Yesterday I got it in my head that I should find some books that my granddaughter might like to read. It didn’t take long to find online reading lists for 5th graders. I saw “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen, and several other fine books that I had read and enjoyed. Wanting to try some new ones, I managed to find several at my public library’s website, and downloaded them.
The first one I tried reading was “The Canning Season” by Polly Horvath (2003), listed as children’s fiction by the library. It was supposed to be a fun read about a girl who spends the summer with some quirky great-aunts. I was actually stupid enough to think it would be a nice story about a little girl with two elderly ladies teaching her how to can peaches and pears, or making jams and jellies.
Only a couple chapters into the book, I was reading about corpses buried in the yard, insects drilling their way into a brain, a woman that decapitates herself, and the great-aunts that think it’s just great. (see excerpts below) Add to that some swearing, which seemed very out of place in a child’s book. Farther into the book, there was underage drinking which was portrayed as perfectly alright, f-bombs, and a large section devoted to romantic episodes. About that point, I stopped reading. Why would anyone think this was a story for young children?
Today someone reminded me that the granddaughter is about to enter 4th grade, not 5th grade. Oops, I thought, wrong lists! But seriously, this book shouldn’t be on a recommended reading list for kids. It was morbid, dark, and full of adults who didn’t care about children. The book made it onto the National Book Award For Young People’s Literature list – how did that happen? Do yourself a favor. Keep this book away from your kids.
1st excerpt from “The Canning Season”:
“Ratchet Clark lived with her mother, Henriette, in a small, gloomy sub-basement apartment in Pensacola, Florida. They had no windows, but if they had she imagined they would be able to see worms, grubs, and strange scary insects. There would be larvae eating the corpses that people had snuck into the apartment yard to bury under cover of night. Only her and her mother’s thin bedroom walls separated them from this place of nightmares.
Ratchet never slept well, but Henriette did. She snored loudly as soon as she hit the pillow. Ratchet worried about her, worn out as she always was from waiting tables at the Hunt Club and cleaning other people’s apartments. She sometimes dreamt of these creatures making their way through the wall in the middle of the night, worms drilling small holes, slipping through, getting into her mother’s skull via her ears. She woke often, listening for the sound of small, industrious insects.”
2nd excerpt from “The Canning Season”:
“How did she die?” Ratchet asked.
“She offed herself,” said Penpen.
“What?” Ratchet said.
“She killed herself in a particularly brutish and horrible way. I don’t know why. I suppose it was all she could come up with at the time. Or maybe she was experimenting. She was very imaginative.”
“How did she do it?” Ratchet asked.
“She cut off her own head.”
“Oh no!” said Ratchet.
“I suppose you think that’s rather thrilling,” said Penpen. “People think children are going to be upset by things that I’m sure they think are quite thrilling. Tilly and I were proud of her. It must have taken extreme nerve, wouldn’t you say, Tilly?”
“It wasn’t your ordinary way to go. Mother never did anything the ordinary way.”