One-Minute Book Reviews

August 17, 2007

Walter Dean Myers’s ‘Patrol’: An Anti-War Book for Children Ages 8 and Up

A young American solider loses his illusions after he sees the people his sergeant defines as the “enemy” — an old woman and babies “crying on the mud roads”

My public library has been using Walter Dean Myers’s Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam (HarperCollins, 32 pages, $16.89, ages 8 and up) in a summer reading program, and I picked it up thinking I might review it along with last week’s Alpha Bravo Charlie. But it deserves a post of its own, and not just because it reflects a collaboration between the much-admired Myers and Caldecott Honor artist Ann Grifalconi. Patrol might look like a book for preschoolers, albeit with an unusual theme: a soldier’s frightening first patrol in Vietnam. But it’s an anti-war story for older children. Nobody dies or gets hurt when a young radio operator and his squad take cover during a firefight. But the soldier loses his illusions about war after facing unsettling events, such as having to “secure” a village. He sees the people his sergeant defines as “the enemy”: “A brown woman with rivers of age etched deeply into her face. / An old man, his eyes heavy with memory. / And babies. Babies. / Little enemies crying on the mud roads.” In other words, Patrol is for children who can handle irony and emotionally difficult material, but some of them may feel too old for a 32-page picture book. So it might best used as an aid to a structured discussion in a classroom, youth group or pacifist family with 8-to-12-year-olds. Patrol may deal with Vietnam. But if the U.S. leaves Iraq, adults may wonder how to explain that move to children, and Myers and Grifalconi have given them some help.

Links: and

Furthermore: Patrol won a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award from the Jane Addams Peace Association. He lives in New Jersey.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

How Should We Judge Poetry? Quote of the Day (Philip Larkin)

Filed under: Poetry,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:56 pm
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How should we judge poetry? What makes it succeed or fail? Does the subject of a poem matter? Or should we judge by execution alone? Philip Larkin (1922–1985) gave this answer after an interviewer for the Paris Review mentioned that the poet and critic Peter Davison saw Larkin’s favorite subjects as “failure” and “weakness”:

“I think a poet should be judged by what he does with his subjects, not by what his subjects are. Otherwise you’re getting near the totalitarian attitude of wanting poems about steel production figures rather than ‘Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?’ Poetry isn’t a kind of paint spray you use to cover selected objects with. A good poem about failure is a success.”

Philip Larkin in an interview with Robert Phillips in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews: Seventh Series (Viking, 1986), edited by George Plimpton. Introduction by John Updike. To read the full interview, which appeared in the Summer 1982 issue of the Paris Review, go to the Paris Review site and enter “Larkin” in the search box.

Comment by Janice Harayda:
Some critics still judge poets and other writers partly by their subjects. For example, they may overpraise writers who deal with new or unusual subjects — even if the writing is awful — because the novelty makes the work appear original. Okay, all of you who knew right away that Larkin’s French quote translates to, “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” (and anybody else who wants to jump in): How do you think critics should judge poems and other works?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Harry Potter and the Critic Who Gave Up (Books I Didn’t Finish)

The latest in an occasional series of posts on books I didn’t finish and why I didn’t

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Scholastic, $34.99), by J.K. Rowling

What it is: “The seventh and final installment in the epic tale of Harry Potter” (dust jacket).

How much I read: The first two chapters, a total of 29 pages.

Why I stopped reading: This novel wasn’t good enough or bad enough to hold my attention. I hadn’t read the first six books in the series, so opening this one was like walking into cocktail party full of people I didn’t know. The first chapter seems to involve mainly the bad guys. They have names like Snape, Malfoy and Voldemort, and they’re all sitting around a table plotting to kill Harry. But I was skeptical about whether they’d pull it off, because a white peacock appears on page 2. And here’s how critics read books: “White (symbol of purity) + peacock (symbol of immortality in Christian art) = pure character/Christ figure lives.” White is also a symbol of resurrection. So, I figured, the deal might instead be: “White peacock = Christ figure dies but is resurrected.” Naturally, I have no idea how things turned out. I may have looked at one too many peacocks on cathedral walls or altarpieces. But I didn’t want to slog through 759 pages only to yell at the end, “It was obvious! Major resurrection symbol on page 2!”

Best line in what I read: A line from a newspaper obituary written by one character for another: “Several of his papers found their way into learned publications such as Transfiguration Today, Challenges in Charming, and The Practical Potioner.” Nice satire, especially that Challenges in Charming.

Worst line in what I read: The names of some characters, such as Dolohov and Grindelwald, clash with the best in the series and seem unconsciously to imitate Tolstoy, Agatha Christie and others. It’s as though Rowling had named these characters 15 minutes after she finished reading War and Peace or Murder on the Orient Express.

Published: July 2007

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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