Monday, August 11, 2008

Newbery Challenge is Back!

I'm winding my way through the Newbery Medalists and Honor books again. So that I make myself read the 1920s winners, I am choosing one winner from each decade. I keep my library books in a box, so they're not in any particular order. Sort of like a Random Box. Voila! The Great Gilly Hopkins was next.

Now, I've read many of the Newbery medalists and honor books, but it's been a looong time for many of them. I read The Great Gilly Hopkins (Honor book in 1979) when I was in elementary school; I remembered that it was about a foster child, but that was about it.

Although (very) few details date the book, (references to The Electric Company, Walter Cronkite, and "flower children"), this remains a bittersweet tale of a sad foster child who is given a second chance by an experienced foster care parent. That's a rather vague and unhelpful on.

Gilly (short for Galadriel) Hopkins is an experienced foster child. She's had her heart broken by a disrupted placement, so she's definitely not going to allow herself to become attached to any family. She rejects friendly overtures, believes she is intellectually superior to her classmates and teacher, and is unabashedly racist.

Just from this synopsis, you may think that Gilly is eventually won over by her foster parents and changes her way of thinking and behavior, resulting in a happy ending. Isn't that how children's literature is supposed to be? Katherine Paterson is not one to end her stories with tidy endings. This is not the ending that readers may entirely wish for for Gilly, but it's an honest ending. It's still a hopeful ending, but an honest ending.

Although Gilly's mild language and (initial) racist behavior is something that can act as a springboard to further conversation, Mrs. Trotter, Gilly's foster mother, and their neighbor, Mr. Randolph, are two excellent examples of love and forgiveness described in Christian theology (another great example is Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn Dixie), even though this is not a "Christian" children's book. The Great Gilly Hopkins is an unforgettable and beautiful story of love, patience, and dealing with adversity that has been rarely matched in children's literature.

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