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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Disasters and Hoaxes

We’ve already spent quite a bit of time obsessing over BOMB–and with good reason–but there are a handful of other worthy narrative nonfiction books that deserve our attention.  Each writer, to one degree or another, has structured the plots of their books to take full advantage of the suspense of their stories. 

sandler 274x300 Disasters and HoaxesThe book you are about to read tells the story of one of the world’s most amazing adventures, a saga based on arguably the most daring rescue plan ever devised.  It is a story filled with extraordinary courage, unprecedented personal sacrifices, human failings and continual suspense.

THE IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE is my pet Newbery contender that nobody seems very excited about.  It reminds me of SHIPWRECK AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD by Jennifer Armstrong, so if you liked that one then be sure to give this one a look.  A wonderfully suspenseful story rife with courage and drama, this book would rate even higher if we could consider the abundant use of photographs as primary sources in addition to the multitude of quotes sprinkled throughout the text. 

hopkinson 198x300 Disasters and HoaxesAt 2:20 a.m. on Monday, April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic, on her glorious maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, sank after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic, klling 1,496 men, women, and children.  A total of 712 survivors escaped with their lives on twenty lifeboats that had room for 1,178 people.  There were 2,208 on board.

Last year, we praised another Titanic book–THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT by Allan Wolf–an ambitious account that employed a variety of fictionalized viewpoints to chronicle this tragic event.  How much more impressive, then, is this one, grounded even more firmly in the factual record.  It’s easy to see why this one captured a couple of nominations on our mock list, and truth be told, I’m thinking about this one as one of my final two nominations.

 losure 225x300 Disasters and HoaxesFor as long as she could remember, Frances’s parents had told her stories about England.  But when she got there, the real England wasn’t like the stories at all. Frances could see that as soon as the ship pulled into the harbor.

Mark nominated ABRAHAM LINCOLN & FREDERICK DOUGLASS as the most pointless book of the year.  For me, it’s this one.  To be sure, it’s exceptionally well written, but it’s hard for me to care very much.  Maybe I’m jaded by a lifetime of reading tabloid headlines while standing in line at the supermarket or maybe it just doesn’t seem nearly exciting to this boy reader as BOMB, THE IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE, and TITANIC.  Despite some obvious strengths, I just can’t get excited about this one for the Newbery, but I’d love to entertain arguments from its fans.

murphy 245x300 Disasters and HoaxesThe Saturday morning of October 16, 1869, was cool and damp in Cardiff, New York, as Gideo Emmons headed up the twisting dirt road.  To one side, the maple and hickory trees had turned Bear mountain into a blazing mass of yellow, orange, and scarlet leaves.  It was a spectacular autumn scene, but Emmons hardly noticed.  He was nursing a throbbing headache from drinking too much whiskey the night before.  At 7:30 or so, Emmons met up with his friend Henry Nichols, and the two continued walking north.

Like THE FAIRY RING, THE GIANT doesn’t immediately let readers in on the hoax, allowing our curiosity–and the suspense–to build.  To my mind, this is the weakest of this bunch, but still interesting for the sake of contrast.

We tend to gravitate toward these books that develop narrative in the recognizable patterns of fiction.  Is it right that we should hold these kinds of books in higher esteem?  Above something with a more expository presentation of information (not that any work of nonfiction is either wholly one or the other), something like A BLACK HOLE IS NOT A HOLE.

 

 

 

 

 

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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. Wendy says:

    Just to tease out your arguments… why is the Hopkinson Titanic book “more impressive” than THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT? I am a big fan of both, but Wolf’s book is certainly the riskier and more innovative.

    My single reservation with VOICES FROM THE DISASTER, and I suppose it is not particularly valid (or, perhaps, even accurate) is that I’m not convinced it adds something we don’t already have. (That’s my single reservation now that significant errors in a table in the appendix have been cleared up and corrected for the new edition, I mean.) I would resent award recognition that felt like it was implying this book is somehow better, in a hierarchy, than those that came before. And the field is so very large. Again with the not being fair, part of me wanted to raise my eyebrows (a little nicer than rolling my eyes) and say “but come on, how hard is it to write a compelling Titanic book?” But this is a very good book indeed.

    I thought THE FAIRY RING was oddly written. It might have been more successful, for me, as a picture book along the lines of last year’s QUEEN OF THE FALLS, since there’s really very little in the way of “event” to talk about. Or it could have been more academic (“with a lot of sidebars and newspaper facsimiles more like what Candace Fleming writes” is what I suggest in my goodreads review). But the narrative didn’t really work for me, and I don’t think the writing is as good as in most of the other books we’re considering seriously. I was surprised that my eight-year-old niece loved it; I thought she would think it was boring.

    THE IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE–I enjoyed it very much and it has a lot of strengths, but it is too easy to set this next to BOMB or VOICES FROM THE DISASTER and immediately knock it off the list.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I should retract the “most impressive” thing as I think both are equally impressive in their own ways. Wolf also did such meticulous research, but it would be very interesting to see how THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT would have read if it had to stick entirely to the documented factual record like TITANIC does.

    THE FAIRY RING read like an overly long magazine article to me. :-(

    I wouldn’t put IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE over BOMB either so I can’t argue for the Medal, but it’s still probably in my top five nonfiction of the year.

    I didn’t think the YALSA Nonfiction Award finalists would be announced until next Monday, but they are BOMB, TITANIC, MOONBIRD, WE’VE GOT A JOB, and STEVE JOBS. It’s an outstanding list of books, one that any committee this year would be hard pressed to beat in terms of excellence and distinction. STEVE JOBS is not as heralded as those other titles, but I thought it was very good and underrated.

    http://www.ala.org/yalsa/nonfiction-award#current

  3. Eric says:

    Thoughts on THE IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE: Thought that the map of their separate progressions up the western coast should have been included more frequently, or a map toward the front of the book for quick reference. I found myself constantly flipping through the book to find the little reoccurring map to figure out where everyone was at a given time.
    Also there were a number of times where Sandler tells us how harrowing a segment of the journey was, only to breeze over the same journey when a group has to double back and retrace their steps (was it not so harrowing the second time through?). This happened a few times and I thought it was strange.
    Admittedly I read this one very slowly (10 to 15 minute chunks each day during silent reading in my classroom) so it might flow better with a swifter read but since I didn’t find the story very compelling (especially when compared with BOMB) I can’t imagine rereading it.
    Speaking of the story, the one of the things I did like about IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE was the improbabilities throughout. If this was a fiction title I imagine many would be commenting on the improbable events that occur in this story. If we can’t fault a nonfiction book for containing improbabilities how can we fault fiction books for the same reasons? (was anything in OKAY FOR NOW really more improbable than some of the events in IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE?)
    Mark, do you find the events here any more likely than Maddie being a crack shot at the conclusion of CNV [sorry to pull in a discussion from Someday my Printz….)?

  4. Sandy D. says:

    Let me see if I can remember all the reasons I loved “The Fairy Ring”.

    It captured a time and place beautifully – both the natural world, the culture and the different social classes there, and it linked children’s beliefs (and gullibility) to adults’. It was a nice look at “wanting to believe”, which is still common today. 19th c. conspiracy theory!

    I know that only the text is relevant to the Newbery, but it was a gorgeous book to hold in your hands (NOT a good e-reader candidate). The size of the book, the wonderful layout, the photographs, and the feel of the paper – I don’t usually notice those things unless they’re really terrible or really wonderful, and this was wonderful. It added a certain something to the story, an Arts & Crafts sensibility maybe (though I guess it was a bit too early for that?).

    I’m not sure that I think “The Fairy Ring” would get my vote for the Newbery, but I did love it, and I’m not surprised that girls who are interested in fairies (who are quite numerous – and look at the popularity of urban fantasy today, targeted at older teens & adults) enjoyed it.

  5. Wendy says:

    Eric, I don’t think that’s quite reasonable; “truth is stranger than fiction” is a long-held cliche. We call these “Grey’s Anatomy moments” at my job–things that really happen that we nurses would roll our eyes at as unrealistic if they happened on TV–and they happen often. A successful fiction writer makes the unbelievable believable. They can make me believe just about anything is reasonable/rational/possible, but not everyone does. That’s why, when it turns out that something improbable in a novel is based on an incident from real life, it doesn’t automatically make everything okay. “I didn’t believe it” is a fairer criticism than “it can’t be true”.

    MOONBIRD was the book I mentioned in a review as seeming like an overly-long magazine article; I think I might have felt the same about THE IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE. (I love the long-form stories in Outside magazine, which are often about things like this.) I see what you mean about FAIRY RING making a magazine article, too. It seems like it needs either much more, to make it a longer book about more than just the fairies, or much less, where it would seem like less of a stretch (so, article or picture book).

    In IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE I kind of enjoyed flipping back and forth to the maps (and I liked that dynamic map device very much), but I can see that criticism, and also the one about a harrowing journey being skimmed over the second time; though I think that was partly to avoid being repetitious. I sort of found myself thinking “and we already know how hard that leg of the journey was!” when someone’s second crossing was mentioned.

  6. I know this is not a disaster or hoax book, and that we’ve discussed Summer of the Gypsy Moths elsewhere, but I just got this from one of my 5th graders on my blog at my school, newberyblog.edublogs.org, and wanted to share it. Should I post it here, or look back for the discussion about Summer of the Gypsy Moths?

    LOLA on December 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm said:

    The book Summer of the Gypsy Moths, by Sara Pennypacker, is about two girls named Stella and Angel. Summer of the Gypsy Moths was interesting and the story was original and creative. I liked how it was written in the first person. Although Wonder was written in multiple perspectives and I liked it, when I look back, I can see how it was kind of confusing for me. I liked the first person narrative in Gypsy Moths because it flowed better and it was easier to follow. The main characters, Stella and Angel, don’t become friends when they first meet because they have very different personalities. Stella is demanding, yet nice and kind. Angel is gloomy and moody, but lightens up toward the middle of the book. Angel’s always sad because both of her parents are dead and she has gone from foster home to foster home. When tragedy strikes, Stella wants to call 911 and Angel wants to runaway. Stella doesn’t call the police because Angel explains that if her caretaker is dead and doesn’t provide money, Angel will be sent to another foster home. Stella is confused and lost about how they can make money. Stella and Angel must work together to make money and food. I like how they share a big secret. . . an if they tell, they’ll get in big trouble kind of secret! This bounds Stella and Angel and they learn more about each other. I enjoyed how the author showed Stella and Angel’s independence. For instance, they have to cook for themselves, manage rental cottages and clean them. They also have to babysit to earn extra money for food and to purchase things to care for Louise’s garden. The garden is filled with blueberry bushes, oak trees and many other plants that mean a lot to Stella. Stella’s mother planted the garden with Louise and Stella thinks that if she loses the garden, she’ll forget her mother. Overall, Summer of the Gypsy Moths is a strong Newbery contender. It is a thoughtful book about a big secret, a growing friendship and how two girls survive together without any guardian and without anybody knowing that someone has died. =)

  7. mslibrarian says:

    Just wanted to add my admiration of Fairy Ring — I thought the author did a fantastic job capturing the reality of the two girls and I found the “thread” (perhaps not PLOT) of Elsie’s incredible artistic talents and how they were not recognized or celebrated but merely “practical” skills in the end quite heart wrenching. (For me.) And I love how there is no judgment of what they did and how others reacted to the whole string of events — just faithful, but gentle, reporting. Perhaps Jonathan finds this tale too placid because of the gentleness of the telling style?

  8. TeenReader says:

    My nomination for most pointless book of the year is TITANIC. I had no connection to anyone the book discussed, found little to no element that I could imagine most children enjoying, and just struggled to keep reading. Yes, the research was impressive, but the presentation of it left me completely cold. Still hoping to see BOMB in this year’s Newbery and/or Printz.

  9. mslibrarian says:

    As a Middle School librarian (thus the mslibrarian handle here,) I have witnessed the long staying power of young people’s fascination with The Titanic disaster. I also disagree with the notion that this year’s Titanic: Voices from the Disaster is pointless. In fact, I personally found many of the scenarios and “voices” highly affecting and effective.

  10. Jim Murphy says:

    Jonathan — Well, it never feels great to be the “weakest of this bunch” (I’m not sure “this bunch” is the kindest of phrases for any of us on this list and might, in my humble opinion. suggest a pre-conceived prejudice). But that’s part of the game and being a “contrast” to the titles you and others like and admire is fine with me. I have read most of them and feel they are all compelling reads, so you won’t find me disputing you on this. As for THE GIANT, the opening chapters are designed to get readers involved in the hoax in a compelling ‘you-are-there’ way, after which I change the narrative perspective to let everyone in on the secret so they can judge the actions of all the individuals involved in an informed way. I don’t mean to overstate the point, but we live in a world where politicians, financial advisors/firms, entertainers, researchers, and even ordinary citizens work hard to not reveal the actual facts of whatever they are selling, be it themselves, a philosophy or social agenda, or commodity. My hope is that when readers finish THE GIANT (and I think most will actually finish it) they will be a bit more questioning about the information and opinions they are constantly being fed and have a balanced sense of why ordinary people and scientists where so completely bamboozled by the Cardiff Giant.

  11. These discussions are always fascinating to me. I didn’t even finish IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE, since the prose seemed so far below the level of MOONBIRD, BOMB, TITANIC, and anything associated with Russell Freedman.

    TITANIC is one we barely left off our final Mock list. It’s hard for me to think of a book for kids that would do what it does better.

  12. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Eric, It’s interesting that you felt the absence of the redundant voyages in THE IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE because that’s just what a couple of people complained about in MOONBIRD. Did you like that one better? Like Wendy, I liked the maps–and constantly consulting them. I would have been fine with even more, but never felt like they were scarce the way they do in many books.

    mslibrarian, I don’t think it’s the telling–I actually enjoyed that–I think it’s that the subject matter just doesn’t excite me as much as some of the other nonfiction topics this year. I just pulled Losure’s new nonfiction out of the Candlewick envelope and look forward to reading it. I really do like her style; I just couldn’t get into the fairies. I didn’t care. Probably my fault rather than the author’s, but even so: better than BOMB? Uh, no. I wouldn’t at all be disappointed with a Sibert nod for FAIRY RING, especially if the committee shuns the older books.

    Jim, I think this must be such an awkard forum for authors to participate in because, of course, I only mean weak in relation to other excellent books–when you can only pick 3-5 books for Newbery recognition. And, of course, this is only my opinion and others are free to disagree with me. I mean, THE GIANT did pick up four starred reviews, and I think it would make an excellent Common Core book as students can consider the various theories about what the Cardiff Giant really is. Is it a Newbery book, though? I’m still not convinced. I grouped these books together, as I mentioned, because I think all of the authors seek to maximize the reading experience by developing suspense through plot. I’m not sure what prejudice it might suggest. Can you elaborate?

  13. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Here’s an update on the list of nonfiction books 64 pages or longer that have earned at least three starred reviews.

    (6) MOONBIRD by Phillip Hoose

    (5) BEYOND COURAGE by Doreen Rappaport

    (5) BOMB by Steve Sheinkin

    (4) ABRAHAM LINCOLN & FREDERICK DOUGLASS by Russell Freedman

    (4) A BLACK HOLE IS NOT A HOLE by Carolyn DeCristofano

    (4) TITANIC: VOICES FROM THE DISASTER by Deborah Hopkinson

    (4) WE’VE GOT A JOB by Cynthia Levinson

    (4) THE GIANT by Jim Murphy

    (4) MILES TO GO FOR FREEDOM by Linda Barrett Osborne

    (4) THE MIGHTY MARS ROVERS by Elizabeth Rusch

    (4) THE IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE by Martin Sandler

    (3) MASTER OF DECEIT by Marc Aronson

    (3) CHUCK CLOSE: FACE BOOK by Chuck Close

    (3) FACES FROM THE PAST by James Deem

    (3) WILD HORSE SCIENTISTS by Kay Frydenborg

    (3) TO THE MOUNTAINTOP by Charlayne Hunter-Gault

    (3) THE FAIRY RING by Mary Losure

    (3) LITTLE WHITE DUCK by Andres Vera Martinez and Na Liu

    (3) INVINCIBLE MICROBE by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank

    (3) THE BRONTE SISTERS by Catherine Reef

    Here are some other good books that didn’t earn three stars, but are worthy of our attention nevertheless.

    (2) MARCHING TO THE MOUNTAINTOP by Ann Bausum

    (2) THE AMAZING HARRY KELLAR by Gail Jarrow

    (2) HAND IN HAND by Andrea Davis Pinkney

    (2) DISCOVERING BLACK AMERICA by Linda Tarrant-Reid

    (2) LITTLE ROCK GIRL 1957 by Shelley Tougas

    (1) STEVE JOBS: THE MAN WHO THOUGHT DIFFERENT by Karen Blumenthal

    (1) SUPERMAN VERSUS THE KLU KLUX KLAN by Rick Bowers

    (1) TEMPLE GRANDIN by Sy Montgomery

    (1) THEIR SKELETONS SPEAK by Sally Walker and Douglas Owsley

    It’s also been a good year for picture book nonfiction, including but not limited to–

    (5) ISLAND by Jason Chin

    (4) ELECTRIC BEN by Robert Byrd

    (3) SNAKES by Nic Bishop

    (2) ONE TIMES SQUARE by Joe McKendry

  14. I’m an Alaskan transplant, marrying an Alaskan Native, and after two juvenile fiction Alaskana books this year that fell short (and laughably short) of realism, I loved IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE. I continuously stopped the reading to show pictures and read chunks to my fiance. My only quibble is that every group of Alaskan Natives was identified usually only as “indigenous people” and not by their own tribal identities. That I can perhaps recognize as part of the attitude of that era and mostly forgive. It also helps that I finished the book last night as our night dipped to -25 F. I might be over identifying with the adventurers.

    Does that mean it will/should win the Newbery? I don’t know. But I will put it in the hands of as many Anchorage kids as I can.

  15. Jim Murphy says:

    Jonathan — I’ll try to be as brief as possible, but I just had a large cup of coffee so I might not have the auto-edit in place.
    First, clearly I reacted (over-reacted?) to the word bunch. Blogs are meant to be informal, conversational, and I probably wouldn’t have been bothered if delivered in person. But I took the written word as somewhat dismissive. I’ve met and been on panels with a couple of these authors and I know we all sweat bullets doing our research, working out themes, writing and re-writing the text and gathering images and I worried that some of this effort wasn’t being acknowledged in the same way as several of the more favored titles.
    Second, it is a bit awkward to respond, though I’m actually pretty easy with criticism in general. Mostly, it’s that any response by a writer is meant to defend their title and I am not at all comfortable with self-promotion. Don’t laugh. It’s true. Also, in an indirect way any defense might be construed as a criticism of other writers (or at least an attempt to minimize their work in some way) and I certainly don’t want to do that. I have real problems with some of the titles discussed, but I also admire the writers and the fact that their books are generating deep felt interest. I read their books to learn from them.
    Third, Prejudice. I think was reacting to your comment about the pull of nonfiction that uses fictional techniques to draw in readers. A bit of ancient history figures into this. Years ago, a major review media gave one of my books a really nice review. Glorious even. Though no star was attached. Months later the person who wrote the review came up to me and apologized for the review. I said it was a great review, but she was apologizing for the lack of a star. She told me she had recommended that it be given a star, and that other editors had agreed, but that the person who ran the show had vetoed it. Why? She didn’t like or trust narrative nonfiction. Over the past couple of years I’ve read other opinions that echo this sentiment (you know, the ‘history isn’t a story. It’s…’). I simply don’t want readers to assume the way some of us put together our books is either old-fashioned or easy; there is a great deal of thought and passion that goes into making our nonfiction texts as compelling as the best fiction.
    But as I suggested above, I may have over-reacted. I’ll try to self-edit better next time. Have a great day.

  16. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I don’t think you overreacted, Jim, and as for unedited thoughts–well, I do that all the time here. I daresay that overreactions and unedited thoughts drive the majority of the discussion on this blog. ;-)

    These sketchy thoughts represent only my first impressions on these titles, but I can be convinced of both flaws and strengths that I have overlooked. I can also assure you that I don’t have a bias against narrative nonfiction. In fact, I’ve found myself somewhat defending narrative nonfiction offline with another author who feels that, by putting this brand of nonfiction on a pedestal, we diminish other kinds of nonfiction, especially in light of the Common Core.

  17. Jonathan Hunt says:

    More relevant thoughts from Mark Flowers over at Adults 4 Teens.

    http://blogs.slj.com/adult4teen/2012/12/10/adult-nonfiction-for-teens/

  18. Jim Murphy says:

    Jonathan — Not to beat a topic/thought to death, but the fact that you have to defend narrative nonfiction is informative, especially when it’s a writer who seems troubled by it. I have always (always) said that any topic/individual can be studied, examined, thought about, talked about, written about, etc., etc., in a wide variety of ways, that no one approach is THE APPROACH. We’re all trying to come up with a way to explain history in a way that engages and captivates young readers and, hopefully, leads them to want to know more about the subject in question or about history in general.

  19. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I think we’d all agree that approaches to history can be entirely different but equally valid. I think what makes it hard is when one approach seems to get the lion’s share of attention, as if it were the only worthy treatment of a particular subject. We see this kind of thing a lot with any underrepresented topic, though. Take LITTLE WHITE DUCK, for example. We might worry that a child might think this is what all of China is like–or that Mao Zedong was a good leader.

  20. Eric says:

    Speaking of unedited thoughts:
    Haven’t gotten a hold of LITTLE WHITE DUCK yet but why would anyone worry about children thinking that Mao was a good leader? I’m pretty sure that would be considered an opinion and not at all within the purview of the Newbery criteria.
    If an author chooses to write a book (be it nonfiction or fiction) in praise of Mao, no one could really say that it wasn’t accurate, in terms of the criteria at least, anymore they could have claimed inaccuracy in last year’s BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE. I found STALIN’S NOSE to be a piece of anti-soviet propaganda which refused to even consider the other side of the story (i.e. maybe the kid’s dad really was a anti-soviet saboteur working to prevent a successful soviet union) but our feelings about the themes or content shouldn’t matter.
    It’s all about the interpretation of said themes or the accuracy of the content. Whether or not Mao or Stalin or Truman or whoever was a good leader isn’t relevant unless of course you can convince the committee that the content or theme is truly didactic.

    I think it’s important to consider how if at all the level in which we agree with a theme or message of a book clouds our examination of the book in terms of the criteria.
    Does the fact that we do consider Michaux an important American lead us to value NO CRYSTAL STAIR more than say THE GIANT? Did we honor Claudette Colvin because it was a distinguished contribution to children’s literature or because of the value of bringing the subject to light?
    There was a (i would say justifiable) blowback against WONDER because it was “guidance counselor fiction”, a book that great message which may have clouded many reader’s judgement of the literary (ie. criteria relevant) qualities.
    Is there ever any blow back against “social studies teacher nonfiction”?
    I am truly concerned that the committee will choose a nonfiction title which will lead to asinine discussions of the “common core-ness” of the title. I hope that the phrase common core never rears its ugly head within the committee room in January. I’m not opposed to nonfiction titles being honored, but no because of some change in curriculum (or what could be construed that way after the fact).

    (oh and to answer Jonathan’s question from above i did enjoy MOONBIRD more than RESCUE, and had no problem with the redundancies. My problem with MOONBIRD was the “preachy” you have the power to save these birds/ change the world stuff towards the end. Again i have this aversion to nonfiction that tries to teach the reader something greater than the content of the story. I was fascinated by the moonbird’s journey and the work of the scientist/trackers but bored by the idea of kid’s doing something to protect them)

  21. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Oh, *I* personally don’t object to anything portrayed in LITTLE WHITE DUCK. All I’m saying is that when you have intense feelings about something–and it is so little portrayed in children’s literature that it skews an entire experience with a narrow or “misguided” focus–then it can be hard to stomach praise lavished on that portrayal. Another example, I remember listening to KT Horning talk about one of the early picture books portraying lesbian mothers–and it ended with a break-up. So you had this community with a crying need for seeing themselves represented in picture books, but the fact that it ended with a break-up . . . Sure, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of book–it’s just when it’s the *only* book out there. You see this with lots of underrepresented topics. And I think this kind of thinking could extend to nonfiction in this case, a genre that gets so little attention that it might be frustrating for some when only one kind gets elevated for praise.

    I agree that it’s important to ask ourselves whether we find a subject excellent or important. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive and a book–like CLAUDETTE COLVIN–can be excellent *and* important. And we recognized it because of it’s excellence; it’s importance is gravy. I don’t think you need to worry about Common Core pervading the committee discussions.

    I, personally, didn’t find the activist stuff riveting either, but I recognize this is a work of conversation biology and that as such the goal is to persuade readers that action is necessary in order to preserve species and the environment. I never read it as preachy as much as I read it as a genre convention of conservation biology.

  22. Eric says:

    Jonathan I like the idea of thinking about the activist/preachy stuff as a genre convention of this type of book. Though when I think back at a number of the Scientist in the Field Books, which fall under the conservation biology label, I didn’t find the activist stuff as jarring or intrusive as I did in MOONBIRD. I would have to go back and look at something like FROG SCIENTIST again to see how the activism aspect was handled there.

  23. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I think that kind of stuff is easy to avoid in MOONBIRD: just skip all the scientist profiles and the appendix. It’s there if you’re interested, but it’s also very easy to skim over.

    I think the appendix directly addresses the reader and creates perhaps a shift in tone similar to the epilogue in BOMB, so that might feel more “preachy,” but it’s a hallmark of persuasive writing.

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