Sunday, February 28, 2010

152 (2010 #17). The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

by David Wroblewski,
read by Richard Poe


This was my local book club's choice for February. It's a long book, made very pleasant though by the excellent reading by actor Richard Poe.

Edgar Sawtelle is born in northern Wisconsin on May 13, 1958 (assuming the date in the book is correct - it also says his mother has a stillborn baby in April 1958, so one of the dates is wrong). He has no voice, and learns to communicate with unique signs and later by writing. His parents, Gar & Trudy, run the family's dog-breeding business, well-trained animals that come to be known as "Sawtelle dogs." Edgar is involved in training them too, and in June 1972, he gets his own litter to work with from birth.

In January of the following year, Edgar finds his father dying on the floor of the kennel, and comes to suspect his uncle Claude, Gar's black-sheep brother, who is now insinuating himself into their lives. A terrible accident causes Edgar to run away with some of the dogs, and much of the book follows their time on the run. This was my favorite part (IV of V) of the book. Eventually Edgar returns home for a tragic conclusion to the story.

Wroblewski has said in interviews that the book intentionally is "juxtaposing" with Shakespeare's Hamlet; to "allow the stories to coincide where they could." Some of the parallels are obvious: Claude = Claudius, Trudy = Gertrude. Some are less so, particularly where dogs fill in roles from the play. Edgar (Prince Hamlet) even stages a demonstration with the dogs, resembling the play-within-the-play in Hamlet, that demonstrates to Claude that he knows how his father was killed. Wroblewski was also influenced by The Jungle Book and by the story of a real dog called Hachiko, both of which are mentioned in the book.

I think dog lovers will adore this book, as there is lots of detail about training methods and canine intelligence. Wroblewski has certainly done his research. The writing is lovely with lots of evocative descriptions. The first half of the book moves rather slowly, but it picks up in part III (on page 245 of 562 pages). I might have had trouble sticking with this book if I'd been reading it, but the audiobook made it much easier to follow. Pay attention to the prologue though!

[This audiobook was borrowed from my local public library, and goes back tomorrow.]

© Amanda Pape - 2010

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

150-151 (2010 #s 15-16). 2010 King and Belpre Illustrator Winners

My People by Langston Hughes, with photographs by Charles R. Smith Jr., is the winner of the American Library Association (ALA) 2010 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, "given to African American ... illustrator[s] for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, ...[to] promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society." This is a picture book illustrating Hughes' 33-word poem, originally written in the 1920s to celebrate black people, with sepia-toned black-and-white close-up photographs of black people of different ages. Dark backgrounds and clothing emphasize the eyes, smiles, and other facial expressions of the subjects, and their differing skin tones and shades. Small borders or corners on the pages with contact-sheet size prints invite exploration. That motif is repeated in the endpapers in a larger format. Smith includes a picture of his father in his Navy whites just before a short explanatory afterword. This book is a true gem.

Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children's Day - Book Day / Celebremos El Dia De Los Ninos - El Dia De Los Libros was written by Pat Mora, one of the instigators of this special day, and illustrated by Rafael Lopez, who won the 2010 Pura Belpre Illustrator Award, given to "a Latino/Latina ... illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth." I couldn't find a description of the media used in his illustrations, but in a previous book with Mora (Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico!: America's Sproutings), Lopez used acrylic on wood panels, and these illustrations are similar. They are very colorful, lively, and imaginative, and make one think of Mexican folk art. Sadly, the bilingual text is not particularly inspiring (and what's with all the repetition of "Toon! Toon!" or "Tun! Tun!"?). The last two double-page spreads in the book give a history of Children's Day - Book Day / El Dia De Los Ninos - El Dia De Los Libros and suggestions for celebrating it.

[These books were borrowed from my university and the local public libraries, and go back tomorrow.]

© Amanda Pape - 2010

Sunday, February 07, 2010

147-149 (2010 #s 12-14). 2010 Sibert Awards

The American Library Association (ALA) awards the Robert L. Sibert Informational Book Medal each year to "to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in English during the preceding year....Information books are defined as those written and illustrated to present, organize, and interpret documentable, factual material for children. There are no limitations as to the character of the book, although poetry and traditional literature are not eligible. Honor books may be named; they shall be books that are truly distinguished."

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
by Tonya Lee Stone is the 2010 Sibert winner. It was also a finalist for the ALA's YALSA* Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults (*Young Adult Library Services Association), a Boston Globe - Horn Book Award honoree for nonfiction, and a National Council of Teachers of English Orbis Pictus (another nonfiction award) honor book.

I wasn't originally planning to read and review its 115 pages of text in 12 chapters, but the period illustrations (black-and-white and full-color photographs) drew me in. This book is the story of the so-called "Mercury 13" female pilots who were tested in the early 1960s to see if they could meet the same requirements as male pilots to be astronauts. The book is not without controversy, mostly concerning its accuracy and whether or not it has an agenda. I was a little puzzled by the tone of the book, as I felt the bigger question was why couldn't women be in the military and allowed to be test pilots, which in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was the primary qualification for being an astronaut.

The book is certainly well documented. At the end, besides an author's note, there is an appendix, further reading list, webliography, almost four pages of sources (books, articles and documents, and videos), four pages of source notes (particularly for the quotations), a page of photography credits, a two-page index, and acknowledgments. Author Stone also wrote poetry tributes (that had to be left out of the book) to each of the Mercury 13, ten of whom are still alive today.
The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, written by Austin resident Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani, is a Sibert Honor Book. It's about the brothers who invented glow-in-the-dark (under ultraviolet light) and "Day-Glo" (that also glowed in daylight) paints in the 1930s. I loved the ending. There are also explanations at the book's conclusion on how regular and daylight fluorescence work.

Barton's note at the end is also interesting for his appreciation of the primary sources he used to tell this story. Persiani's illustrations add a lot to the lighthearted tone of the book. He used a computer to create black-and-white cartoon-like drawings that were digitally colorized with Day-Glo orange, yellow, and green. Endpapers are also in those Day-Glo colors. At 44 pages, I see this book as appropriate for intermediate grade (4th-6th) readers, and especially appealing to boys.

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, written and illustrated by Brian Floca, is another Sibert Honor Book, published in time for the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. The 40-page narrative is set in a very readable Helvetica, and Floca used watercolor, ink, acrylic, and gouache in his illustrations. The front and back endpapers have even more facts, while Floca identifies his sources on the dedication/copyright page. Floca even provides more data on his details on his website. The large picture book format and good balance of text to illustrations make this book accessible to younger children (1st-3rd grade), yet the added information is still of interest to older readers.

Besides providing lots of information on this historic event, Floca also evokes the emotions of all the participants--astronauts, Mission Control, and Americans watching at home. I especially loved the scene of a family intently watching the moon landing on television, with the children throwing up their arms in jubilation when the Eagle lands. I certainly remember being mesmerized and thrilled at age 12 by the moon landing.

The other Sibert Honor Book is Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose, which won so many other awards that I'll have to read it and write a separate post later.

[These books were borrowed from my university and the local public libraries, and go back tomorrow.]