Children’s Fiction of 2008: A Couple of Noncomformist Novels for Gifted Children

I therefore urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercies, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God, for this is the reasonable way for you to worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2

The Girl Who Could Fly by Vctoria Forrester.

Jeremy Cabbage and the Living Museum of Human Oddballs and Quadruped Delights by David Elliott.

Both of these 2008 Cybil-nominated titles explore the themes of nonconformity, of being true to your own gifts and calling, of bravery in the face of a world that wants to squeeze everyone into its autocratic and rigidly “normal” mold. I found both of them to be delightfully eccentric and plain fun to read. No, they’re not “religious fiction”, but both books embody a Christian ethos, whether that’s intentional or not.

In The Girl Who Could Fly, Piper McCloud is the girl, and to the dismay of her parents and the townsfolk, she can. Fly, that is. And since she’s so special, or maybe outlandish and scary, Piper agrees to leave her parents’ farm with Dr. Letitia Hellion to go to a special school for children who, like Piper, have special gifts. (Watch the names in this book; words, especially names, have meanings.) When Piper gets to her new school, however, she learns a lot more than anyone expected. And even though she’s not the most intelligent child in her class or the strongest or the fastest or even the most talented, Piper becomes the leader, and she leads her fellow students to embrace their gifts in spite of a hostile world that tells them that they are freaks.

The Girl Who Could Fly is about giftedness, but the implication is that we are all gifted. We just need to find our gift(s) and practice them no matter what anyone else thinks. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Jeremy Cabbage is an orphan who finds himself among a group of human oddities called Cloons. Because Jeremy is adrift in an evil empire presided over by the Baron Ignatius Fyodor Maximus von Strompie, III, Jeremy bounces from one dangerous adventure to another in this picaresque novel with a hero whose heart is as good as gold and whose courage is beyond question. The Baron is a rather unintelligent villain, but his stupidity makes him even more heartless and vicious in some ways. He doesn’t think at all before he makes a law to abolish anything that annoys him or distresses his wife, Gertrudina. (The names in this book are suggestive, too.) And cloons (congental clowns) make Gertrudina very unhappy. When the cloons become Jeremy’s adopted family, everyone is in peril, even the Princess Rosie and her maid, Mary.

This book started out a little slow for me, but after about three chapters I was pulled right into the story. And as I began to see the parallels with The Girl Who Could Fly, I became more and more intrigued with the worldview and philosophy expressed in both books. Think on these nuggets of homespun wisdom from these two books:

Polly, Jeremy’s friend: “You can’t measure another person’s suffering, Jeremy. It’s like a private ocean, with its own depths and its own changing shores. It’s useless to say who has the hardest time staying afloat.”

Gertrudina: “Everything must be perfect for the birthday ball. Perfect and new! The trees have to go. They’re old! I’m replacing them with replicas made of the finest plastics in the Metropolis! The flowers, too. Oh, and the grass, of course. The effect will be spectacular!” (NOTE: Such idiocy expresses the opposite of wisdom, of course.)

Jeremy: “Sometimes a person has to choose between what is safe and what is right.”

Piper: “A person wants to believe in folks and trust in things, and when you can’t, life doesn’t seem worth living anymore. That’s exactly how I felt. Like it was hopeless. But the more I got to pondering it, the more I just figured that even if some folks are bad, there’s others who aren’t. So I reckon I won’t give up my flying for anyone ever again.”

Jeremy’s and Piper’s stories are heading to the top of my Cybils list.

Other bloggers review Jeremy Cabbage:

Matt at the Book Club Shelf: “The main concept of the story is great, and works well. There are many ideas here, making this book very complex, and discussion-rich. While I would not put this at the top of my list, I do think it would make a good book club choice for students to help each other decipher.”

Mom, Not Otherwise Specified: “You’ll be hearing a lot more about Jeremy Cabbage in the future; the movie rights were optioned by Fox 2000 long before the book was published. But don’t wait to be introduced to Jeremy and his friends on the big screen. Get to know them now, in depth and on paper – and be prepared to fall in love.”

And still others review The Girl Who Could Fly:

Laurel Snyder: “But now I see where it’s headed, and it’s WEIRD! There a great deal of carefully executed political/social commentary (AWESOME) and the most lovely magical details (a glowing giraffe, cricket who sings opera, snapping rose with teeth) and there’s also quite a well-tooled adventure, with some real suspense. VERY well plotted.”

3 thoughts on “Children’s Fiction of 2008: A Couple of Noncomformist Novels for Gifted Children

  1. The Girl who Could Fly sounds like a book that I want to read and a book that I would want my girls to read.
    Thanks for the review. I am going to put it on my TBR list!

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