickly.

    In fact, as I was walking away, I realized I read it so quickly that I barely glanced at the illustrations. Perfect, I thought — it’ll give me a chance to think about how well the text holds up for the mock Newbery discussion!

    It holds up very very well. The setting is beautifully rendered. The plot is engaging, and, considering the word-count limitations of a picture book, builds to a deeply satisfying conclusion with fun twists along the way. The characters (of the adults and the turkey) are clearly defined and while the kids aren’t as clearly defined as individuals, there is a real sense of them developed as a gaggle. The theme is clearly supported by setting/character/plot.

    I’m sure the illustrations are charming — tho to be honest I still haven’t had a chance to get a copy of the book and look more closely at them. But the book by its text alone is a great addition to the shortlist.

  5. DaNae says:

    Oh, that there were more books like this to read to my students. Before Thanksgiving I read it to the gamet from K to 6th. It was appreicated on every level. We did get to have a discussion of what a flat and a privvies were.

    Thanks for your explaination, Johnathan, of why the words felt so good in my mouth.

  6. Martha says:

    What I love about this book (besides the language, the humor, the setting, and everything else) is how it starts out like a Jack story (a foolish man makes a seemingly foolish purchase or trade) but then becomes something completely original. And the ending is just PERFECT.

  7. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I barely looked at the pictures, too, and then when I was reading it to various classes, looking at the text sideways and upside down, I didn’t really have time to scrutinize them either. But after my week long tour, I did sit down and look at them carefully. I’m curious if we’ll see Robin or Lolly discuss this book at Calling Caldecott. I think it has a lot to recommend it to that committee. For one, I love the way the illustrations extend the story. How, for example, the text on the final page says that “each child had a present, if only a little one,” but then you have to look at the illustration on the opposite page to see what each child got. Again, referencing the Silvey article, this book perfectly supports her claim that picture books are “the perfect form to move children from what they have—visual acuity—to what they lack, verbal acuity.”

  8. Nina Lindsay says:

    DaNae, I’m glad someone else notices how good the words feel in your mouth! This text really comes alive when read aloud.

    I put some of my favorite passages here already,: http://blogs.slj.com/heavymedal/2011/09/28/picture-book-newbery/

    but each time I read this I find another little elegant and understated flourish that is just delicious. When Ma first gives Pa his market instructions, she says “Remember, Christmas is not far off, and we must save every penny.” So when Pa says to the chicken man “Christmas is not far off, and we must save every penny,” we know: Uh, oh, Pa is someone who can be sold a line!! So, while we don’t witness the next exchange between Pa and the chicken man, we do witness the result, and when Pa says: “It will fatten up into a fine bird, and we can have it for Christmas dinner. Think of the money we’ll save!” the reader can guess that this refrain originated with the chicken man.

    In terms of arc, and tone, I was floored with internal laughter all over again with the denouement regarding Ms. Schumacher and Alfred. For a story with a satisfyingly predictable build up, it’s the perfect silliness that surprises the reader and yet works holistically with the arc and characterization.

  9. Sheila Kelly Welch says:

    I agree that publishers need to realize many young kids are ready for more complex story books. I bought several of Dr. Seuss’s long books for my grand kids for Christmas and remember reading those same stories to their parents when they were small. Bill Peet’s books often took me 15 minutes to read aloud, and I was startled when my then 4-year-old used the word “commenced” correctly, having picked up the meaning from context clues in a story.

    THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE is also in my pile of presents for the little ones. I really like the plot, word use, etc. But from my first glance, I fell in love with the illustrations. Brock Cole is a genius, talented in both writing and illustrating. As someone who has drawn all my life, done some illustrating, and written books, I am in awe of this guy’s ability. There is nothing more difficult than doing loose pen-and-ink drawings that capture expressions – as these do so well. And the setting is wonderfully portrayed with just a few, perfect lines.

    I have often thought that the Caldecott panel of judges should always include at least one artist who is familiar with children’s books and has done some illustrating himself. I realize the final product is being judged, but when I look at these drawings, I feel an appreciation for the process, which might be missed by someone who has never tried to sketch a p.o.ed bird or an annoyed wife. So I am voting for this one for the Caldecott, hoping that Cole will write another GOATS or CELINE and win the Newbery or Printz.

  10. Nina says:

    Sheila, no reason this couldn’t get a Caldecott AND a Newbery. Alfred does look absurdly p.o.’ed in Mrs. Schumacher’s rocker, and in fact I think I think I recognize that look…kind of how I feel trapped in some endless Wednesday meetings. That scene is a testament to word and picture each playing their part, as the impact is only its best when they are combined. I like the fact that the text doesn’t explain Alfred’s feelings in that scene…which goes along perfectly with the tone.. the text is always trying to put the best spin on things, like the characters, but the pictures show the gritty and silly reality.

  11. Meghan says:

    I loved reading this story- but loved it even more so after sharing it aloud with my students. Teaching at a privledged, private school it brought up some excellent “teachable moments” on poverty and the true happiness of a loving family. Also, I am whole heartedly with Jonathan on the inclusion of such engaging vocabulary. My K/1st graders were so inquisitive about terms like “privy” and “flat” and “whole sale trade” ( memorable quote-”Is that like something you buy at Whole Foods?”). However, I can definitely see this book working across a vast age spectrum, and I hope it gets the Newbery love it deserves!

  12. Mr. H says:

    Nina, can you technically say this: “That scene is a testament to word and picture each playing their part, as the impact is only its best when they are combined,” in a Newbery discussion? Are you saying that this book, isn’t it’s best, most distinguished, without the pictures? I would totally agree.

    Personally, obviously fully aware of the fact that I’m in the minority here, I could see this book as “distinguished” when looking at it as a whole. But once again, to me personally, just my personal opinion, the text only tells half of the story. Just as you pointed out.

    I have a hard time convincing myself that this book’s text is more distinguished than some of the novels on this shortlist, that only have words and not pictures, to build their worlds and tell their stories.

  13. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I wouldn’t say something like that at the Newbery table, but it may be permissible at the Caldecott table (which is what I think Sheila and Nina were discussing above) because the pictures are illustrating a text, and thus the relationship between the pictures and text become part of the analysis.

    Mr. H, do you think any of the picture books in the Newbery canon are worthy of the award? What do you think of DOCTOR DE SOTO, for example? I’m asking because I don’t know if you think a picture book text can win Newbery recognition and we haven’t found it yet–or whether you think a picture book text has no business winning Newbery recognition. If it’s the later, I don’t really see a point in continuing the conversation . . .

  14. Mr. H says:

    Don’t worry, it’s not necessarily the latter . . . it’s just that from what I understood, Nina and Sheila weren’t just saying that the pictures are illustrating the text. It seemed that Nina was referencing how the pictures spin a totally new side of the text. And she’s right. Looking back through the book, it’s pretty clever how it’s done. But you literally may only be getting half of the story.

    Take setting for example . . . I don’t find anything particularly “distinguished” about the line you pulled out in the original post. “Bridget was in the parlor . . .” I get your angle, I understand what you’re saying about Cole challenging readers with his vocabulary. My problem is, the text alone does not give me a “distinguished” sense of setting. The illustrations do!

    I guess it just boils down to the fact that I feel like we’re taking the Newbery criteria of: “Because the literary qualities to be considered will vary depending on content, the committee need not expect to find excellence in each of the named elements. The book should, however, have distinguished qualities in all of the elements pertinent to it.”

    And then immediately praise smart picture book text because in a way we’re expecting less of it in the first place. Does that make sense? I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to say here!

    Part of me is still hung up on the pictures telling too much of this particular story too and I know we’ve hashed that out with the Elephant and Piggie books. I don’t know how to get over that. It’s not that I feel that a picture book can’t win or has no business winning, I just think it’s hard because the very nature of a picture book is to tell the story through both illustrations and text.

  15. Nina Lindsay says:

    I was considering a wider context in my comment, Mr. H. However I still feel that the text alone is distiguished, because it plays it’s part of the storytelling perfectly.

  16. Mr. H says:

    Ok, I just reread this book twice. Once without looking at the illustrations at all. Once soaking both in. I’m rather embarrassed. The text is pretty good. I love the opening pages, showing all the busy kids, leading to Ma choosing Pa. I love when the chicken man shows Pa the chicken, leaving the text hanging until the next page (“And the chicken man told him.”) Words like “glutton” and “privies” are pretty good too.

    The only instance that was a little too zany for my taste, was hanging the pen from the clothesline.

    And it’s interesting that Elizabeth brought up the ending, because I didn’t quite like the flow of how Cole wrote it. I’m totally all for the ending. I get it and find good humor in it. But in the text, I think it came too quickly.

    I want to read this tomorrow to my fifth graders and see what their response is . . . I’m curious to see if they buy the ending. I’m not so sure they will.

    And while I was a bit cantankerous when referencing the text a bit earlier, I stand by what I said about the difficulty with picture book text. I still feel like there’s a feeling of “Well, this is the best of picture book text, so lets talk about a Newbery.” Is this really one of the best examples of distinguished text? Can it compare to OKAY FOR NOW, A MONSTER CALLS, and THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA? Comparing is difficult.

    Jonathan and Nina, I want to apologize because in hindsight, it would appear that I didn’t have my ducks in a row before I spoke!

  17. Mr. H says:

    And when I speak of the ending, it’s that I feel as if Mrs. Schumacher’s acceptance is a little rushed. I get it and it’s not that I don’t find her action itself unbelievable. I just feel like Cole takes us there really fast. But that’s minor.

  18. Sarah Tillock says:

    “However I still feel that the text alone is distiguished, because it plays it’s part of the storytelling perfectly.”

    …. it plays ITS part ….

    No apostrophe. You make this mistake consistently, Nina. I apologize for pointing it out, but it’s like the undone zipper.

    It’s = a contraction of IT IS
    ITS = possessive

    It’s confusing because we use an apostrophe to form the possessive with proper names.

  19. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Mr. H, do you think it’s the amount of text in a picture book that throws you? Or is it the text-to-picture ratio? Do you find WONDERSTRUCK problematic? I think more of that book is pictures, more than either I BROKE MY TRUNK! or THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE–and yet there is also lots more text than either of those books.

  20. Wendy says:

    I liked this book, but didn’t love it. I wasn’t really going to say anything, but just to get another viewpoint out there… I think my enjoyment of the book was hampered by a couple of things that aren’t Newbery criteria: I’ve read the setting and characters done more engagingly, and I’ve read (throughout my life) picture books with more exciting texts. (I mean “exciting” in the intellectual way, not in the plot way.) We aren’t comparing this book to books not published this year for Newbery purposes, but I can’t get behind what would feel like “the best we could do this year anyway” rather than “great book”–I think others are more distinguished.

    The common thread I’m noticing here is that the people who love it are reading it aloud, which I haven’t done. My test-child-reader didn’t seem to respond to it the way she did to Queen of the Falls.

  21. Nina Lindsay says:

    Sarah, yep, I’m aware my fly is usually open on that one. Believe it or not I usually do go through to try and fix them all, and often end up fixing them the wrong way. I’d go back and fix that one up there, but it doesn’t seem fair. At least I am the last person on earth who knows the meaning of the word “fewer.’

  22. Sheila Welch says:

    I think an illustrated book of any length can win (and has won) the Newbery, but I have reservations about considering a “true” picture book for this award. Authors are often cautioned to keep descriptive language to a minimum when writing a picture book text. The illustrator is expected to contribute to the story by adding a visual element that enhances and, in many cases, extends (or even contradicts) the words on the page. The text and art work together, and neither one is meant to stand alone.

    The only problem with this definition of a picture book is that it would seem that the Caldecott then should be awarded to books with amazing art work, and the text should be irrelevant, which I don’t think is the case with many of the books that have been award winners. The criteria for the Caldecott actually goes one step further and talks about how the overall book package must be considered – in particular if it (design, text) detracts from the artistic merits of the book. Or something like that!

    Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked into Caldecott territory. But I guess what I’m saying is that THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE is a better fit for the Caldecott than for the Newbery. And here’s an artist who’s also an incredible author and quite capable of writing Newbery quality novels. So let him work for a Newbery. (No, I’m not one of those people who says that writing a picture book is harder than writing a novel.) I’m sure lots of thought and consideration went into the text of THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE, but, honestly, would this book be included in this discussion of Newbery contenders if it had been illustrated by a different person?

    Nina, fewer words and less text, right? : – )

  23. Sheila, I’d answer “yes” to your last question. My focus on this book was very much on the text with just a side look at the art. I read it myself several times and then to my fourth grade class, featuring the text. We sort of look at the art, after the fact, but focused pretty much 100% on the words.

    As I’ve argued over and over here and on my blog, so many fantastic books are award-worthy because of the art, design, and text together. I feel that is the case with WONDERSTRUCK, but don’t feel it is the case here. This text is scrumptious all by itself.

  24. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Wendy, while I acknowledge that you’re underwhelmed by this book, you’ve also just described the way that I feel about most of the middle grade novels this year: in the best-we-could-do-this-year category rather than the great-book category. Are there any truly great books out there this year–in any genre?

    Sheila, I do think we could very well be talking about this book if it had a different illustrator. Granted, these illustrations are great–I’d put them in the same category as A VISIT TO WILLIAM BLAKE’S INN, DOCTOR DE SOTO, SHOW WAY, and DARK EMPEROR–but even with serviceable illustrations (LIKE JAKE AND ME, ANNIE AND THE OLD ONE) it would merit consideration. I, too, focused exclusively on the text while reading it with children, and my discussion with them afterwards always referenced the story as a whole rather than the illustrations. I think many of them were sitting too far away to really see the details, anyway.

  25. Wendy says:

    No, I don’t think there are, Jonathan. I do think the field is maybe stronger overall than last year–I have more books about which I’m saying “this would be fine” than “I’m ruling this out”–but nothing exciting. Yet.

  26. Nina says:

    Sheila, yes on less and fewer!

    But why the insistence that a book must fit “more” for either a Caldecott or a Newbery? One is for art, the other for words. Some books have both. A VISIT TO WILLIAM BLAKE’S INN got a silver medal from one committee and a gold from the other…for utterly different reasons.

  27. Sheila Kelly Welch says:

    I guess I feel that a truly great picture book, by definition, has a text that is intentionally missing something that is completed by the art work. Does that make sense?

    Now, many very good picture books may have stand-alone text, but I don’t think they would qualify as “great” picture books. If a book tells a story that is wonderful without its illustrations, as you seem to feel is the case with THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE, then I agree, it should be considered for the Newbery.

    Illustrated books of poetry, such as A VISIT TO WILLIAM BLAKE’S INN have an “advantage” because with poetry the text is probably intended to stand alone. By “advantage” I mean that really well written poetry is more likely to catch the attention and be considered Newbery worthy than a prose story. Oh, my. Don’t pay too much attention to that over simplification.

    In my opinion, with Cole’s book, he wrote the story knowing that his art would help tell certain elements — some vital — that he wanted to include. Or maybe he did the artwork first. Either way, it’s a package deal. I will be fine if it wins the Newbery, however!

  28. Jonathan Hunt says:

    The thing is that the Newbery committee doesn’t care whether or not THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE is a truly great picture book. They only care whether or not the text is a distinguished contribution to children’s literature. Remember Nina’s mantra: We consider only the text, but the text need not stand alone. We don’t have to pretend that the pictures don’t extend the text, but if the text does its part of the storytelling with excellence and distinction then it comes under the purview of the Newbery committee.

  29. Mr. H says:

    I’m still confused about the pictures and text dilemma and I suppose I will just always be confused. I keep hearing that “the text does not need to stand alone” but I don’t actually see that in the Newbery criteria. Where are you getting that from? How are you jumping to that conclusion? You asked me at one point to show you where the Newbery criteria states that the text needs to stand alone . . . well, we don’t get a clear cut conclusion like the one you’ve jumped to either. We merely get that cryptic line about “illustrations” and “may be considered” and “less effective”.

    You asked me if it’s the amount of text in a picture book or the picture-to-text ratio, and I’m beginning to think it’s the picture-to-text ratio that gets me. Because while someone may think they find distinction in the text alone (of a picture book), it’s difficult to know for sure because your brain has also absorbed the pictures, and subconsciously may have definitely impacted how you interpreted the text.

    That’s why I think that arguing for a picture book text will ALWAYS be an uphill battle because the Newbery Medal was derived as an award for “writing” and 99% of the criteria support that. (Shelila, btw, does an awesome job of clarifying above.) I feel sometimes on here, that the criteria is twisted in a way so that convincing arguments can be made for picture book text, easy reader text, etc. When a lot of times, to me, it would appear we’re stretching and not always holding that text to the same (comparative) standard as we would with a novel. Example: Saying something like, “Since ALL this picture book text NEEDS to do is _________, I feel that it does that in a distinguished way.”

  30. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I notice that even the illustrations in A MONSTER CALLS are giving you fits. It’s interesting to note that all of the books on our shortlist have illustrations, save THE PENDERWICKS AT POINT MOUETTE. So they all have the text-to-picture relationship to one degree or another, even OKAY FOR NOW and THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA.

  31. Mr. H says:

    Did you read my comments about the illustrations in A MONSTER CALLS? (That’s not a snotty retort, sorry). I never really said that the sense of setting *wasn’t* necessarily distinguished. I kind of think the jury is out on that particular aspect, because you didn’t actually provide any textual evidence and I own the book and am not seeing any either.

    I’m simply wondering if the reason I took away a “claustrophobic” feeling from the book, was due in large part to the creepy illustrations that seemed to suffocate the text on nearly every other page, and not necessarily as a result of anything Ness did with his use of language.

    Personally, I think it’s interesting to consider . . . I must be the only one though.

  32. Eric Carpenter says:

    I read THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE to my class of second graders this week. They had some problems with it. For instance after the cage falls off the clothes line and breaks the father says they can just house Alfred in their bedroom for this last week. One of my students asked why they wouldn’t just kill the turkey at this point since it’s only a week until Christmas. I assume that the family doesn’t have a freezer/refrigerator but they would certainly have access to enough ice/salt to have the hypothetically butchered bird survive the week.
    My class as a whole also didn’t buy the kids not wanting to kill and eat the turkey at the end. One student explained that when they keep a chicken in their apartment mom just kills it when they want to eat it. By show of hands about half of my students said they had kept live chickens or rabbits in their apartments at some point (none of them had ever had a turkey though) and said that the farmers market always has live chickens for sale (my school is in Atlanta). These comments got me thinking about the story’s setting. Is there anything outside the illustrations that places the story in the past? The pictures depict a 1910-1930 time frame to me but the text could happen anytime even today. In a country like america where 1 in 5 children live in poverty, I’m not sure there is anything about this family’s situation that places it outside the norm for many of our current students. The inclusion of a communal privy may be the only clue that takes the story out of modern urban America but it could certainly take place in many other modern countries. After explaining what a privy was, my class offered up comments like “oh that’s what i had to use when I visited my grandmother in Nicaragua or “oh my dad told me they had that in Mexico.”
    Does Cole’s text fully develop the world these character’s inhabit? Can we place them in a time that allows for the story to make sense without relying on the pictures?

    For the record I enjoyed the story the few time I read it to myself but seeing how my students interacted with the narrative I felt the book lost some of it’s shine. (they all LOVE Doctor De Soto though!)

  33. Wendy says:

    Eric, thanks for the very interesting comment. I reread The Money We’ll Save this evening with your students in mind and yes, noticed that there are no real setting markers to say exactly when or where this story takes place. In fact, trying to substitute, say, a modern Latino family in my head for the turn-of-the-century Irish one (could also be any of several others) made the story come alive for me a little more and seem less cliched–but of course that has nothing to do with the quality of the book.

    So what do we do with this? I don’t think we can say that it doesn’t have any setting at all, because the reader can still picture the apartment and the farmer’s market, we still get the sense of some of the trappings of poverty. But I don’t think I could call it a distinguished setting, in Newbery terms. Looking closely at this book, I think it is less than distinguished in pretty much every category, except perhaps for “appropriateness of style”, and even there I don’t think it rises to the top.

  34. Jonathan Hunt says:

    First of all, I don’t think the setting of any picture book text is distinguished. If a picture really is worth a thousand words why wouldn’t you use that medium to suggest the bulk of where the story is set? That said, there are definitely clues to the setting as I mentioned above. You can infer that it takes place in a crowded city a long time ago, but you have to recognize the vocabulary which most young readers do not. They will have to move, as Silvey put it, from visual acuity to verbal acuity.

    Now some of my students knew of privies from Mexico, and some of them can relate to cramped and crowded living quarters, too. We obviously didn’t have the same discussion about the turkey that your class did, but I think the key here is that they named the turkey, kept him inside (Do your students *really* keep their chickens inside the apartment?), and treated him like a pet. I don’t think most of your students would feel comfortable eating their pets, would they? Of course, it’s possible to criticize any plot point in any story–Why does Dr. De Soto even let the fox back in a second time? Shouldn’t the book end there?–but this one seemed entirely plausible in a silly way. And if I’m going to buy the fact that Pa constructs a pen and strings it out on the clothesline–and I did buy that fact–then I’m certainly not going to fault him for not killing the turkey with a week to go.

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