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Printzbery, Part 4: Last but Not Least
I’ve had a busy two days, catching up on a few of the swing books we’ve got on the slate for our in-person Printzbery discussion this weekend. Also a busy few days sniffling and crying since both books are heavy on the feels.
The Marvels, Brian Selznick
Scholastic, September 2015
Reviewed from ARC (3 stars)
I LOVED it. Which was totally unexpected. And it strikes me as a book, like This One Summer, that could have Printz and Caldecott chops — but not Newbery, obviously, because the illustrations are critical.
The Marvels skews up much higher than I expected given the package and format. It’s a story about stories and finding a place to belong, and many of the critical characters are adults, or move into aduthood, so that the age span is very broad. Developmentally, it’s all about the adolescent journey, first with Leo and then with Joseph: they are moving out into the world from the safe shelter of childhood (well, safe-ish); in Leo’s case, the journey is unfinished, perhaps because he’s so deeply tied to Albert, whose loss of his beloved at a young age has stunted him. In Joseph’s case, his act of adulthood is to complete a story that literally positions him as the adult nurturing a next generation.
I don’t love Selznick’s pencil art — it strikes me as muddy at times — but at the same time it’s effective and precisely rendered, eliciting an emotional response from the reader, and the overall design in lovely.
It’s probably a long short for the Printz, but not an impossible one.
Orbiting Jupiter, Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books, October 2015
Reviewed from final ebook (4 stars)
Another day, another box of tissues drowned in tears.
Just as The Marvels surprised me by feeling startlingly adult, or at least adolescent, this surprised me by being such a serious book that still felt like a children’s book. Age bracketing for the cusp books is so subjective, and it’s entirely possible that the RealCommittee would read this differently, but to me this came across as Jack’s story, and Jack really is a kid, although one seeing the wider world for the first time.
It’s a lovely, painful (too tragic?) read. It’s maybe a little jampacked with bad things, and it lacks shades of gray — everyone is either fantastic or not nice at all, which contributed to the sense of children’s literature, which tends to deal more in absolutes. That’s not a bad thing — to be distinguished for children, a book needs to be written with the developmental state of the child reader in mind. This does just that, delivering hard ideas in slightly simplified ways so that the ideas come across with blinding clarity. The lack of nuance is what has me thinking this is a no go for the Printz; appropriate for a younger reader does not always translate to good writing for an adolescent reader — but then, Schmidt has surprised us before. Does it deserve the Newbery? I’m not well read enough in the children’s/middle grade books to say for sure, but I imagine it’s on their table.
Regardless, it’s been a rich year for books that defy easy categories, another sign of how fantastic of a year it’s been for children’s and YA publishing.
Filed under: Books to look for
About Karyn Silverman
Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.
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