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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Unfashionably Pedantic

Virginia Hamilton probably ran into serious resistance when she began her career in the 1960s, specializing in mid-grade novels about African Americans. In honor of her her courage alone I was excited to read The House of Dies Drear, a paranormal mystery novel featuring ghosts of slaves along the Underground Railroad.

Having read just half that novel (in more than the amount of time it should have taken me to finish it), I am sorely disappointed. It's not the brave subject matter, nor even the story itself or the depth of characterization that's the problem. What's miring my progress has more to do with changing taste in children's writing than with Ms. Hamilton in particular.

Her prose is detached. There is a determination to force great quantities of history upon the reader, with the result that a textbook veneer covers over the storytelling. With every paragraph I get more annoyed at the lifelessness of the writing.

Let this be a lesson to me: the details of one's research must not overshadow the fiction and motion in historical novels, especially for children. The desire to teach must be subsumed under the desire to entertain and even thrill.

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