Sentiment, Coming-Of-Age, and Morals, Oh My

“It’s a great fantasy novel and really good for kids who like Harry
Potter and don’t mind the dark quality,” said Rosie Camargo, a book
seller at The Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park, which specializes in
children’s books. “I’m so happy he won. They usually pick something
more sentimental—a coming-of-age story, or there’s a moral.

Neil Gaiman’s ‘Graveyard Book’ captures Newbery award — chicagotribune.com

As may be evident by now, I’m on the moon that he won. However, not because of the reasons given by this book seller. (And my apologies to her if this is a snippet of a soundbite that isn’t really what she thinks. What she said is what many seem to feel which is why I’m responding to her.)

1. Be careful about giving it to fans of Rowling’s work as this book is very different.  The first few chapters are basically self-contained stories and it is not the driving, pacing, page-turning adventure of the Harry Potter sort at all.  As I was reading it aloud to my 4th graders some commented on this, even noting that it was a bit slow at times. (Not for me, mind you, but these happened to be reading HP at the time.  So I’d be careful about giving it to those sorts of readers.)

2. As for sentimental — try reading the last line without weeping.  At one point when I was reading the book aloud I asked the kids if they’d like to hear the last three words.  It wouldn’t give anything away I assured them.  And so I did, and so I will here: “…heart wide open.”  If Camargo is equating sentimental with banal, then that it isn’t, but heart-wrenching, moving, and tender?  Yes, it is that as much as any of the other recent winners.

3. And it sure as hell is “a coming-of-age story.”  Can’t even say anything further other than yes it is.

4.  There’s a moral or two therein.  About families, about learning, about those last three words, “…heart wide open.”

2 Comments

Filed under Neil Gaiman, Newbery

2 responses to “Sentiment, Coming-Of-Age, and Morals, Oh My

  1. I so agree with you, Monica. And I think what that points to is a perception that “sentimentality,” “morals,” and “coming-of-age” are somehow incompatible with literary quality when, of course, they’re not. (I trained in Victorian literature, can you tell?) Of course many completely banal books also have those qualities, but they are not banal *because* they have those qualities. Sigh.

    Like

  2. Thanks, Libby. Another one that bugs me is the dismissal of a “sense of hope.” I think most kids’ books do have that and kids like it. So what?

    Like

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