Monday, March 10, 2008

Newberry Good - Spiderwick Not-So-Good

This is a spoiler for the book if you have seen the movie. On the other hand, if you went to see the movie you have no business crying, “Spoiler” in the first place!

My daughter had not read the last two books in the The Spiderwick Chronicles when I took her to see the movie. I repeatedly reminded her that the movie and the book are never quite the same and often the ending is radically changed. Well, the ending in the movie was so anti-climatic that I thought, “God, I hope they end the book better than this!” A lesson in managing expectations: the ending of the book was exactly the same EXCEPT worse. In the movie the situation is set up so there is some sort of expectation and plausibility. In the book, no such thing! A hand shoots out and, chomp, it’s over. No foreshadowing. No heroism. No meaning.

On related note, what’s up with angry young boys? Harry Potter spends a few thousand pages inexplicably (or barely explicably, if you prefer) angry. Whenever the plot needs to be driven, Harry gets mad. His character development ends up stunted irrevocably.

Now Jared Grace spends at least part of every book angry. In his case, the anger is placed in a more familiar context (children of divorce) and you get a sense that it is an issue that would benefit from some therapy (not that it ever comes to that, the school expels him for carrying a swiss army knife without getting a therapist involved - as if!). Even so, this is beginning to feel like a cop-out for authors of children’s books – just make the protagonist angry and you don’t have to be bothered with complex character development.

That said, my daughter’s current book is called Rules by Cynthia Lord and it is quite extraordinary. It features a 12 year old girl dealing with the autism of her 8 year old brother juxtaposed against her encounters with a wheelchair-bound boy who must communicate via a set of cards with words written on them. This has genuine young anger, frustration, uncertainty and self-discovery. As long as nothing stupid happens in the last third of the book, it looks like a great read and an excellent book to read with my child. I am going to start looking for the Newberry label on all her books.

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