Saturday, May 20, 2023

Book Review: And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold (1953)

Miguel Chavez is twelve years old, and he's not little anymore, like his brother Pedro and sister Faustina, but he's also not quite as mature as his older sisters, Tomasina and Leocadia and older brothers, Gabriel and Blasito, who have a big part in helping their father and grandfather with the family's sheep. This year, though, Miguel is determined to join them when they take the sheep to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for the summer. He does his best to prove himself ready by stepping in to help with delivering new lambs, and he also makes a special prayer to San Ysidro. He doesn't realize, however, that with the privileges of growing up also come some of the heartaches. 

This was one of only 19 Newbery-winning books that I hadn't read, and one of the reasons I hadn't read it yet was that I had the idea that it was going to be a boring slog of a story. I could not have been more wrong. I read about half the book before stopping and realizing it was the kind book I really wanted to enjoy with my kids, and we ended up doing it as a read-aloud.

One of the most notable features of this book is the language. Joseph Krumgold, who wrote the book based on a film he created for the U.S. government, writes in English in a style that closely mimics Spanish. So even though English speakers are reading the story in English, they pick up the cadence of Miguel's native language and practically hear the story as though he is telling it. I adopted a hint of a Spanish accent when reading it aloud and the text made that fairly easy to maintain. 

I'm also amazed by how beautifully Krumgold writes about sheep. He made even the most mundane of sheep herding tasks interesting, and he uses beautful metaphors to express Miguel's family's religious beliefs and Miguel's own feelings as he comes of age. There are many beautiful passages in this book that I would never have expected to find when I first took it off the shelf. I especially loved a section late in the book where Miguel and his brother Gabriel discuss the role of prayer in their lives and work out for themselves why not every prayer is answered exactly as they wish. 

And Now Miguel has risen heads above the rest as one of my favorites from among all the Newbery winners. Now I'm really excited to read Krumgold's other Newbery winner, Onion John, which is another one I've been putting off for years, and which I will probably wish I had read sooner.

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