Sunday, January 10, 2010

Newbery XIII - 1929

Welcome to the eighth installment of what is unquestionably the Internet's finest collection of all the Newbery winners reviewed in chronological order.

The year was 1929. In October, a stock market crash marked the beginning of a global depression. Canada's high court ruled, in what most jurists regard as a moment of sheer lunacy, that women legally counted as people. And the first Academy Awards were handed out, to the interest of hardly anyone outside of Hollywood.

Meanwhile, the ALA's choice of best juvenile book was The Trumpeter Of Krakow, by Eric P. Kelly. In keeping with the Association's love for stories from far-flung lands and eras, they chose one set in Poland, 1461. The main character is one Joseph Charnetski, a fifteen-year-old, who travels with his family to Krakow after their home and fields in the Ukraine are destroyed. And yes, he becomes the trumpeter of the title. Oops, spoiler.

The family befriends a wise scholar and goes to live in the house of an alchemist and his daughter. Joseph becomes a watchman in the Church of Our Lady Mary. In the tower there, he plays on the hour the Heynal, a theme that is traditionally broken off in mid-note out of respect for a brave Polish lad who was killed by an arrow while playing it as Tartars advanced. (Click on that Wikipedia link for an interesting side note to this ancient legend, which may not be one at all.) The family is shadowed and accosted several times by a mysterious rogue, who turns out to be the dreaded Ukrainian warlord whose men originally drove them from their home and is out to steal a priceless treasure which, to Joseph's surprise, his father is guarding for the king.

This is a fine historical adventure, written in a clear but highly literate style, full of drama and suspense. Krakow is also made central to the story, as Kelly lovingly details its various buildings and streets. Nor is this a story that could be transplanted to another time, as lesser historical tales can be; alchemy plays a great role in this book, as part of the drama stems from Kreutz, the alchemist, and his attempts to find the secret of transmuting base metals to gold. It's fun to read, and the brisk pacing and suspense keep the pages turning --- a perfect young adult adventure story.

Recommended for adults: Yes.

Recommended for children: Yes.

1 comment:

Churlita said...

I love these reviews. This book actually sounds pretty interesting.