Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book Review: About the B'nai Bagels by E.L. Konigsburg (1969)

About the B'nai Bagels was first published in 1969, on the heels of Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which won a 1968 Newbery honor and the 1968 Newbery medal respectively. It had a couple of tough acts to follow, but overall, I think it rose to the occasion.

Mark Setzer is twelve years old. He's coping with the loss of his best friend who has recently moved to a richer part of town and made a snobby new friend, while also preparing for his bar mitzvah, and trying to get out of the shadow of his over-achieving older brother, Spencer. On top of that, his mother has volunteered to manage his little league team. When Mark becomes aware of some information that could jeopardize the team's success and undermine all his mother's work, he wonders whether he should tell, or keep it to himself. What he decides, in the end, results in a coming of age experience that puts Mark firmly on the path to adulthood.

The language in the book now seems quite dated, but I actually enjoyed that aspect of it. I think it might bother a contemporary young reader, but as an adult, I've become interested in some of the older, forgotten children's books, and I enjoyed being immersed in the style and context of another time period. I also enjoyed Mark's wry observations about his family life, his interactions with other boys on his team, and in his neighborhood, his struggle to hang onto aspects of his lost friendship, and most of all, the humorous and realistic dialogue Konigsburg writes for the Setzer family.

I think adults who enjoy children's literature, and like to look back as well as forward, should definitely read this book. Kids, though, will be harder to sell on it, unless they really like realistic fiction,or have an interest in what day to day life was like in the late 1960s. There's not even really enough actual baseball action in this book to make it appeal to baseball fans. There will be the rare kid, though, who will read this and love it, and whoever that kid is, I hope he stops by my desk in the library to talk about it when he's done.

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