Friday, December 21, 2007

I Read Two More Historical Fiction Newbery Winners

One from 1941: The Matchlock Gun, by Walter D. Edmonds, set in 1757; and one from 1973: The Slave Dancer, by Paula Fox, set in 1840. Both are especially interesting when it comes to race - check out the title links for my reviews at The Newbery Project.

I'm also reading Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali, by Kris Holloway, and it is simply amazing. I wish I'd heard about this book a year or two ago, because then I could have seen the author when she came to Ann Arbor and talked about her book. It is an especially nice follow-up to The Birth House, which my book club read last month, and reminds me of two great books on Africa by anthropologists: Return to Laughter, by Eleanor Smith Bowen, and Dancing Skeletons, by Katharine A. Dettwyler.

Monday, December 10, 2007

How the 70's Ruined Another Good Newbery Book Cover

I just reviewed Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry, here at the Newbery Project. It was the 1941 winner, and despite some minor quibbles (mostly due to the time period when it was written), I liked it a lot. And I loved the author's illustrations. One of them graced the cover of the 1968 reprint that I got from the library:

And then I saw what they did to it a generation later:

Why? Why do they do this to perfectly good covers?

Actually, I think I liked the original 1940 cover the best, which just shows a Polynesian tapa-cloth pattern that the author did in a woodcut:

Browsing the author's granddaughter's website, I also learned that Armstrong's brother Paul was the inventor of the Sperry Topsider boatshoe. Huh.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Unstrange Minds: Book Review

Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism, by Roy Richard Grinker, was a fascinating read. I've read several absorbing, thoughtful books on autism in the past few years (Songs of the Gorilla Nation, by Dawn Prince-Hughes and George and Sam, by Charlotte Moore, most recently), and Grinker's book helped put the others in a larger context. It was kind of like Geraldine Brooks' Nine Parts of Desire in that respect, which put all the novels and memoirs I've read about the Middle East into a bigger picture, with history and comparisons of the extremes and the differences of Islam (or autism, for Grinker) in different parts of the world.

Grinker has gotten the most publicity for his analysis of the autism "epidemic" (like this Time article), and his argument that improved and broader diagnosis accounts for the startling rise in numbers of people with autism spectrum disorders, but I found his historical and cross-cultural examinations of autism even more compelling. Who would have thought that the stories of Leo Kanner, Hans Asperger, the influence of psychoanalytic theory, and the origins of the DSM would make such interesting reading?

The story of Grinker's daughter and their family's experiences with a school district was both eye-opening and moving, and all too familiar to any parent who has dealt with an IEP for something that confuses and dismays many people.

Thanks to Naomi, who recommended this in her journal here. :-)