“It was getting harder and harder to stay couraged.”
“That dog would never have to do a searching and fearless moral inventory of herself.”
“…she made the thought go into a place inside that wasn’t her brain, so she wouldn’t have to think about it.”
So, let’s talk Newbery Medals. One is awarded each year to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature. It’s the epitome of praise for a children’s book. I wanted to start out the blog discussing awards and reading award-winning books because, well, it’s a good place to start. Each award and the books collected under it has its own character, and are often linked by certain similarities, perhaps in topic of the emotions the evoke in a reader. I feel like the Newbery books often have a gritty feel, and leave the reader melancholic and introspective. To me, they seem like the junior versions of the Nobel Prize books. They’re not always fun to read, but they are undeniably moving. Past winners of the Newbery and Newbery honor are Gail Carson Levine for Ella Enchanted and Karen Cushman’s The Midwife’s Apprentice (which won the prize) Catherine, Called Birdy (which won the honorable mention). Another Newbery honor book is Janet Taylor Lisle, for Afternoon of the Elves, a book that both repelled and fascinated me as a child. In the next few weeks, I’ll try and review some of my favorite Newbery books.
Anyway, I started with The Higher Power of Lucky, a book set in the desert town of Hard Pan, population 43. Lucky is a young girl who wants to grow up and be a scientist. Her dog is named the HMS Beagle, after Darwin’s ship, though, as Lucky notes, is “neither a ship nor a beagle”. She spends her time catching insects for her future scientific needs, eavesdropping on the Twelve-Step meetings held at the local museum, and playing with Lincoln, a boy her age who is an avid knot-tier. Oh, and missing her dead mother and worrying constantly about her Guardian Bridgitte returning to France and sending to her to an orphanage. After discovering, and misunderstanding, several important papers in Bridgitte’s suitcase, she decides she will run away before Bridgitte can leave her. After waiting for three pivotal signs, she hits the road.
The nice part about children’s literature is that there aren’t a lot of terrible endings. Don’t worry, this one doesn’t have a slap-you-in-the-face plot twist or anything to dishearten you. It works out all right in the end.
The gems in this story come straight from Lucky’s mouth and her unique observations about the world. The book is full of her musing about “meanness glands” and “knot-tying brain secretions” and her thoughts on Brigitte’s use of parsley. The book is gentle, which is refreshing, considering the subject is an orphan growing up in astonishing poverty in the desert. Lucky is like a combination between Kate in Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society and Ramona from Beverly Cleary’s series. She’s charming, plucky, and very easy to relate to, a character that will stick with you long after the book is over.
Patron, Susan. The Higher Power of Lucky. Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, 2006. Hardcover, 144 pages