Friday, November 24, 2006

National Book Award + Poetry Connection

Last week the National Book Award was announced and M. T. Anderson won in the Young People’s Literature category for his historical novel, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party (Candlewick Press, 2006). I had the chance to hear Anderson speak (he goes by “Tobin Anderson”) last weekend at the NCTE conference and found him to be so intelligent and articulate— and YOUNG. He spoke about the research behind this award winning novel and his strong desire to get the language right— true to the period, but still engaging for young adult readers. This was wonderful prep for me, since I had not yet read the book. I have now finished it and have come away very impressed with this powerful story of an African American boy raised by a house of philosophers who experiment on him and his mother in increasingly bizarre and brutal ways— all against a backdrop of our country’s uncertain struggle to be an independent nation.

In some ways, this novel reminded me of Marilyn Nelson’s stunning poetry book, Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem (Handprint 2004), the story of an 18th century African American slave whose skeleton is preserved for anatomical study. Here, she presents six poems told from differing points of view about the man, his life, and his times. Together, these books offer young adults a riveting look at the place of the Black man during a painful time in our history. Discussions about the intersection of race, science, and politics in both these accounts should be interesting-- along with a consideration of the authors' amazing use of language in each book.

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