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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

My Seneca Village

9781608981977_p0_v2_s192x300I know this book hasn’t published yet–November 1–but this is to serve notice that Nina and I are both extremely enamored of it, so much so that we have decided to put in on our shortlist despite the late publication date.  We encourage you to put your holds on the book, or better yet buy a copy.

There are some pretty amazing writers in the field of children’s literature, and yet when Marilyn Nelson brings her A-game there’s really nobody else who can compare to her.  CARVER is quite simply a masterpiece, while A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL is, arguably, word for word the most powerful book for a child/teen audience that I have ever read.  And MY SENECA VILLAGE is cut from the same cloth.  It’s a collection of voices from Seneca Village, Manhattan’s first significant community of African American property owners before it was razed to make room for Central Park.  There is an introduction, a note on the poetic forms at the end, and assorted footnotes throughout that ground the collection in history.  On the left-hand side of each page, opposite the poem, there are stage directions that help us visualize the narrator and their situation.

Several of my favorite poems from this collection are found poems.

 

ADDRESS

Delivered by Mrs. Maria W. Stewart (1803-1879), ca. 1845

 

Do the sons of Africa have no souls?

Do they feel no ambition?  No desires?

Can a slave not be noble?  A master be a fool?

 

Shall the earth be inherited by the fierce?

Shall ignorance continue to enchain

the ignorant, so their ignorance grows worse?

 

Shall we always be judged the lesser men?

Are we not equally able to achieve?

Not statesman, scientists, and historians?

 

Have we no heroes, gallant, fearless, brave?

No lecturers on natural history?

Are the distinguished extinguished by being enslaved

 

in this nation of freedom and democracy?

Lord, Ethiopia stretches her hands to Thee!

 

This is one of two found poems from the speeches of Maria Stewart, there’s another from a Frederick Douglass speech, and yet another from the text of the statute evoking the law of eminent domain to uproot the community to that Central Park could be built.  These are all used to great effect and serve the purpose of grounding the reader in real history.

Here’s another one I like.

 

TO KNOW

Matilda Polk, 1858

 

To know just how he suffered–would be dear

–Emily Dickinson

 

To know if, when, and where he breathed his last, 

To know if his last word was my first name.

To know if some letters to me were lost.

To know if he lives: to know THAT, at least!

 

To know how long I must tend this guttering flame.

 

We’ve actually watched Matilda grow up and fall in love with Freddy Riddles.  Freddy goes off in the world to have an adventure, but when Matilda doesn’t hear from him for a while, and then is forced to evacuate her home, the uncertainty of what may have befallen her beloved is a source of constant worry.

I hope these two poems will serve as a teaser and encourage you to seek this book out sooner rather than later so that we can discuss it more fully.

 

 

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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, 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. Me three on feeling very strongly about this one. Here’s what I wrote to some folks about it, “I thought Marilyn Nelson’s My Seneca Village was beautifully rendered. In the style of Spoon River Anthology, she brings to life a chorus of voices of those who lived there, moving through a swath of history. Elegant and elegiac (in the sorrowful meaning). One of my favorite reads of the year so far. “

  2. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    Something I greatly appreciate are Nelson’s notes about her poetic forms, which invites interested readers to go back and read again. For instance, she points out that all of the poems in the voice of Matilda Polk, like “To Know” above, are written in a form she invented for this speaker, and which she calls a “Tilde.” She doesn’t explain to the reader what the form is: you have to go back through and figure it out.

  3. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    The notes on poetic forms made me wish she would write a whole book about poetic forms for young readers. I also loved the historical note about Seneca Village at the front as well as the scattered footnotes throughout. Buy it, read it, share it!

  4. I find it interesting that the notes were written as suggestions for the illustrator, but the publisher decided to forgo pictures and instead use the notes themselves.

  5. Safranit Molly says:

    I’ve just ordered this one from my local independent book store!

  6. This wasn’t even on my radar. Thank you so much! I’ve ordered a couple copies for my library and will add them to our Mock Newbery list… probably after our first elimination round (so it doesn’t get knocked off early by impatient 6th graders). 😀

  7. MY SENECA VILLAGE (Namelos) is a must-read. Nelson writes “No poet wants to keep writing the same form over and over.” She certainly does not! A master class in poetry from a master voice.

  8. Brenda Martin says:

    Just as an FYI, we already have this – I have a pub date listing of Oct 1.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Huh. And Amazon has it listed as June. Regardless, I’m happy that it’s available. The book does have three starred reviews from the only journals to review it so far–Booklist, Kirkus, Horn Book. Could pick up even more.

  9. Sheila Welch says:

    Roger Sutton explained the extra text in his comment above. The November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book also includes Nelson’s explanation. Nelson calls this text “verbal sketches” that were for an illustrator but Stephen Roxburgh (namelos) decided to use the words instead of artwork.

    I’m wondering about Nina’s description (in her review) of the cover as “drab” and “unfortunate.” I’ve ordered the book but don’t have it yet. Based on what I’ve seen on-line, I think it’s an eye-catching cover that appears to match the tone of the book. What is unfortunate for authors, readers, etc? Roxburgh has returned to graduate school and has probably stopped publishing new books. He published Nelson’s CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS when he was at Front Street (which like namelos, he founded). That book received numerous awards, and it’s nice that one of his final books is getting so much recognition. It’s lovely for Marilyn Nelson too. :-)

    • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

      Shelia, thanks for the details from the Horn Book. I will say I find the cover photograph itself beautiful and arresting, and the design is clean and has integral logic. I don’t think, however, that it has much kid appeal, and that was what I meant by “unfortunate,” as it is hard enough to hand-sell a book of poems to a kid. (Thoughts from booksellers on this one?) Happily, as Jonathan notes, none of this would come into play for Newbery discussion, or likely most award discussions, and … an award sticker would sure bulk up the cover appeal. The designer left a perfect spot for one, in fact, upper left. 😉

      • Sheila Welch says:

        Thanks for responding. I realize that covers don’t count for the Newbery, but I was curious about your comments and appreciate your explanation.

  10. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m not crazy about the cover either, but it’s not a Newbery consideration.

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