Friday, August 16, 2013

Literary Tourism - Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin

What do Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania have in common?  Three Newbery Medal winners, of course!  Two of the following are absolutely two of my favorite children's books, and one has all the makings of a Newbery winner, but I thought it was just okay.


Dead End In Norvelt by Jack Gantos - This book wins the "tourism" prize for Pennsylvania because it opened my eyes to a part of America that I never knew existed.  Norvelt is a community that was created as a farming commune for underemployed coal minors in the 1930's.  It's name was derived from Eleanor Roosevelt even. 

While initially designed to be a sort of socialism, many of the residents eventually turned to capitolist traditions to make a living.  The book takes place in the 1960's, when the town is in decline.  Although not my favorite Newbery winner, it features a cast of quirky characters, like a boy with innummerable nose bleeds, crazy old people that seem to be dying every day, and a father busy digging up his wife's garden to build a bomb shelter.  It's worth a read if you like that kind of thing.


Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse - I had a professor who called this book "The Grapes of Wrath light."  It's a dust bowl era novel in verse that will rip your heart our.  Billie Joe, her father, and her pregnant mother are trying to survive in Oklahoma during drought and depression.  Billia Joe's true love is playing the piano, but on accident she loses her mother and her baby brother.  Her hands are also scarred making it painful to play the piano.  Billie Joe and her father  must learn to depend on each other to survive.  Though the language is sparse the sensory details are incredible.  While reading, I felt grit in my teeth. 

I know that not everyone likes a book in poetry.  But if you are willing to try it, I highly recommend it.  While deeply sad, it does have a hopeful ending.


The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin - I LOVE THIS BOOk.   I have probably read it 10 times.  Of all of the books, in this entry, the state it is set in is probably least important.  But some plot elements like a snowstorm and the building's overlook of Lake Michigan are important. 

A group of seemingly unrelated people all move into Sunset Towers, a new apartment building.  The new residents soon discover that they are connected to Sam Westing when he is murdered.  They are split into teams and charged with discovering the villian.  I love this book; I love the characters; I love everything about it.  Read it.  You'll discover why. 

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