Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sharon Creech

Love That Dog
by Sharon Creech
Recommended Age: 10+

Award-winning author Sharon Creech comes through with what may be the shortest “novel” in history (in terms of word count, at least). And it’s printed entirely in the format of poetry.

It’s partly about poetry; and how, as he learns to appreciate and express himself in poetry, a boy named Jack also comes to terms with the loss of his beloved pet.

It’s one of those stories that gradually pays out information until you go from understanding zero, to knowing the whole picture...without ever once stepping out of the voice of a grade-school poet and doing anything as obvious as narrating what’s going on.

This was my first taste of Sharon Creech. A tiny sip, by all means. But it has whetted my appetite for some of the author’s larger-scaled works, including Walk Two Moons and The Wanderer.

Walk Two Moons
by Sharon Creech
Recommended Age: 12+

The 1995 Newbery Medal winner is part mystery, part family drama, with a gentle philosophical heart and a conclusion in which an ample supply of Kleenex is advised.

Salamanca Tree Hiddle is a 13-year-old girl, distantly related (on her mother’s side) to Native Americans. She doesn’t understand why her mother has gone away and doesn’t believe that she isn’t going to come back. But her father, an awfully good man, is pretty sure. So they move from their idyllic Kentucky farm to a colorless town in northern Ohio, where Dad seems to have hooked up with a girlfriend who, creepily enough, is named Mrs. Cadaver.

Sal doesn’t want to face any of this right now, so the woes of her school friend Phoebe become a welcome distraction, especially when Phoebe’s perfect, upright family is thrown into confusion by her mother’s mysterious disappearance. Plus, someone is leaving cryptic messages on Phoebe’s porch, a potential lunatic keeps approaching her on the street, and Mrs. Cadaver (who lives next door to Phoebe) seems to be conspiring with her weird English teacher, Mr. Birkway--possibly burying murder victims in the backyard.

How this mystery develops forms the material of a story Sal narrates to her grandparents, as they drive to Idaho so Sal can visit her mother and see once and for all if they can bring her home again. And as she tells the story of Phoebe and her missing mother, Sal realizes that her own story--hers and her mother’s--lies behind it; and in an equally moving way, so does the story of her grandparents’ 51-year love affair.

I won’t disguise from you that I thought I saw “whodunit” coming from a long way away. Yet even when I turned out to be right, the effect when the mystery was unveiled was like a punch in the gut. This novel has a complexity and elegance far above what one finds in most children’s literature. But its sweetness, its touch of romance, its air of spookiness, its heartache and its hope make such a strong, rich brew, that I think it will hold your attention riveted right to the last page.

The Wanderer
by Sharon Creech
Recommended Age: 12+

This Newbery Honor Book shares a lot of the themes of the same author’s Walk Two Moons: a journey in which tales are told, in which different generations of a family are bound together, and in which a strong-minded girl learns to face up to the grief she has been hiding from herself.

In this case, the journey takes place on a forty-two-foot sailboat bound from Connecticut to England. The girl is named Sophie, and the family she is traveling with includes three Uncles (Dock, Stew, and Mo) and two cousins (Cody and Brian). Undaunted by the prospect of spending weeks in close quarters with a bunch of guys, Sophie takes to the sea like, well, a fish to water. But in this story, told through the log entries of both Cody and Sophie, you gradually learn that Sophie’s enthusiasm for the sea is partly a cover for a deep dread of it.

Sophie herself is a mystery, particularly to her never-serious cousin Cody and their always-serious cousin Brian. No one can explain why she is so eager to see her grandfather, Bompie, in England. She talks as though she knows him well, but to the best of anyone’s knowledge she has never met him. And no one will explain to the boys what happened to Sophie’s real parents...

Well, I’d better not give away too much. The relationships between these clashing personalities make for enough excitement on a forty-two-foot boat, even as they learn about themselves and each other along the way. And a great storm at sea provides a lot more excitement. And the resolution of many family and personal conflicts hangs in balance during this difficult voyage. But the real crisis of the story has to do with: what’s up with Sophie?

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