Up a Road Slowly is a love story. Not a boy meets girl kind of story, but a girl meets maiden aunt kind of story. Julie is seven when her mother dies...moreUp a Road Slowly is a love story. Not a boy meets girl kind of story, but a girl meets maiden aunt kind of story. Julie is seven when her mother dies and she and her older brother are whisked of to live in the country with Aunt Cordelia, a spinster school teacher with a ram rod posture and a ram rod distinction between correct and not. Julie and Cordelia are instantly at odds. They rub against each other for the next ten years where they find that they have rubbed off on each other to the betterment and delight of both.
I spent the first three quarters of this book in giddy-sycophantic love. Hunt's writing is lovely and precise. Her character development three dimensional to the point of yearning to look for real estate next to the Bishop homestead. Uncle Haskell is the unrepentant alcoholic black sheep of the family. He is painted with an affecting clarity and humor. When he writes Julia a note after the death of a school mate, its honesty and grace broke my heart into a million pieces.
It took awhile for me to realize that even if I had read this book as a child there is no way I could have appreciated it as I was at present. I believe that a child and an adult will walk away with completely different experiences. I'm afraid to say that there may not be much to keep today’s young readers enthralled. For all of its beauty, it is a quiet story.
The one element that drove me to distraction was that I could not determine what time period the book was set. It won the Newbery in 1967 but seemed much to sedate for the time period. I couldn't tell it I was reading a period piece or if Hunt was consciously being coy with the year.
I might hand if off to one of my students, and then hold my breath that she would appreciate a fraction of what I found to love.
I haven’t read the other non-fiction Newbery medalists. But from some comments on these volumes: The Story of Mankind, Invincible Louisa, Daniel Boone...moreI haven’t read the other non-fiction Newbery medalists. But from some comments on these volumes: The Story of Mankind, Invincible Louisa, Daniel Boone – they were often found lacking. My guess is that when Russell Freedman came along the committee was all kinds of giggles and gusto to have such a concise, accurate, and readable biography to add to the Newbery cannon. Lincoln: A Photobiography maintains a formal narrative distance from the reader, yet manages to string out a captivating life, up to the point where I was sobbing at the death I knew from the beginning would end the tale.
Russell is to be commended at maintaining a persistent pace. He never focuses overly long on one subject to the point where the reader grows weary of it. He also, without overtly stating it makes the case that this one person, Abraham Lincoln, held in his hands the directional destiny of our country. Left in other hands we may be living in an entirely different county today. This is never clearer than in the coverage Russell gives Lincoln’s reelection. I came away with a certainty that the war would have had an entirely different outcome if another had usurped the presidency.
Like myself, I find many children shy away from non-fiction, unless sports or hubcaps are involved. When I do find that rare child who chomps through the 900 section I am in not a little awe. In fact, it was a little dicey that I would get a chance to read my own library’s copy. As at the moment, I have an awe-inspiring 5th grader who is gobbling up biographies and US history books like they were M&Ms. She got her hands on the book before I had a chance to pull it, and I needed to beg to get it back. My hope is that - any child who gives this book a chance will be rewarded with a sense of pride and gratitude that such an intelligent and empathetic man was willing to give himself to our country. (less)
I'm at a loss, I either want to give this book five stars or one. I see by the average of almost exactly three I am not alone.
It took me most of the w...moreI'm at a loss, I either want to give this book five stars or one. I see by the average of almost exactly three I am not alone.
It took me most of the week to get M.C. read. I’m not sure what I expected, by the title maybe something along the lines of Ramona the Brave or The Great Gilly Hopkins – a mix of audaciousness self-delusion and vulnerability? Come to think of it, I guess that is what I got with M.C., but in such a different package from than what Cleary and Patterson delivered.
Although I have a few questions for the committee that chose this book, I can see why it might have drifted to the top of the top of the list in 1975. I have the desire to discuss this book for hours and days with other readers. I wish to discover what they found that I missed and to share the juicy nuggets that I found so delectable. And to bang my head with others who may have also found it frustratingly slow and tedious.
Hamilton creates such fully realized characters that I was left knowing what M.C.’s, Jones’, or Ben’s reactions would be if placed in an entirely different place and time. Hamilton never tells us what we should think of M.C. instead she shows us a character that is arrogant and dependable, misogynistic and protective, bigoted and loyal. We only see him where he reigns supreme, in the small nucleus of his world on the mountain. We know that he leaves the mountain to go town during the school year, but we never see him out of his element until he visits the Killburn commune, where suddenly his footing, his dignity, and his very perceptions are shaken. (Can I just interject that I loved watching Ben swagger while he was on his home turf.) M.C.’s desire to get off the mountain is at odds with his naïve comprehension of the world at large.
Interspersed between M.C.’s coming of age arc is a story of relationships. As with the other aspects of this book these are exquisitely honed. My favorite is M.C.s relationships with both his parents. I found a profound honesty that I’ve discovered in my life. Children have one relationship with their parents when presented as a united entity and completely different relationship with them individually. The combativeness he has with his father is at odds with the camaraderie he shares his mother, but the authority of who leads the family remains intact.
Hamilton creates such a dense sense of setting that if I were to take a wrong turn some night driving through the Ohio River Valley and stumbled on Sarah’s Mountain, I would be no more lost than The Dude. Granted, I would be plenty disoriented, but able to recognize major landmarks, particularly that odd pole poking up from the crest of the mountain.
It feels like the essence of this story could be distilled down to a few drops of rich broth: Circumstances don’t need to determine destiny. Fresh eyes may be required to expose bigotry. Family is both stifling and expanding. Roots anchor but also encumber.
Hamilton’s stylistic language is gorgeous. I wished more than once that I could hear this read aloud. I wanted the cadence to go with the unique verbiage.
I was also intrigued by the fact that Virginia Hamilton was the first African-American to be awarded the Newbery medal. But unlike Roll of Thunder, I didn’t feel like this was a novel about the American Black experience. It was a novel where the characters happened to be of color Their story extended beyond race. We are still in short supply of books of this ilk today. I did find myself frustrated in what I didn’t know. I wanted to know the broader racial makeup of the nearby communities. Was the town mostly white? Where the mountain folks mostly of color? What was the race of The Dude? How did a runaway slave find the resources to “own” a mountain? The answers are not important to M.C.’s story, and I think Hamilton trusts her reader to infer most of these answers. I can be just a bit denser than the average reader.
M.C. Higgins, the Great is a title that stretches the Newbery caveat, “a book for which children are an intended potential audience”, to its narrowest limit. I keep thinking that if I were to recommend this book to one of my students, the ensuing head-scratching would result in serious hair loss. Because of its subtlety, I also believe pushes the upper age range.
I’ve chosen this year to read my honor’s books from. I have read The Perilous Guard many times and am eager to see what the others have to offer. I figured out that I was eleven when these awards were announced. I secretly think of this age as the prime Newbery target. I would never have been ready for M.C. when it came out.(less)
Robin, at the age of ten, was well past the time of hanging about his mother’s skirts. Time was a wasting, best ship the kid off study in the art of k...moreRobin, at the age of ten, was well past the time of hanging about his mother’s skirts. Time was a wasting, best ship the kid off study in the art of knighthood. His father was off knighting it up against the Scots and his mother was needed to attend to the queen, and the plague was running rampant through England. Robin, left to wait for his transport to a brother knight’s castle, falls ill with some unknown disease the moment his mother leaves him on his own in London. The malady strikes his legs, leaving him bed ridden and not fit for knightly duties. Soon the entire household is decimated by the plague. Robin is rescued by the saintly Brother Luke and taken to the nearby monastery to convalesce. Brother Luke provides physical therapy for the petulant Robin and helps him find sedentary interests. After a whiny letter to his father Robin, Luke, and a wandering minstrel set off to the stronghold of Sir Peter de Lindsay. While there, the Castle is beset by Welch ruffians. (“Glory to the Welch!” says this narrator, a descendant of the rabble.) Robin uses his new found courage, talents, and his stealthy crutches to sneak out of the door in the wall and save the day. Honor, accolades, and heavy-handed literary illusions follow.
I will admit that it took me days to read a book barely over a hundred pages long. I didn’t hate it, it just didn’t captivate me. The characters were not vibrant. Robin shows growth from an indulged brat to a self-sacrificing hero, but the development was not shown – it just seemed to happen. The plot moved along at a quick trot, but didn’t get anywhere quickly. The siege and Robin’s triumph was plenty thrilling, but didn’t take up a whole lot of space.
This book reads young and might work for a read aloud for 3rd or 4th grade, but for older students looking for medieval fiction, I would first turn their attention to Good Master’s, Sweet Ladies (what Schlitz can do with a character in a page or two is truly astonishing) or to Cushman’s Midwife Apprentice (less)
This epic begins with Nimrod, prophet/leader of a long-suffering people, offering a sacrifice to his god by way of smashing in the head of his favorit...moreThis epic begins with Nimrod, prophet/leader of a long-suffering people, offering a sacrifice to his god by way of smashing in the head of his favorite steed. Apparently the sacrifice works as Nimrod is immediately blessed with a vision foretelling of his people's deliverance to a land of promise and plenty. He sees the coming of the greatest of leaders -Attila, who will with "the mighty voice and wings red as blood" lead his people to their land of destiny. This mighty warrior is to enter the world through the line of one of Nimrod's sons, Hunor, who lends his name to half of the tribe - The Huns. The tale then proceeds to unfold exactly as Nimrod predicted. It culminates with the glorious Attila, after comforting a fallen toddler, pulling sword from the ground and securing the land of Hungary "against all powers on earth, for my people".
I sure would have liked to see the pitch for this book: "In less than a hundred pages we will mythologizes the glorious rise to power of Attila the Hun. There will be no apologies for the slaughter of thousands, but we will show that the poor motherless-lad really had no other destiny with such a father - and his people really did love him." I don’t know if my ignorance of mythological literature interfered with my appreciation of the book, but all I can say is – this is one weird critter.
The story gallops along, pausing from time to time to create a scene for the reader, but never connecting the reader to the characters. This may be par for the course with this type of literature, but I personally found it wanting. Seredy’s fantastical drawings were throughout the book. They are arresting and reminiscent of artwork that clutter the Fantasy Fan world – or finer tattoo parlors. This might work well as a graphic novel, where weirdness is all the rage.
As to the question of how this holds up. I might hand it over to a student who was interested in Mythology, with the caveat that is a mythology entirely created by the author.
She was shaped from a six-inch piece of mountain-ash, carried from Ireland in a peddler’s pack to ward of witches and other forms of evil. In Hitty: h...moreShe was shaped from a six-inch piece of mountain-ash, carried from Ireland in a peddler’s pack to ward of witches and other forms of evil. In Hitty: her first Hundred Years we travel though the titled century with that little vagabond piece of feminine-shaped ash as she is flung over a good portion of the world. From her respectable beginnings within a puritanical home she moves into situations that would scandalize most proper folk. Among her many incarnations Hitty can résumé graven-idol, snake-charmer, whaler, fashionista, artist’s muse, effigy, and pincushion. Not to mention that half the world scrutinized her underwear.
Hitty’s author, Rachel Field, employs the clever device of Hitty’s memoirs to expose the reader to a wide swash of U.S. and world history. I’m sure the historical sweep was secondary to the creation of the rollicking adventure story. Hitty keeps us in touch with the timeline mainly through her wardrobe changes, along with at least one major historical event, the Civil War. Field also slips in a couple of notable writers: Charles Dickens and John Greenleaf Whittier, to anchor the date.
Using an inanimate being, with no control over her world, can be limiting in a protagonist. Narration was heavier during Hitty’s era than is considered respectable in today’s fiction. Having a protagonist limited in conversational skills seems to have necessitated that the narrator tell the reader everything she should be thinking about the goings-on in the story.
Although Hitty’s conversation is limited, she does have a distinct voice. I would label it ironic-prude. She is often quite funny when commiserating over her fading beauty. “It is a hard world for those of us who are not able to keep our complexions.” (Pg. 107) She was scandalized by the changing fashions of the early 20th century. “. . .the sight of children with bare legs and arms and brief dresses, and ladies with hair and skirts almost as short.” (pg. 197)
Among the vast array of characters that traipsed through Hitty’s life some were more vibrant than others. Oddly the adult characters were better developed than many of the children. It was common for Hitty to tell us the disposition of her new companion rather than show us.
As was the sad norm of the time, Hitty does not fare well in the arena of political correctness. There was the assumption in India that the “little brown people” were waiting to be saved from their heathen ways. The “savages” who took Hitty as their god did not develop beyond the first dimension. Even in Field’s treatment of African-Americans, in which I truly believe she strived to be liberal and open-minded, there was still an implied assumption that she was describing a lesser bit of humanity. The collective “they” was used to group the former slaves on the plantation. She was sure to show that they were now happy and content to be working for wages. She described the plantation Colonel and his daughter’s magnanimous generosity in doling out Christmas presents from the big house. Of course Hitty was also much consoled when she passed from the black hands of little Car’line into the “quality” hands of Miss Hope. I’m a little uncomfortable dishing out to harsh of a judgment in hindsight, as I wonder with what blinders I’m viewing today’s world.
Although there are a few weaknesses when held to today’s standards, I would say that Hitty holds up as an enjoyable story with an engaging, if a bit puffed-up, little heroine. The scope of the story is to be admired and enjoyed. (less)