Friday, February 3, 2012

"Communism was just a red herring."

(The quote I'm using for the title of this post is from the movie Clue, which is well worth watching, but actually has little to do with the rest of the post.)

So, now I have read this year's crop of Newbery books -- something that I don't bother to do every year, but this year I was particularly interested.  For one thing, all three of the books appealed to me, so it was easy to pick up and read them; it didn't feel like a chore.  For another thing, as I mentioned once before, two of my friends were on this year's Newbery committee, so I was particularly interested to read the books they helped select.

I find it very interesting that there are certain similarities between all three of these books.  They are all historical fiction, but recent historical fiction -- twentieth century historical fiction.  This is because of another similarity: they all have autobiographical elements.  Each is fiction, of course, but each author sets the book in the locations and circumstances of his or her own childhood.  That brings me to another similarity (and the reason for the quote above): Communism.  In Dead End in Norvelt, one of the things Jack spends his summer on is helping his father dig a bomb shelter -- it's the middle of the Cold War, after all, and Jack's dad certainly isn't the only American who is concerned about the threat of bombs in the hands of the Soviets.  In Inside Out and Back Again, Hà's family flees Vietnam the day before the Communist regime takes over Saigon.  In Breaking Stalin's Nose, Sasha learns about Communism from the inside as he struggles with the arrest of his father and his own impending decision about joining the Young Pioneers.

Of course, every year there are similarities that one can pick out in the books selected.  In 2007, for example, all four of the books that were honored had female heroines.  The job of the Newbery committee is not to choose the most diverse selection of books, but to choose the year's best books.  This year, the books the committee selected as the best all shared certain elements, though they are quite different in style.  I'm just fascinated by those connections.

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