Jane Yolen, like Eve Bunting, does not need my recommendations. I give them, anyway. I have never read anything by either of these authors that didn’t set my mind to spinning.
Finding Baba Yaga is pure poetry. That’s not a metaphor. It is a novella in verse with lines that soar: “The hallelujah chorus of birds,” and “Living well lasts longer than love.” As lovely as the writing is, read it for the story. Storytelling is what makes Yolen exceptional.
Finding Baba Yaga follows a runaway into the woods. It’s about questioned beliefs and finding ones own way. You’ll probably want to read it in one sitting. I did. This update of an old Russian fairy tale might also make you want to go back and revisit the original tales.
At the Oklahoma Book Festival, a young lady in the audience asked me if I accomplished anything by mixing art and politics. I had the feeling she didn’t think much of the practice, although I may have read her wrong.
The fact is, making art has always been political. Think about this: when a dictator puts down his thumbs on the necks of citizens, who are among the first to be targeted? Artists and intellectuals!
Artists and scholars are both critical thinkers. They create ideas out of disparate pieces of thought. They make connections, then they make something new out of bits and pieces of the old, out of those sudden revelations of connectedness.
This is not what I told the young lady. I’m a slow thinker, taking my time to pull all ideas together before I write them down…or spit them out. What I did say was that I was pretty sure my poetry didn’t change many minds about politics, but as a political minority in Oklahoma, maybe someone out there like me would feel less alone.
I feel the same way about the political essays I write for Oklahoma Observer.
Here’s the answer I wish I’d given her, the one that came to me well after the fact:
Logic hasn’t worked to change regressive economic and political thinking in Oklahoma. Maybe art can.
I am delighted to see book talks on PBS, so please, public television people, take what I’m about to say as what it is, a gentle suggestion. I’m glad that the Hundred Best Books in America includes titles for kids and young adults. There were even a few that were published by authors who are still alive. But I have to ask, how old does a book have to be before it’s considered one of the best books in America?
I love Where the Red Fern Grows and Charlotte’s Web. I do, really! And I’m good with hearing adults gush about reading their childhood favorites to their children and grandchildren. But if you want to get young people involved in literacy, you need to pick books that young people would choose for themselves. The books on your list seem to have been chosen by adults.
I will vote for Harry Potter and The Outsiders and Hatchet. I won’t argue with you about your choice of Hunger Games over Collins’ Gregor, the Overlander. But can we have more recent titles? I want to see more of the books I couldn’t keep on the shelf in my Reading Lab. How about Newbery winners like The One and Only Ivan or the picture book, Last Stop on Market Street? How about a graphic novel or two, maybe something by Ursula Vernon or Dan Santat or the Holm siblings? Have you read Going Bovine by Libba Bray? Did you even consider including books of poetry? Kids love good, accessible poetry.
I hope the Great American Read isn’t a one of. I hope you come back again next year with even more books. But, please, can we let librarians, teachers, and young readers help decide what goes on the list? You might be amazed.