Jacob Have I Loved – by Katherine Paterson (1980)

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Those of you who have read through the Old Testament part of the Bible will probably remember the story of Jacob and Esau, the twin brothers who spent their lives competing with each other for the affections of their parents and the family inheritance. This book takes that theme, and puts it into modern times.

On a tiny island in the Chesapeake Bay lived a family with twin daughters: Louise (nicknamed Wheeze) and Caroline. Caroline was delicate, beautiful, musically inclined, socially graceful, and loved by everyone in the community. She barely survived birth, and was a sickly child whom everyone fawned over. Wheeze, on the other hand, was robust and healthy at birth. She was plain, sturdy, and more solitary. She and her only island friend, a boy named Call, spent their time on a fishing boat catching crabs. Because she was strong and self-sufficient, Wheeze’s parents basically ignored her and focused most of their attention on Caroline. The sibling rivalry continued for many years, until Wheeze found a way to step out of her sister’s shadow and develop a meaningful life of her own.

The character of Louise is well-developed, and easy to to feel sympathy for. The author did a great job of surrounding her with interesting supporting characters, like her friend Call, her insane grandmother (who lives with them), and the mysterious Captain Wallace who returns to the island after being away for decades. The island setting added a lot to the story as well, as the inhabitants battle economic hardship, isolation, and weather disasters.

This book won the Newbery Medal award the year after it was published, and it surely deserved to win it. “Jacob Have I Loved” is a thought-provoking novel that can be enjoyed by young people and adults alike.

The Story Of Mankind – by Hendrik Von Loon (1921)

Not long ago, I spotted a copy of the first Newbery Award children’s book in a library book sale. The book was old and battered, but only fifty cents, so I bought it. This book had the honor of being the very first book recommended for children by the American Library Association, so I thought it MUST be good.
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At home, I opened it up. The title page looked kind of cool:

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I got to page 4, and thought, hmmm, this is serious reading for kids. Let’s start that discussion about evolution young.
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I skipped ahead to page 44, about the Indo-Europeans… (who?)
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I kept flipping through pages, until reaching page 336. A picture of a guillotine adorned the page. Good grief – is this really a kids’ book?

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Well, I continued to peruse the “The Story Of Mankind”. Page 479 was clearly written to bolster a large vocabulary.  Check out these words:

inanimate

factotum

Bolshevik

seditious radical

holy endeavors

plenipotentiaries

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The book was 482 pages long, a length even the average adult would have difficulty managing.

I could only shake my head and wonder what kind of person would think this was a book for children. Cross this off your list for the kids…

 

 

 

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