Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Newsletter

Volume 2, Number 3. August 5, 1997. Page 3.

Written by Carol Hurst. Edited by Rebecca Otis.

This issue of the Children's Literature Newsletter is sponsored by:
Carol Hurst, Consultants.
Storytelling and language arts for your workshop, conference and classroom.

New Book Reviews

I think you'll like Lois Lowry's newest book Stay: Keeper's Story (Houghton, 1997). I say that with some confidence although I wasn't at all sure I'd like it. Its narrator is a poet of the canine variety. My reaction to the idea was "too precious" -- not for me. Then I read it and loved it. It's witty, clever and engaging. I'd try it with kids from about third grade up. Keeper goes by many names as his physical and literary development continues. He starts as a nameless pup born in an alley. His mother is kind and loving and a dog of epicurean taste. Perhaps that's because of the French restaurant at the back door of which she dines. Keeper picks up a bit of French from the waiters who feed his mother as well as some very good manners. His interest in human language soon engages his own creativity and he begins composing poetry in his head. He has little in common with his litter mates, being of a higher intelligence and with more refined taste.

His sister, however, whom he calls Wispy, he has genuine affection for. Separated shortly after being weaned, Keeper's main quest for the rest of the story, is to find Wispy and, of course, a home, preferably with child. Keeper first finds a street person, Jack, and the two set up a profitable begging business due largely to the puppy's engaging facial expressions. That same expressive face eventually leads him to a career in commercial art but he tires of the restrictive life of a media star and soon strikes out on his own. He finds, as we knew he would, his own family and he even finds Wispy and such is Lowry's skill that we care about them all, and believe in them all. Our only regret is the lack of a tail to wag appropriately.

This insight into a dog's view of life might lead the reader to other books with an animal's eye view. Donald Hall and Barry Moser did it in the picture book I Am the Dog; I Am the Cat (Dial, 1994 ISBN 0-8037-1504-8) in which a dog and a cat take turns explaining the world as they know it. Again, the humor is sly and delightful.

On a totally different mood and subject, readers who picked up Gary Paulsen's brief novel Nightjohn were almost invariably moved, fascinated and changed by the horrors of slavery that he depicted there so tellingly. Most of us were also totally captured by the character Sarny in that book. Now she's got her own and we can follow the adventures of that strong girl into womanhood in Sarny, a Life Remembered (Delacorte, 1997 ISBN 0-385-32195-3). Unlike many sequels, this one is as strong as its predecessor.

Sarny, a little girl Nightjohn taught to read, has grown up in slavery. Now, as the Civil War nears its end, she is freed along with other slaves, but not before her children have been sold away from her. For most of the first half of the book, Sarny searchs for her daughter and son. She finds them in New Orleans with the help of Miss Laura, a sophisticated woman who often passes for white. Paulsen leaves little doubt in the reader's mind that Miss Laura is a prostitute but he does so in an oblique and careful way. Readers from fifth grade and up should be able to handle this one and get an insight into the effect of the post Civil War era on the freed slaves.


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