Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Newbery: A Gathering of Days and Miss Hickory

Just because I'm probably not going to finish the Newberys by next year doesn't mean I won't try.

Tales From Silver Lands

Oy. Getting through this was like pulling teeth. Perhaps that’s a bit unfair. There are just so many books that I want to get through before I leave for the holidays that I wanted to just get this one over with. As far as writing goes, it wasn’t the least interesting Newbery that I’ve read so far. For a patient audience, some stories would work quite well as read alouds (“The Tale of the Lazy People”). Unfortunately, there isn’t much background information on the tales, which was not unusual for folklore collections at the time (the book won the Medal in 1925).

A Gathering of Days

Although children may balk at the slow and reflective pace of the novel, this is a fine fictitious look at a teenage girl’s life in 1830. A new stepmother, a runaway slave, a Jewish peddler, and the death of a friend make for an exciting and sorrowful year in the life of 13 year old Catherine.

But I don't really want to talk too much about Tales From Silver Lands or A Gathering of Days. I'd rather tell you about Miss Hickory.

Miss Hickory

Ohhhhkay. And the award for Weirdest Newbery Book I’ve read so far goes to this piece of awesomeness. I usually loathe children’s books about talking dolls and toys, so I was not particularly looking forward to reading Miss Hickory. The only thing it really had going for it at the time was its mercifully short length. However, that was before I was swept into the enormous strangeness of this book. This is a weirdness unlike anything I've read in children's literature in some time. I am in awe of this book.

Who is Miss Hickory? Miss Hickory is a doll with a hickory nut for a head. Miss Hickory must face the unfortunate conditions of a New Hampshire winter when Great-Granny Brown moves to Boston. It’s always good to have helpful neighbors, which Miss Hickory has in abundance. There is Squirrel to contend with, though, and their final face off is something that is unparalleled in children’s literature. Allow me to quote (remember that Miss Hickory’s head is a nut):

"'Use my head, did you ask? What, I beg of you to explain, is the matter with your head, Old nut, that you feel you can blame me, call me witless? Well –
Miss Hickory could not move in fright as Squirrel lunged forward and put a heavy paw on her shoulder- 'they say that two heads are better than one. All this time I have spared you. Oh, I knew all about hickory nuts, so juicy and full of sweet meat, but I waited as long as possible. Now I must act. I hope you will understand, ‘ he finished jokingly, ‘that this hurts me more than it does you.
And with that final bitter remark Squirrel took off Miss Hickory’s head and put it in his mouth."

Freaky, yes?

Oh, wait. It gets better.

“Strange as it seems, although separated from her body and beginning to crack in Squirrel’s sharp teeth, Miss Hickory’s head went right on thinking.”

My friends, they just don’t write them like they used to.

Oh, it turns out okay (you’re not going to read it, are you)? Miss Hickory remains headless and goes to live in an apple tree, or something. Apparently, not very excited about the loss of her head. It’s all good. Miss Hickory is one cool lady.

Bizarre. Bizarre. Bizarre.

Have you read Miss Hickory? What do you think?


Electronic Resources Librarian said...

I read Miss Hickory for kiddie lit in grad school. I too, found it strangely compelling and loved the drawings. Miss Hickory epitomizes that can-do Yankee spirit.

Wendy said...

I also usually hate talking-doll type books, and I was sure I wouldn't like Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, but I loved it. Miss Hickory, on the other hand, was to me everything that I expected Hitty to be--I wasn't interested and wrote that it was only worth reading for the bizarre ending.

So it's great to read your review, because I finally understand how this could have won the Newbery! This is the only book I can think of offhand that I REALLY didn't understand why it was chosen--the others, even the ones I disliked more, I thought I could understand what the committee might have seen.

I had a similar reaction as you to Tales From Silver Lands. Usually I like that kind of thing.