Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

What is a children's book? What exactly constitutes a children's book? Before you continue reading I'd like you to take a moment and list three attributes that you think are essential to children's literature. I'm not asking for what makes "good"children's lit but rather just what makes a book a kids book.

Here are my off-the-cuff conclusions:
  • The writing style must be geared for children. It must be at a level which they can read and understand.
  • The text must engage children with a subject or theme in some way that it highlights the interests of children regarding the subject.
  • The entire book (its format, images and print) must acknowledge the psychological and developmental needs of the intended reader age group.
I realize the first and last points are similar but it was hard to define children's lit. In fact, I don't think I can come up with any more "must have" attributes.

Are there attributes that, under no circumstances, could (or should) never be found in a children's book?

Excepting the logical opposites to my three criteria above, my answer (for now) is no. I think that every issue- social, political, etc. - can be broken down (I don't really like this phrase) in such a way that kids can digest it. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron attempts to do this. It takes some real life issues and scrutinizes them under kid-savvy glasses.

Have you ever encountered a children's book that made you wonder why it's considered a children's book? The Higher Power of Lucky is one of these children's books that makes me wonder at the definition. It seems that many "children's" movies are geared for adults and so are some books.

It was C.S. Lewis who said, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." 

And I agree. I think this book is one which may be enjoyed at all ages - a sign of a really good book in my opinion.

Now, The Higher Power of Lucky created quite a stir after it received the Newberry Medal. Librarians were banning it. People were trash talking it. And as is usual, people doing so were often ignorant of the book's message. People were getting hung up on the use of the word "scrotum" on page one (a poor dog is bitten there) and were uncomfortable with young children knowing this word and what it meant.

Personally, I am in favor of teaching children about their bodies and that of the opposite sex. We do not live in the dark ages. Knowledge is paramount to raising healthy well-adjusted people. But at what age to we "reveal" these secrets (that aren't really secrets at all because kids have bodies, too)? When is it age appropriate? I'm not talking about having an in-depth sex-talk with your 3rd grader. But if Lucky, the ten-year-old protag, like most kids her age, is simply growing up and learning about genitalia by incidental means, is it not a good time to be straight forward about the subject instead of being secretive and making the child feel uncomfortable because the adults are talking about something (s)he's not supposed to know? But sex education is not at all what this book is about.

Lucky lives with her Guardian, her out-of-the-picture father's first wife, because her mother has died. Lucky deals with insecurity about her Guardian's affection for her, about (her town) Hard Pan's ability to survive poverty, and about her self-worth. She seeks to create a "higher power" for herself to guard against the day she might hit "rock-bottom" like many of the inhabitants of Hard Pan.

Lucky's best friend, Lincoln, offers a different perspective on the issues surrounding her. He always has a listening ear and some insightful comment to make. He helps Lucky figure out her place in the confusing world of adults. But things come to a head for Lucky and she decides to take matters into her own hands, ultimately leading to an epiphany.

I did like this book. But a part of me knew that if I read it as a child I would not have thought much of it. The text is very well written, beautifully so, while still at a child's level. But some of the themes are so deep that I know I would have missed them and probably thought the book was boring. Besides Lucky running away, there was not much adventure. And I'm sure I would have thought the supporting characters were annoying instead of cute like I do now. This story is a quest for personal enlightenment and growth - not necessarily something kids eat up. However, many kids do like the text. I guess what I'm saying is, it's very literary for a 9 year old.

Is this book for adults? Definitely.
Is this book for kids? Yes and no. I don't say "no" because of the controversy but rather because of the heavy themes.

Tell me, what do you think makes a kids book a kids book? And if you've read it, is The Higher Power of Lucky a kids book? An adult book? Both?

Publisher: Atheneum, 2006     Pages: 134     Source: Purchased on Amazon
Rating: 4 Stars     Recommended Age: 9 and up

1 comment:

  1. Your review brought up something that I've been thinking about a lot myself lately. I actually feel like many so-called MG or YA books are actually adult books, under the disguise of younger characters. I often find myself loving a book, but at the same time acknowledging the fact that very few of my students will see the same merits that I do. I wonder why that is?!