Sharon Creech intimidates me a little because she's won the Newberry, and she's, you know, a Really Good Writer, so I tend to pass her on the library shelves saying, yes, yes, I'll definitely read more of her one of these days. I have to keep reminding myself that I love her books.
Love That Dog makes me cry every time I read it; I think it's pretty much perfect in every way. So when I saw Hate That Cat, I almost didn't want to pick it up: how could she do again what she did in the first book? Would this book somehow diminish Love That Dog? No, it doesn't. It adds. We get more of Jack, more of Miss Stretchberry, more poetry, and it's just as real and touching and funny. If you're like me and hesitate to read a novel in poetry, don't. Sharon Creech is a wonderful poet, but she's also a wonderful storyteller, and these poems tell a story that compels you from page to page, even as you want to savour every poem for itself. Love That Dog and Hate That Cat make me want to be an elementary teacher just so I can use these two books to teach a unit on poetry. And if all my talk of poetry is turning you away from these books, please, please read them just to meet Jack. He's such a fun character, you just want to hug him. Trust me, you want Jack in your life.
The Unfinished Angel isn't written in poetry, but it might as well have been. Each little chapter is like a poem; every sentence is an image and a sound. The voice of the angel is astonishing, vivid and funny and brilliantly expressive. Just listen to a sample:
You won't believe this, but there are peoples who pay money to other peoples to wash their hairs and even to paint colours on their toes. Is really! And in the same world of peoples there are other peoples who have to crawl in the dirt scrounging for a measly piece of garbage to eat. I am not fabbagrating! Don't get me started.
At night I swish in the heads of the peoples with the clean hairs and feets, showing them the peoples crawling in the dirt, but in the morning when the clean peoples wake up they have already forgotten. I think maybe it is my fault that they forget so quick and so it is my fault that there are peoples who have to crawl in the dirt. I am not knowing enough. What are the other angels doing?
The unfinished angel tries to do the right thing but doesn't always know what that is. And then along comes colourful Zola who thinks she knows what the right thing is, and between them they turn the little Swiss village upside-down. It's a bit of a fable, there's definitely a moral, but it's so well-told and so true that you can't mind. It's about peoples and their flaws but it''s hopeful and sweet and funny. You see, don't get misled by Sharon Creech's Really Good Writer status: she's also a really funny writer. I like funny writers and I like poetry and I need to read more of Sharon Creech.
Natalie Babbitt is another Really Good Writer who writes spare, poetic truths about people. I read Tuck Everlasting more than twenty years ago and I still think it's one of the best books out there. I was so happy to see she has a new one out. The Moon over High Street is a bit fable-like, too, but Joe and Gran and Aunt Myra are real, round characters you care about right away. This is the story of Joe deciding what he wants to do with his life, and it will resonate with every kid who knows he has to make the same decision at some point. There's some gentle satire of Mr. Boulderwall, the millionaire who invented "swervits," and some contemplation of the American dream and what it might actually mean. It's a quietly humorous book that's deeper than it seems.
All three of these books are short and sweet. There's a tendency these days to write long books that might be good but they go on and on and they really don't need to. Good writers use as few words as possible and make every word count. (Have I mentioned that Natalie Babbitt and Sharon Creech are really good writers? But don't let that turn you off: it means they write short books!) These three little treasures are like a selection of chocolates from a fine chocolatier.
Shannon Messenger organizes MMGM and keeps the list of Marvelous Middle-Grade contributors, so be sure to visit her blog and check out all the other Marvelous books being featured this week!