A couple of my friends told me the other day that they would like me to recommend novels for grown-ups (my word, not theirs). They even suggested a bloggy book club, which I thought was a clever idea. Well, here’s the thing. I think every adult needs to read the classic children’s and adolescent books as much as they need to read grown-up classics. Partly because it will help you be a better parent. And partly because there are a lot of greaties that you should not be living without!
So I’m challenging you all to read this month’s Novel of the Month. (Which month, Mrs. Cropper? It’s the end of May for heaven’s sake! Well, I’m counting it for May AND June, so there you go!) The unique thing here is that I’m going to read it along with you for my first time, as I’ve yet to read it. Therefore I cannot now say, “You’ll love it! This is a must read!” like I usually do. We’ll be exploring together. The book is the 2007 Newberry Medal winner, and is entitled The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. It is highly acclaimed, but has stirred up a bit of controversy as well. If you want to read about that to make sure you want to read it, click here.
So here’s what I’m envisioning. You read this post and take my challenge. You leave a comment to say “I’m in!” You rush out to your local library or Barnes&Noble, or click my link to Amazon to obtain the book. We choose a date to be finished by and have a cyber book club meeting about the book. What do you think??!!
The Novel for April is The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. First of all, if the author’s name seems familiar, it’s because she’s a prolific writer–and a fabulous one. She has written loads of picture books and novels, as well as lots of beautiful poetry. I’ve never read anything of Jane Yolen’s that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed.
The Devil’s Arithmetic is marvelous. Historical Fiction, it tells the story of a Jewish girl named Hannah growing up in present-day New York. In the car on the way to a Passover Seder with family, Hannah laments having to participate in so many Jewish holiday celebrations. As her mother reminds her that Passover is for remembering, Hannah replies, “All Jewish holidays are about remembering, Mama. I’m tired of remembering.” But then, at dinner, when Hannah opens the front door of the house to sybolically welcome the prophet Elijah, she is transported to a Polish village in 1942. Soon Hannah finds herself amidst Nazi soldiers and struggling Jewish families, and only she knows the terrible things that await them. Only after experiencing these things for herself does Hannah appreciate the importance of remembering.
I first read this book in college. It reminded me of reading Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry in elementary school. (Have you read that one? It won the Newberry Medal and is also a must-read!) Like Number the Stars, The Devil’s Arithmetic does a beautiful job of helping us, as readers, understand and feel the significance of the attrocities done to the Jewish people by the Nazis. What I find especially impressive is that both novels are deep and serious and thought-provoking, but still appropriate for children (both novels are about 3rd grade and up). They aren’t dark or violent or grim. Instead, they educate, lift, and inspire.
I often comment to my husband that the worst thing in this world is man’s inhumanity to man. More than anything else I want to be kind. And I want my children to understand that nothing is more important than being kind. Though it can be sobering to read about, I feel it is so important and necessary to know what happened to the Jews in Poland (and elsewhere), to the Tutsis in Rwanda, and what is happening now in Sudan. As we were always taught in history class, we have to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of others. Stories like The Devil’s Arithmetic remind me of the importance of friendship, hope, and courage. They remind me to be kind and to fight for that which is good and true. And just like Hannah learns, it is so important to remember.
In elementary school I enjoyed Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Sign of the Beaver, but did not read her 1962 Newberry Medal winner, The Bronze Bow, until it was introduced to me in college. Admittedly, when I learned it was historical fiction, set in the time of Jesus Christ, I felt a bit skeptical. As a Christian who had only read about Jesus in the scriptures, I wasn’t sure I’d be comfortable with a fictional portrayal of Christ. But I ended up loving it, and whole-heartedly recommend it to you.
Here is a synopsis, directly from the book cover, to give you a taste: “After witnessing his father’s crucifixion by Roman soldiers, Daniel bar Jamin is fired by a single passion: to avenge his father’s death by driving the Roman legions from the land of Israel. Consumed by hatred, Daniel joins the brutal raids of an outlaw band living in the hills outside his village. Though his grandmother’s death slows his plans by forcing him to move home to care for his sister, he continues his dangerous life by leading a group of boy guerrillas in spying and plotting, impatiently waiting to take revenge. In nearby Capernaum, a rabbi is teaching a different lesson. Time and again Daniel is drawn to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, only to turn away, disappointed and confused by Jesus’s lack of action in opposing the Romans. Devoid of tenderness and forgiveness, headstrong Daniel is also heedless of the loyalty of his friend Joel; the love of Joel’s sister, Malthace; and the needs of his own disturbed sister, Leah, dragging them down his destructive path toward disaster.”
I thought this a nice choice for March–the month leading up to Easter. I think it would be a perfect book to read in preparation for that holiday. Regardless of your religious or spiritual leanings though, this book is a great read. It is a beautiful, poignant story of love overcoming anger. Well-written and thought-provoking, The Bronze Bow is a book that will move you.