A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Yuri Morales (Just in Case), Sneed Collard (Animal Dads) and Armstrong Sperry (1897â€“1976), Call It Courage.
- In 1874, Thomas Nastâ€™s cartoon in Harperâ€™s Weekly is the first use of an elephant as the symbol for the Republican party. Read When Elephant Goes to a Party by Sonia Levitin and Jeff Seaver.
- Duck and cover! In 1957, the Gaither Report calls for more Americans to build backyard fallout shelters. Read Gemini Summer by Iain Lawrence and Beyond Mayfield by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.
- Itâ€™s National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week (November 6â€“12 this year). Read Martha Speaks: Shelter Dog Blues by Susan Meddaugh.
The second week of November we celebrate National Young Readers Week. I wish that all young readers had access to the books we celebrate every day on the Almanac. Today weâ€™ll look at one, published in 1993, which I consider a contemporary classic, Rodman Philbrickâ€™s Freak the Mighty.
When I first read this book about ten years ago, it never occurred to me that Freak the Mighty was Philbrickâ€™s first novel for children. Heâ€™s completely in control of all the elements of the story and knows how to connect with children. Like many contemporary writers for the young, Philbrick had already polished his craft writing adult novels and mysteries. An editor suggested he might try a mystery book for children, but the idea that haunted him had nothing to do with that initial proposal. Philbrick thought of a boy he knew who was born with Morquio Syndrome, a rare form of dwarfism. Very bright, with great courage and curiosity, the boy possessed an amazing vocabulary. He had died the year before, and Philbrick realized that that boy would make an incredible character for a novel.
Freak the Mighty is narrated by Maxwell, considered huge, lumbering, dumb, and slow by all those who know him. Hereâ€™s his opening gambit: â€śI never had a brain until Freak came along, and let me borrow his for a while. And thatâ€™s the truth, the whole truth.â€ťÂ Son of a convicted killer, Max, sometimes called Mad Max, spends a lot of time in remedial classes. Raised by his grandparents, he lives in the cellar and has little to motivate him. But then Gwen and her son Kevin, who suffers from dwarfism, move in next door. One night Max takes Kevin to the fireworks and places him on his shoulders to get a better view. And from then on the two become inseparable, Freak the Mighty. They fight off bullies, get into all kinds of action, and slowly Kevin, a genius with a great way of expressing himself, educates and challenges his friend. Max leans to read and even writes their story.
A three-handkerchief book, Freak the Mighty deals with a lot of important issues as it pulls readers along in a funny, fast-paced story.Â The bookÂ has became part of the teaching curriculum across the country, and whether read in fifth or seventh grade, Freak the Mighty captivates young readers. Most of them, that is. Philbrick has recently published a fascinating ebook that explores his views about books for children, Listening to Kids in America.Â It contains some praise, but also some harsh words: â€śAll the time we had to read your book I was thinking whereâ€™s writers block when you need it?â€ť one child quipped.
Well, I for one am grateful that Rodman Philbrick did not suffer from writerâ€™s block while creating Freak the Mighty. In Philbrick’s fiction, including The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, heÂ demonstrates hisÂ genius for writing a literary novel that children want to read. He began brilliantly with Freak the Mighty; he has simply gotten better as a writer over the years.
Hereâ€™s a passage from Freak the Mighty:
Freak sighs and rolls his eyes. â€śAh, yes,â€ť he says. â€śTelevision, the opiate of the massives.â€ť
For about the eleventh time I go, â€śHuh?â€ť
â€śOpiate, a drug,â€ť he says. â€śMassive, that means large and heavy. Thus television is the drug of fat heads. Opiate of the massives.â€ť
â€śYou donâ€™t have a TV?â€ť
â€śOf course I have a television,â€ť he says. â€śHow else could I watch Star Trek? Matter of fact, I watch tons of tube, but I also read tons of books so I can figure out whatâ€™s true and whatâ€™s fake, which isnâ€™t always easy. Books are like truth serumâ€”if you donâ€™t read, you canâ€™t figure out whatâ€™s real.â€ť
Originally posted November 7, 2011. Updated for .