Did everyone hear who won this year’s most prestigious American Children’s book awards? The Newbery winner was Katherine Applegate, for The One and Only Ivan and the Caldecott winner was Jon Klassen for This is Not My Hat! I’m happy to say that both of these books were on my short list of potential winners! (Basically, our staff listed our favorites as our Holiday Gift guide books, back in early December in these posts.)
There are plenty of blogs out there listing the winners; if you’d like to know more, Google the awards or go to the American Library Association’s page here, and read about these awards and all the others. There were over 20 award-winning books announced last Monday, and with anywhere from one to five honor books named in those awards, there are quite a few books to catch up on!
* * *
This week’s Old Favorite was a Newbery Honor book back in 1984. (Knowing how the awards are voted on and given, it is my firm belief that the Honor Books are often better than the winner.) It is a book I’ve read several times, and each time I see or feel or understand something different. So here we go: A Solitary Blue, by Cynthia Voigt.
* * *
Jeff Greene was only in second grade when his life changed forever. He got home from school to discover a note from his mother, Melody, telling him that although she loved him, she was leaving him to work to make the world a better place for animals and other children. Jeff didn’t really understand why Melody felt like she had to take care of the whole world before taking care of her family, but that had always been the way she was. He and his father, The Professor, discussed their options, and decided on a good course of action.
Jeff and his father muddle through third grade, fourth grade and fifth grade with the help of a yearly graduate student and a lot of planning. In sixth grade, The Professor made friends with Brother Thomas, a teaching fellow at the seminary school. When Jeff gets sick with bronchitis, it’s Brother Thomas who forces The Professor to face up to things like doctor visits, dentists, and finally talking about Melody.
The Professor finds Melody and gets in touch with her. The summer before seventh grade, Jeff is sent to spend a few weeks with his mother in Charleston. He also meets Gambo, Melody’s grandmother, his great-grandmother and two more elderly aunts, Aunt Booty and Aunt Dodo. Melody is nothing like the mother he vaguely remembers, and exactly like what he remembers. He spends the summer in a daze of wonder, learning about his mother, her causes, and his southern heritage. At the end of the visit, he’s sent back to Baltimore and The Professor.
Getting back home takes some getting used to, and The Professor seems surprised about what Jeff learned in Charleston about Melody, Gambo and everything else. Surprised and not too pleased, in some cases. But as the school year passes, Jeff and The Professor finally start to see each other as people, not just an old man and a young man who happen to be connected by blood and live in the same house. Jeff becomes interested in music, and The Professor becomes less distant, more interested in Jeff. They talk. And Jeff goes to visit Melody the next summer. And everything changes. Again.
* * *
A Solitary Blue is one of those books about life and choices and learning where you belong. It’s introspective and questioning. It’s full of details and feelings and disappointment and happiness. It’s about learning that your parents are people too, with their own hopes and dreams. It’s about survival and music and love and life. Jeff learns that there aren’t any easy answers to the questions he has for both his parents.
A Solitary Blue is part of Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman Cycle, but it really does stand alone. The cycle starts with Homecoming, about Dicey Tillerman and her journey to get herself and her younger siblings halfway across the country in an impossible journey to find family to care about them. Dicey and Jeffrey are friends and kindred souls; however, there is no reason you couldn’t read A Solitary Blue first. The story is sort of a parallel to the events in Homecoming and Come a Stranger, about another of Dicey’s friends. In fact, A Solitary Blue is my favorite book of the Tillerman cycle. Dicey’s Song, the second book, won the Newbery Medal in 1983. Homecoming and The Runner, set ten years before Homecoming and about Dicey’s uncleare also award-winners. Voigt’s book The Callender Papers won and Edgar Award for best juvenile mystery and two other books, Izzy Willy-Nilly and Tell Me if All Lovers are Losers won prestigious awards as well.
I do love the way Cynthia Voigt writes. Her descriptions of places and how people are feeling puts the reader right in that spot with the character.
A Solitary Blue is in both our Juvenile and Teen Collections. It is not an easy book, it requires some careful reading and a willingness on the part of the reader to open themselves up to emotions, to put themselves into another person’s perspective. It is, however, well worth that effort. Jeff ages from seven to seventeen over the course of the book. I would recommend this book to thoughtful readers in grades five through nine.
So, if you’re ready for something less action-packed and more introspective, try A Solitary Blue. And let me know what you think.