The Secret Box: We had a fascinating discussion with lots of ideas of what this book was about. Everything from time travel to ghosts, orphanages to schools. The adventure and the simplicity of the illustrations give it a timelessness of the adventures in childhood. Students could create their own secret time capsule. Older kids are a better audience for this book. It’s interesting how the box contains just regular things that lead to discovery. We didn’t understand the illustration that has the three kids with their hands as if they are signing. Knowing the signs would unlock the mystery of the book, we think. The design of the endpapers to give the appearance of opening the box is creative.
The Flint Heart: We had mixed reactions to this book. All agreed that it is a beautifully packaged book—the illustrations, the paper, the heft, the white space to text. We felt that we would not have connected it to Katherine Paterson had we not seen her name on the book. It’s so different from her other books. It seemed more like a Kate DiCamillo book.
DR said it seemed distant emotionally to her and she didn’t connect with the characters but loved the illustrations. B liked the humor, the turn of a phrase. It felt a bit like an allegory with lots of possibilities for discussion with upper elementary students.
The main story was about the misuse of power. The discussion turned to overtones of politics today. We think Governor Walker is the current owner of the Flint Heart.
We had 7 participants this evening.
Our discussion of Lighthouse Christmas led to a discussion of other lighthouse books including Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie, The Stormy Adventures of Abbie Burgess, and Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter. We agreed that all these books give readers a fuller understanding of the difficult and lonely life of those who live in lighthouses—especially the children.
Our discussion of The Flint Heart led to a broader discussion of Katherine Paterson’s books. We shared our favorites. One of our members read us a passage from Spying Heart by Katherine Paterson. The group as a whole felt that Flint Heart wasn’t a “true” Katherine Paterson book and most weren’t as fond of it as others of hers.
However, some liked various aspects—the humor, the language, etc.
We then took another look at the Caldecotts for this year since one of our members, a kindergarden teacher, had read them to her students and asked for them to vote for their favorite. As it turned out, most of the children voted for Blackout. In that discussion we talked about ways to read a wordless book—A Ball for Daisy. Some of us admitted that we find it challenging.
We compared the illustrations of John Rocco in Blackout to his illustrations in The Flint Heart. It was inspiring to see his versatility—especially since both books were published the same year.
[submitted by facilitator and author, Linda Glaser]
The Bookcase of Wayzata, Wayzata, MN
We began our discussion of The Flint Heart by each choosing one word that described the book for us. That led us to a round-the-table of explaining our reasons for choosing those words. PH felt that the book was all about finding the lost. She felt the story was told in a legendary way. MHH thought the language, the book’s physical appearance, the story, the characters were all “scrumptious.” SM thought the book was “odd” in the sense that it was weird, not like most books we see today. AP felt the characters, the story, the magic was “mischievous.” We all agreed with WW that the language was “lyrical.” VP felt the book was so different in its language and appearance that it was “astounding.” SP found the feel of the book and the story in the book to be “smooth.” Later, he decided the story was told in the “bardic” tradition.
None of us took the time to search out Eden Philpotts’ 1910 version of this story, but you can find different formats here.
We commented on the high quality of the book: the varnished pages, the trim shape, the saturated artwork in this illustrated book, the gilt on the embossed boards, the crisp black line of the fonts. It’s an incredibly heavy book but we all felt special for holding it and experiencing the texture of the reading.
We all agreed this is an ideal read-aloud book … referring back to the Bardic Tradition. The language is so lyrical and carefully crafted that there was no sense of getting tired of the humor and cadence, which sometimes happens in other books that use a particular voice.
Would we recommend this to kids? You bet. It will probably work best as a read-aloud (TRY THIS AT HOME) but kids who like “weird” books would respond well to this. Kids who understand the hero’s journey (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson) would recognize it here. It’s an exploration of evil and many kids will resonate with that. It will fit into the gamers’ sphere of interest.
Read this New York Times review and insight.
Next up, we discussed the wordless book by looking at and attempting to interpret Barbara Lehman’s The Secret Box. We all agreed that you’d have to have a copy of the book for every two kids if you’re going to use it in a class or library. Young kids will not get this book, we felt, because it’s fairly complex in its deciphering of the story.But from fourth grade and up, this will be an ideal book for examining, discussing, and writing. A good way to show that people look at the same thing and everyone will write a different story.
In examining the illustrations, we wondered about the brick building that doesn’t change throughout the book. Is it a boarding school, a hospital, an orphanage, a school for the deaf? MH said it reminded her of The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. SM brought The Red Box by Barbara Lehman, which she said she has used very successfully with her students in the library. We felt that the palette of The Secret Box illustrations is more sophisticated than the palette for The Red Box. We liked it.
How fascinating that a wordless book can engender this much discussion.
[filed by Vicki Palmquist, facilitator]