The following three books are all about 9 year old girls and the reviews below are from Kate De Goldi on her regular children’s book slot on Saturday Morning With Kim Hill (Radio New Zealand).
Although these books have their protagonist’s gender and age in common, their ambience is different. All three of them are also books that have grown out of previous literary traditions, referencing other works. All of these books leave space between the lines, without over-explaining. This is partly what makes them seem more believable. [I can’t wait to read them for myself.]
The gap between prize-winning books and books that are best-sellers, which are talked about and promoted a lot.
The two books on this list which have won big awards (the first two as yet) exemplify that gap. They are incredibly literary but also accessible. There is intellect and emotional intelligence behind them. These are the kinds of books that are really important for children because they teach children how to think about things in different things that may not otherwise come across.
The Higher Power Of Lucky by Susan Patron
This is a good crossover novel. There’s a musicality in the writing and the most endearing of characters.
There was a controversy around this book and it has been banned by certain libraries. The reason becomes apparent after reading the first two paragraphs which is about something overheard at an alcoholics anonymous meeting and includes the word ‘scrotum’, which is what got it banned.
We are thus planted firmly in the world of reality. This is a book peopled with true-to-life characters. Yet the writer brilliantly channels her idea and possibly her memory of a nine-year-old’s worldview. She has achieved a highwire act in balancing the informed worldview of an adult writer but making it seem totally through the eyes of a nine-year-old.
The premise of the story is that Lucky has misunderstood something her foster/stepmother has said and thinks she’s going to be abandoned.
The two sequels are pretty good as well.
Flora and Ulysses by Kate di Camillo
This is SF for children because Ulysses is a squirrel who has been given superpowers by being sucked up into the vacuum cleaner.
The language in this book is complex, and demonstrates wider understanding of literature, for example in the way comic books are not accepted as proper literature. The characters are excellent, as are the friendships.
But the genius here is that di Camillo has written something demanding but also accessible and very interesting to its target audience. There’s no reason why a book cannot be both of those things, as demonstrated by this one. An 8 year old would understand exactly what’s going on.
The adults are viewed with quite a lot of scepticism by the children.
Dappled Annie and the Tigrish by Mary McCallum
More beautiful writing: clear, clean but textured.
There’s an animism underlying the whole story. The protagonist has made friends with a hedge. This requires an imaginative leap on the part of the reader. Having hedges uproot themselves and run off could easily be twee or whimsical, but this story isn’t like that at all. The writing is so muscular, beautiful and persuasive. The visuals are beautiful.
The setting must be somewhere between the 50s and the 80s – because of the lighthouse — you can’t quite tell the exact era but this doesn’t matter, which is an achievement in itself. The story thus appeals across the ages.