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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beat the Turtle Drum vs. Bridge to Terabithia

So last week I read two classic Newbery-award-winning books.  The first is one you have probably never heard of, the second is one you might have on your shelf.  The first one is horrid.  The second is excellent.  Comparing the two gives one an interesting look at what makes a book last and what doesn't.

     Constance Greene's Beat the Turtle Drum (1976) is about Jess, who appears to be in fourth or fifth grade.  She saves her money for a couple of years until she has enough to rent a horse for a week. She has an amazing week, caring for the horse in her garage, giving kids in the neighborhood rides, and generally glorying in being the owner, at least for a time, of a horse.  Then, at the end of that week, while playing with her sister, she falls out of an apple tree and dies.  Her life seems meaningless because it is.  It doesn't change the grumpy neighbor across the street, it doesn't change her parents and it seems to only embitter her sister.  And that is the end of it.  Death is random and life sucks and that's the way it is.
     After reading this book I didn't feel like I had recieved an epiphany about the nature of reality.  I suspect the author had hoped to teach children something about the nature of the reality of the world we live in.  In fact, though, I doubt children need any further lessons in this part of life.  I suspect they are already too familiar with it.

   Then I picked up The Brigde of Terabithia which I am ashamed to say I had never read.  Before I started it, I checked the copyright date.  It was published a year after Beat the Turtle Drum, but Terabithia is everything that Turtle Drum is not.  Here is a story of real friendship, of two kids growing and gaining confidence in themselves while holding on to the joy of imagination.  There are themes of giving and caring and forgiveness along with some funny bits about revenge.  And when the death comes in this book, it hurts far worse than in Turtle Drum. But it is also a death that, while senseless, somehow also means something, in that it changes Jess and also the community.  I confess to kind of crying in the end.  (Actually, since grown men don't cry, I will only confess to feeling that kind of runniness in the nose that indicates that I would cry if I weren't so manly.)  This book rocked.

(A Bridge to Terabithia is by Katherine Patterson and is best suited to strong readers in later third grade through middle school readers --though I liked it and I am 45 years old.  Probably best suited for language arts classrooms.) 

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