Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crow by Barbara Wright

Last spring, I accidentally tripped over a Goodreads Newbery 2013 prediction list. This small gem of a list has had me blazing through many great novels the past few months. Actually I was blazing a few months ago. Now I'm snatching time here and there. Anyhoo... check out Crow...a worthy recommendation! It is my latest, all-in-good-fun, guess for the Newbery winner.

I have found it fascinating to read how professional reviewers look at Newbery predictions and discuss the details of what might make or break a Newbery winner as it competes in a pile of high quality contenders. For instance, one reviewer said that The One and Only Ivan had language that was too flowery or contradicted the fact that the gorilla claimed to be simple and plain. Another claimed that Wonder had a point of view that didn't forward the plot. A third stated that Three Times Lucky had plot points that were too unbelievable and clues that didn't always add up. Crow was critiqued by a reviewer who felt the plot was forced with Moses presence at every historical event. Some of these details discussed by reviewers I noticed on my own. Most I didn't. I'm not so great with the details. I tend to go for the overall story. Did I like it? Did it move me? Is the author a stylesmith? Did the plot move forward? Did the characters change? Were their voices strong? Was the story unique? My answer to those questions with Crow is yes, yes, and yes! I'm no good at guessing Newbery winners but I have found the discussions from professional reviewers quite fascinating and it has opened my eyes a crack as to what the process entails in choosing the best fiction book for the year.

Sixth grader Moses lives in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1989, where a black middle class has emerged and holds government and city positions of power. Moses father is the brilliant editor of a black newspaper and a city leader. Moses friend, Lewis, comes from a wealthy black banking family, but Lewis thinks he's more important than Moses because of his dad's position and he is bossy to Moses as they play together in the neighborhood. But Moses doesn't care, he has fun with him and puts up with his attitude. When Johnny, an uppity black boy whose dad runs the port, decides to be friends with Lewis he purposefully excludes Moses and is outwardly prejudice toward him because he is not as wealthy as Johnny or Lewis's family. As Moses deals with the every day issues of friendship there are hints that all is not well in the city. That racial tension is high and hatred simmers under the surface of daily living.

Mose's Grandma, Boo Nanny, foreshadows bad things to come when buzzards appear in the sky. Moses peaceful life is turned upside down as hatred builds in the city to the point where the government is illegally disposed of by a white supremacist group that seizes power. People are murdered in the street, businesses burned, and the black middle class leaders driven out of town during this grim period of history.

The strong characters and inspiring prose kept me flipping through the pages and while the topic is dark it is filled with hope and love as evidenced by Mose's family. The contrasting strong personalities of Boo Nanny and Mose's father add wisdom and depth to the story and while Moses is a good kid, he doesn't always make the right choices. He's very real and I chuckled when he got back at Johnny, then felt ashamed for his behavior afterwards.

The theme of prejudice is not only between races, but between humans regardless of color. People are prejudice because of differences such as status, education, or physical disabilities. The author captures the dichotomy of Boo Nanny being illiterate but a survivor with more street smarts than her highly educated son-in-law, Mose's dad, who fights to create a better future for blacks but doesn't always seem to grasp the extent of people's hatred toward his race. He even tells Moses that hatred can't be fought with reason and he's at a loss as to how to deal with it in the community. But he does deal with it. He insists on fair treatment of colored people in small ways whether that be refusing to step down as Alderman or using a front door instead of a servants door. Boo Nanny, on the other hand, is illiterate and blind; however, when Moses reads an article and marvels that while he understands the words he doesn't get the meaning; whereas "Boo Nanny seemed to grasp it immediately, though she didn't know half the words." Boo Nanny grew up as a slave and she's seen so much hatred she refuses to talk about her past. When Moses is distressed at their quarreling his mother says, "So when your daddy and Boo Nanny quarrel, I want you to think: I'm the luckiest boy alive. 'Cause I got myself two ways of looking at a thing, not just one."

Words are shown to have power and Moses father teaches his son new words from the big dictionary in their house, as well as, shows the value of words that make laws for governing and providing freedom of speech. Words can also hurt and keep people in their place from the mean comments the boys fling at each other to the derogatory comments from white people in the community calling blacks, "Sambo," forcing them to use a different coach on the train, telling them to leave their white neighborhood, and more. Moses dad uses small steps to change people's attitude and not back down when others are not being fair or doing the right thing. He chooses his battles and tries to fight injustice with words. Moses changes throughout the story as he learns to emulate his father.

There is one section regarding the father of Mose's mother. I am not sure kids will understand it because it involves Boo Nanny and her previous slave owner.  It isn't explained but an adult can infer what happened; the detail moves the plot forward by showing Boo Nanny's horrible suffering as a slave. Yet... there is an unfinished feel by having no explanation. I'm torn. I really don't want the details but it seems like something should be said. I would love to be a fly on the wall at a Newbery committee meeting.

If you liked Lions of Little Rock, then you'll love this book too. My only complaint is the cover. I think it's ugly. On the positive side many Newbery winners have ugly book covers. I have to really talk up The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Bud Not Buddy to get students to read it.  Don't let the cover turn you off. Grab this winner!

5 out of 5 Smileys

Reading Level 4.6

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