A foray into children’s literature: Heart of a Shepherd, by Rosanne Parry

February 9, 2010 at 2:16 am (Book review, books, Literature for young people)

Every once in a while, I feel the need to catch up with what’s happening with children’s and young adult literature. This is definitely not my area of expertise, but luckily, I know just the person to guide me: Barb Langridge of  A Book and a Hug. Into this great site Barb pours her love and knowledge of books for young people. If you click on Books Alive, you’ll see Barb’s interviews with authors. This show can also be seen locally on Verizon Channel 42 and Comcast Channel 95. Barb also recommends children’s books from time to time on WBAL TV Channel 11.

See for yourself how infectious Barb’s enthusiasm can be!

More segments can be found on the station’s website.

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I asked Barb what she’d read lately and really liked. I had but one stipulation: the writing has got to be good. Here are her recommendations:

Heart of a Shepherd is the story of Brother, who lives on a ranch in Oregon. Brother’s real name is Ignatius, but he’d rather it were not; hence, the name he goes by instead. He does in fact have brothers, older than himself, who happily follow careers in the military or in ranching that are the twin lodestars of this family. Also living at the ranch are Brother’s Dad and his grandparents. (His mother is in Rome, on some ill-defined long term artistic mission. She seems to be missing in action, in more ways than one. Family members use remarkable restraint when speaking of her.)

As the novel opens, Brothers father, a member of the Army Reserves, is about to be shipped out to Irag. His sons naturally feel bereft at  this news, Brother feels it especially keenly. Keeping the ranch going is a full time job for everyone. How will they manage with one less hand on deck?

Heart of a Shepherd has much to recommend it. First time novelist Rosanne Parry has a lively accessible style. She renders vividly the beauty of Oregon. Her characters spring to life naturally; this effect is enhanced by the authors’ easy way with dialog. Brother in particular has a winning way about him. He’s struggling with some major issues; the reader cannot help but empathize. And besides, look at that young fellow on the  cover! I just wanted to enfold him in my arms, to comfort and encourage him.

Yet that is not necessarily what he would want. Brother is a loving member of his family, but like most young boys, he is eager to become a man, to assume adult responsibilities as well as to reap the concomitant rewards. He’ll have ample opportunity to do both in the course of this narrative.

There’s some lovely writing in Heart of a Shepherd, and I appreciated Parry’s gentle sense of humor. There were elements in the novel that surprised me; one of them was the strong presence of religion. Brother and his family are Catholic, with the exception of his grandfather, who is Quaker. Mass is said at a nearby church by a sort of circuit-riding priest. Each person’s faith is heartfelt and sincere. It is when the family are assembling for Mass that there occurs between the grandparents a scene I shall always cherish:

‘Grandma and Grandpa finish their tidying up and meet each other by the church door, just like they have forever. They hold hands and bow their heads until their foreheads touch. They only pray for a few seconds, and then Grandpa kisses Grandma, and she strokes the side of his face. He zips up his coat and goes outside, and she takes up her usual pew.

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Now this brings me to a question I have about contemporary literature for children and young adults. Let me frame my query in terms of the book I’ve just discussed. Heart of a Shepherd is sweet, unpretentious, with appealing characters and setting. Its strengths lie in those areas, not in its narrative drive. The fact is, what plot there is tends to meander, somewhat. like a stream. (There are, though, some highly dramatic set pieces, like the rattlesnake incident – but I’ll say no more about that at present!)

Here’s my question: are books like this actually written for today’s child? Or are they written for parents and librarians? As I’ve already said, this is not by any means my area of expertise, but if you spend any time on the information desk at the library these, days, kids seem to want  action-oriented novels, fantasies, or books with vampires in them.  I believe that Heart of a Shepherd would be classified as realistic fiction. This is a genre that I personally enjoy. But do the kids of today feel the same?

(Barb, feel free to weigh in here, and anyone else for that matter.)

How about historical fiction? I absolutely love it, but I have a feeling that children and teenagers read it only when they have to, for a school assignment. One of Barb’s other suggested reads, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, belongs in this genre. I’m about half way through this novel and will have more to say about it in a later post. But I can’t resist saying this right now: I’m loving it!

Here are some works of historical fiction that I’ve retained a fondness for over the years:

I liked the author's old-fashioned storytelling and the book's European setting

I liked the author's old-fashioned storytelling style and the book's European setting

My library buddies and I liked this novel so much we did for one of our book group sessions.

A vivid depiction of Civil War era Washington DC, by this supreme writer of American historical fiction

I recall being enthralled by this adventure in the high seas!

An immensely sad and moving story of World War Two - also a superb recorded book, read by Allan Corduner

A young girl goes to work in the mills in Massachusetts, in the early 1800's

Medieval Korea is the setting for this jewel of a novel

One boy's experience of the tragedy of the Armenians in Turkey in 1915 - a tremendously moving narrative

This is one of my favorite novels in any genre or category. Juan de Pareja (1610-1670), the son of a female slave, was a member of the  household and workshop of the great Spanish painter Diego Velasquez. Elizabeth Borton de Trevino brings to vivid life this noble individual and the turbulent times in which he lived.

Here is Velasquez’s famous painting of Juan de Pareja:

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Upon finishing The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, I’ll move on to The Graveyard Book. Any other suggestions will be gratefully received! (Lots of reading is getting done here in the mid-Atlantic, where we are hunkered down and awaiting the next snowstorm…)

6 Comments

  1. Kerrie said,

    Roberta- you need to drop into my blog to see what we have in common.

  2. Barb Langridge said,

    Roberta,

    Thanks so much for sharing abookandahug.com in your highly-respected, much revered blog. It is my privilege to learn from you about books-what you look for in a good book, what well-written really means and how to winnow my choices for adult reads down to the “pick of the letter” shall we say:)
    Getting books into the hands of our children is my passion…..because I want our children to grow beyond the shallowness of celebrity and materialism. They are pounded with the messages that the important things in life lie in those realms. The important things in life lie within them and within their capacities to create a new and better world for themselves and all living things around them. Books are pathways to helping them recognize their potential and to question the external messages.
    I’m going back to reading War Games -set in Greece during World War II-a children’s book. Just finished a new one by the masterful Karen Cushman -Alchemy and Meggy Swann-coming out in April 2010-set in Elizabethan times-theme is transformation!

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Barb,

      Thanks so much for your gracious words, and for your thoughtful reply to my post. You and I have similar book-related missions, it seems – just to different age groups!

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  4. “‘Plato said all science begins with astonishment.’” – The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] of the century. In fact, there were perhaps a few too many – at least, for this reader. Like Heart of a Shepherd, which I wrote about recently, this novel is constructed as an episodic rather than a linear […]

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    […] – Sarah Waters Love and Summer – Wm Trevor Unfinished Desires – Gail Godwin Heart of a Shepherd – Rosanne Parry […]

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