Monday, February 1, 2010

Homer P. Figg- A Newbery Honor Book

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick is a great book. It's got adventure, thieves, epic balloon rides... I mean, it's got it all. Any book that has a sentence like: "Once in the heat of summer an old rooster got up in the hay and died, and Harold and me thought it was the worst smell ever, but that's before I made the acquaintance of Stink Mullins," is a book I want to read and recommend- particularly to boys.

It was also surprisingly educational and heartfelt. When Homer's 17-year-old brother is sold into becoming a soldier for the Union Army, Homer follows after in an effort to free him. Though Homer is only 12, he knows his brother has been sold unjustly and for profit, and that he is too young to fight. The account Homer gives of his journey, though only "mostly" true, is a great first hand account of the Civil War and what it was like for children during that time.

[Spoilers]

Homer runs into the Underground Railroad, becomes a part of a medicine show, takes an accidental balloon ride over the battlefields, rides a pony through a battle, witnesses the gruesome practices of a Civil War hospital, and assists in the battle of Gettysburg. At least, he does according to his account (we can't rely on him fully because his adventures are "mostly" true). When faced with the possibility that his brother may die in battle he says, "They say that even in the worst battles some of the troops survive. Please, Dear Lord, let that someone be my big brother, that's all I'm asking. Don't let him die in a pony cart hammed with the wounded, or tied to a plank while they saw his limbs off, one by one, or carried home in a casket wagon." Homer's account of the Civil War is a new and unique look at a dark era in American history, which is somehow filled with a nice balance of humor and heart.

HOWEVER, this book is horribly hindered by its ridiculous cover:

In my opinion, this cartoonish cover is a poor representation of the book and it totally turns me off it. What's with the halo!? Why does Homer look like a NickToons character!? If the book hadn't won the Newbery Honor, I would have never picked it up. Honestly, I don't see a child being all that interested in it either. It looks outdated and a bit childish. Luckily, this book will get read because librarians and teachers will be recommending to kids- encouraging them to look past the cover and allow the story to speak for itself.

Book covers matter. A lot. If the cover isn't attractive we wont pick the book up, it's just a fact of life. Many a great book has fallen by the wayside because of its awful cover. It is truly a sad thing when bad covers happen to great books.

All in all, though, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg was a great, surprising read. I would recommend it for children who love adventures stories and historical fiction. It would also fit in well in a classroom as a read aloud or assigned reading.

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