Tuesday, October 31, 2000

A Year Down Yonder - and Another Novel from Me a Year from Now?

This is the fifth book I've read in my exploration of Newbery-award-winning children's books. A definite pattern is developing. Like Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me and Clare Vanderpool's Moon Over Manifest, Richard Peck's A Year Down Yonder explores the life of a girl making sense of life in another era. Like Manifest, it also helps if the story involves being displaced from one's family while they try to get back on their feet financially.

The cynic in me says that apparently to win a Newbery all I have to do is mimic this apparently tried-and-true formula. I must admit, though, that these books have inspired me to write a tale in a similar vein. Hopefully my motives remain, however, to serve the story first and foremost and not shoot for some lofty and unlikely dream. My newest story idea is that of a 12-year-old girl who spends the summer with her grandparents at Topsail Island in North Carolina. While helping Grandpa at the sea turtle rescue center he runs, the girl helps rescue a turtle with a tracking device. The device leads her on an interesting journey - and the possible discover of Atlantis.

Sea Turtle Hospital in South Padre Island, Texas

In the Newbery winners I've dissected thus far, the real story behind all of them is the journey on which the main character goes. The character doesn't actually do any traveling, but learns about herself because of the people around her. In Peck's Yonder, Mary Alice's year with her grandmother opens her eyes to just how much Grandma takes care of the people in her town despite appearing very gruff and unapproachable.

Book Trailer

My greatest lesson in all this is to 1) create an interesting story and 2) populate it with interesting characters. Hopefully, let's say a year from now, we'll see if I've accomplished that with my Atlantis-themed book.

Richard Peck on Writing

Monday, October 16, 2000

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe published 50 years ago today

First posted 6/11/2020; updated 7/6/2020.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

C.S. Lewis

First Publication: October 16, 1950

Category: fantasy children’s novel

Sales: 85 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first in a series of seven children’s fantasy novels known as The Chronicles of Narnia. WK C.S. Lewis “wrote the book for, and dedicated it to, his goddaughter Lucy Barfield. She was the daughter of Owen Barfield, Lewis’ friend, teacher, adviser, and trustee.” WK

“Shortly before the Second World War many children were evacuated from London to the English countryside to escape bomber attacks on London by Nazi Germany.” WK In 1939, three girls came to live at Lewis’ home. He gained a new appreciation for children and he started a story about four siblings who had to leave London because of the air raids and live with a relative of their mother.” WK

“The novel uses Christian iconography in Aslan's dramatic sacrifice and resurrection. Edmund's transition from self-interested schoolboy to heroic young man is also resonantly spiritual.” TG

Most of the story “is set in Narnia, a land of talking animals and mythical creatures that one White Witch has ruled for 100 years of deep winter.” WK After the youngest of the four children visits Narnia “via the magic of a wardrobe in a spare room” WK she is accompanied by her siblings on “her third visit, which verifies her fantastic claims.” WK “The siblings seem fit to fulfill an old prophecy” WK and “when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change…and a great sacrifice.” AZ

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Saturday, January 1, 2000

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter published 150 years ago this year

First posted 7/3/2020; last updated 7/5/2020.

The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne

First Publication: 1850

Category: novel with themes of sin and redemption

Sales: 1 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

The Scarlet Letter is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterpiece and one of the greatest American novels.” AZ It “was the first important novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the leading authors of nineteenth-century romanticism in American literature.” LC As “America’s first psychological novel, [it] is a dark tale of love, crime, and revenge set in colonial New England.” BN “The landscape…is uniquely American, but the themes…are universal – the nature of sin, guilt, and penitence, the clash between our private and public selves, and the spiritual and psychological cost of living outside society.” BN

The story “revolves around a single, forbidden act of passion that forever alters the lives of three members of a small Puritan community.” BN “The main character, Hester Prynne, is condemned to wear a scarlet ‘A’ (for ‘adultery’) on her chest because of an affair that resulted in an illegitimate child.” LC She is “an ardent and fierce woman who bears the punishment of her sin in humble silence.” BN

Arthur Dimmesdale, a Puritan pastor who is the father, “has kept their affair secret [as he] holds a high place in the community.” LC He “struggles with the agony of conscience and his own weakness.” AZ He is “a respected public figure who is inwardly tormented by long-hidden guilt.” BN

“Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband, is “a man who seethes with an Ahab-like lust for vengeance,” BN serving up “calculating assaults on the frail mental state of the conscience-stricken cleric.” AZ

“Constructed with the elegance of a Greek tragedy, The Scarlet Letter brilliantly illuminates the truth that lies deep within the human heart.” BN “The result is an American tragedy of stark power and emotional depth.” AZ

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Charles Dickens' David Copperfield published 150 years ago

First posted 7/4/2020; updated 7/5/2020.

David Copperfield

Charles Dickens

First Publication: 1850

Category: coming-of-age novel

Sales: 1 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

David Copperfield, Dickens’ eighth novel, was his favorite BN and is considered by many to be his greatest work. AZ “Written in the first person, it also perhaps his most autobiographical. BN “A classic coming-of-age story, it is the tale of its titular character from childhood to maturity which chronicles the struggle between the emotional and moral aspects of his life.” AZ

The story is “filled with trials and tribulations which [the title character] struggles to overcome in his pursuit of a happy and fulfilled life.” AZ He “loses both parents at an early age, …escapes the torture of working for his pitiless stepfather to make something of himself and, with any luck, [will] find true happiness. David Copperfield features an unforgettable gallery of characters, including David’s cruel stepfather Mr. Murdstone, the unctuous Uriah Heep, the amiable Mr. Micawber, whom Dickens based on his father, and Dora Spenglow, whom David marries and calls his ‘child-wife.’ BN

“Central to the theme of the novel is the idea of the disciplined heart. Dickens suggests that people basically fall into three categories: those who have one, those who don’t, and those who seek to cultivate one. It is this development of a disciplined heart inside David Copperfield which establishes the principal context of his relationships throughout the novel.” AZ

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