Sunday, January 10, 2016

Book Review: 26 Fairmount Avenue by Tomie dePaola (1999)

26 Fairmount Avenue was published in 1999, and it was awarded a Newbery Honor in 2000. Written by beloved children’s illustrator Tomie DePaola, this is a memoir about the year his family built and moved into their new house on Fairmount Avenue. In child-like voice, dePaola tells of his experiences surviving the 1938 hurricane and seeing Disney’s Snow White in the movie theater. He tells of his favorite actresses, Mae West and Shirley Temple, and his rejection of kindergarten after discovering he won’t learn to read until first grade. Most of all, he conveys his love for his extended family.

There are a few biographies at this reading level, but no other memoirs that I can think of, so this book is already a rare gem in that sense, and the writing makes it even more so. DePaola clearly remembers his childhood very well, and he is very good at reflecting upon it with an eye and an ear for what would appeal to today’s child reader. Though much of the information is filtered through an adult sensibility that knows how to organize and explain it, the entire book reads as though the reader is trading stories with another kid. The narrative voice is really perfect for the beginning chapter audience, but it is also written in an artistic style that is suitable for reading aloud.

On a personal note, I enjoyed this book’s authentic representation of growing up in a Catholic family. As with all other details about young Tomie and his family, their religious faith is simply presented as another fact of their lives. Though it does not seem that the religious content would turn off a non-religious reader, it is nice for young Catholic readers to see their beliefs represented in positive ways, and especially by an author they probably already know and love.

This book is a perfectly gentle introduction to 20th century history for the newest readers. The follow-up titles, of which there are seven, are also worthwhile reads.

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