If you’ve kept up with my From My Bookshelf posts, you know that I’ve dedicated a few to my childhood and young adulthood books. This will be one of those posts, which is part randomness and part planning, as the first week in February is Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week. As you’ll see if you keep reading, the three books I’ve chosen for this post are not illustrated children’s books, but each of them have won an award for their contribution to children’s and young adult literature.
I acquired the first two of these books from the various Scholastic book orders my school system took part in (they are Scholastic Inc. editions). The other might have come from a bookstore or elsewhere (maybe a Scholastic book order?). I’m almost certain I chose them based on their troubling yet interesting covers (mom, did you have more of a hand in these choices than I’m giving you credit for?), and I’m also almost certain I only read them once. I had hoped that Dancing on the Edge was going to be about dancing (because I was a dancer), and although that is part of the story, the book went down an avenue I didn’t expect so I think I defaulted to disappointment rather than curiosity. Most of the books I read as a child and young adult did not focus on or pertain to tragic and life-altering social events and time periods; my favorite books were primarily based on inner-family relations and problems without much of a glance at the outside world. I wish I could reread them with my young adult brain, but my adult one will have to do.
The Devil’s Arithmetic Jane Yolen
“Hannah doesn’t want to attend the family Passover dinner. She’s tired of hearing her relatives’ stories about the Holocaust. But of course she has to go. During the Passover Seder, as she opens a door to symbolically welcome the prophet Elijah, she is swept back in time to 1942, to a Polish village where everyone calls her Chaya. Then something terrible happens. Nazi soldiers come to take the villagers away . . . and she knows what lies ahead.”
Published in 1988, this historically fictitious novella won a National Jewish Book Award in the children’s literature category the following year. Jane Yolen has written over 365 books (#Yolen365 celebrates this), and was inspired to write this book because of her own childhood experiences with remembering Jewish history and traditions. She talks in detail and offers related resources about this book, its other awards, and the movie on her website, so I will refer you there.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Mildred D. Taylor
“Why is the land so important to Cassie’s family? It takes the events of one turbulent year – the year of the night riders and the burnings, the year a white girl humiliates Cassie in public simply because she is black – to show Cassie that having a place of their own is the Logan family’s lifeblood. It is the land that gives the Logans their courage and pride – no matter how others may degrade them, the Logans possess something no one can take away.”
This ALA Notable Book was published in 1976, and won the Newbery Medal in 1977. It takes place in Mississippi during the Great Depression, and in addition to Mildred D. Taylor’s other works of fiction, was inspired by stories told to her by family members when she was growing up. You can learn more about her on her Penguin Random House author page, as well as the other books which make up the Logan family saga, and I also recommend (in addition to reading her books!) reading this ALA interview.
Dancing on the Edge Han Nolan
“Miracle McCloy has always know that there is something different about her. Her late mother was a dancer, and her father is a brilliant novelist; just by being their daughter, she is special. Raised by her grandmother Gigi, a psychic, Miracle believes in mystical spirits and auras – in things no one can see. When Miracle’s father ‘melts,’ disappearing into thin air, she becomes obsessed with contacting him and bringing him back. The more she loses herself in her quest, the more she simple loses herself – and, in a last desperate attempt, sends her life up in flames. Miracle is unforgettable – and so is her story.”
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults, this novel won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 1997. Was I daft to think this would be more about dancing, and then not giving the book my full attention when it wasn’t? YES. There is not much out there on the internet about Han Nolan or the inspiration for this book, other than the biography page (which focuses mainly on her childhood) on her website, and even her National Book Award speech was short and sweet. Emily Dickinson’s poetry does hold importance to Miracle McCloy, so if the literary prestige doesn’t convince you to pick up this book perhaps that will.