Monday, September 21, 2009

Remember the Time

Does your heart fill up with good times and cheer(s) when someone begins a sentence with "hey, remember that time when-"? Me, too. Face it, we're in love with nostalgia. Somehow the past always seems rosier than the present. We fondly remember a simpler time when politicians were honest, television was original, and Martha Stewart wasn't syndicated. Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes, winner of the 1952 Newbery Medal, and Secret of the Andes, winner of the 1953 Newbery Medal, both take readers back to this gentler past.

Ginger Pye
is the quintessential 50s story of the love between siblings and their dog. Jerry and Rachel Pye dream of purchasing a puppy of their very own for the costly sum of one dollar. Through hard work and kismet, they are able to buy Ginger and make him part of their family. But all is not well in their quiet town. A mysterious stranger, who they call the Unsavory Character, is also interested in owning their puppy and follows them in the shadows. Sadly, Ginger is kidnapped and it's up to Jerry and Rachel to solve the mystery of this shameless wastrel. Throughout their adventures, neither Jerry or Rachel are in any real danger. On the contrary, their community is safe as suburban houses. Everyone cares about each other and of course, adores Ginger Pye. The children can roam the streets alone late into the night without fear. Even the Unsavory Character is mostly a charicature of a villian without the ambition to cause any real damage. The world of Ginger Pye is long gone, but every now and then, it's refreshing to remember the it wasn't so long ago when a boy and girl and their dog could run and play in the sunshine.

While Ginger Pye brings readers back to the world of the 1950s, Secret of the Andes reaches further back, to the time before the Spanish conquistadors conquered the Incas. Cusi, a young Indian boy, lives high in the Andes mountains, with his guardian, Chuto, and his flock of llamas. (Who doesn't love a good llama story?) Cusi's life is shrouded in mystery; he does not know who his family is or where he comes from. He must travel on a quest of his own to find his "heart's desire" and in the process, find himself. Through his adventures, Cusi learns about the illustrious past and beautiful customs of his people, the Incas. While they were conquered hundreds of years ago, their legacy continues in people like Cusi, who understand the value of the past.

** It's important to note that Charlotte's Web by E.B. White is a Newbery Honor book for 1953, and probably one of the most beloved children's books of all time. I actually only read it as an adult, but what impacted me the most was the emphasis on the power of words and literacy. Do you remember your initial reactions to Charlotte's Web?

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