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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Classic Newbery Honor Book from 1954 that actually is still a good story

Ullman, James Ramsey (1954) Banner in the Sky.  New York, Scholastic.



Opening Lines: " Most of the boys of the village were tall, broad, and strongly built.  Rudi was small and slim.  But to make up for it, he was quick."

When we first meet 16 year old Rudi, he is slipping away from his job washing dishes to climb partway up the Citadel, and unconquered mountain that the village is at the foot of.  He ends up rescuing an English climber who was scouting a possible route up the mountain.  Rudi wants more than anything to be a part of such an expedition, partly because his father died in an attempt at a summit years ago.  Unfortunately, Rudi's mother has forbidden him from climbing and the other guides are utterly opposed to such a youngster joining them.

Honestly, the book takes its time getting started, and the characters are sometimes somewhat flat (Captain Winters is kind and good-hearted, Saxo, a rival guide, is boorish and mean -- but not mean enough to really be scary. Rudi himself is a nice good-hearted kid).  The plot is pretty straightforward, not a lot of surprising twists.  But for all of that, it is still a spellbinding story.  Rudi must manage his fear, manage the half-truths he is telling in order to be allowed to join the expedition, and ultimately, must figure out how to solve the problems that the mountain offers. And there are some points in the book that are really quite moving.

There is nothing remotely objectionable in this book. except perhaps the fact that Rudi lies at several points, including to his own mother.  But he is eventually scolded for that.  My Sense is that this might be a pretty good read-aloud book.  It would certainly be worth keeping in a fourth, fifth, or sixth grade classroom library.  I don't think there is enough thematically to sustain a literary study, even in small groups, though.  I suspect the book might be appropriate for middle school and high school too (it is a fairly thick book -- 285 pages) but the tame nature of the story might be off-putting for students who are used to action-adventure books that move a bit more quickly.


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