Friday, July 2, 2010

Mal Peet

If you don't know about Mal Peet, you'll want to. Relatively new on the YA scene, Englishman Mal Peet's first YA novel, Keeper, was published in 2003, followed by Tamar in 2005. I actually read Tamar first and LOVED it. It's about Dutch resistance fighters during WWII, the consequences of war, the consequences of being alienated and disconnected from the past. I use it with Judy Blundell's What I Saw and How I Lied, Fletcher's Ten Cents a Dance, Sherri Smith's Flygirl, and Art Spiegelman's Maus in small-group literature circles when I do historical fiction in my young adult lit. class. All of these novels provide a unique perspective on the WWII time period, letting us hear the oft-neglected voices and stories of those people who weren't American (male) soldiers or Holocaust survivors of WWII, but were also effected by the war in complex ways. There's a good review of Tamar here:

Keeper is about a famous soccer player called "El Gato" (the Cat) who, as goalkeeper, has just helped his team win the World Cup. I didn't watch a single bit of the soccer madness over the last couple of weeks. I just don't give a whit about soccer. But this book makes me wish I at least knew what a penalty kick is, or how the defensive line works, or what a forward does. I get the idea, and that's probably because Peet's writing about the game is so breath-taking. You can tell Peet's a real soccer fan. But this book, as all good sports YA books are, is about much more than soccer. There's the ghost in the jungle who trains "El Gato," there's the relentless journalist after a good story (and a fat bonus), and then there's all that clear-cutting going on in Gato's village...lots of stuff to think about here. I'd recommend putting this in the classroom library, or use it in differentiated whole-class instruction if your thematic goals involve exploring the intersections among Third World poverty, corporate exploitation, environmental destruction, and sports. I found out about the book through Teaching for Change's suggested summer reading list:

The journalist who interviews "El Gato" in Keeper pops up again in Peet's next book, The Penalty, about a teenage football prodigy. Haven't read this one, but plan to. Word on the street is that Peet's most recent novel, published in 2008--called Exposure--is about a Black football player and was inspired by Shakespeare's Othello. Add it to the stack.

I also like what Mal Peet says about how he got started writing for adolescents: "Like many people (I suspect) I had no real interest in children's literature until I had children of my own. It'll sound a bit evangelical, I suppose, but I truly believe that there are few things more important, useful, and protective than sharing stories with your children. After their bath, heaped into a big, deep chair, doing the voices, discussing the pictures, softening your voice as the rhythm of their breathing deepens. . . . You start to understand why certain books work and others don't."

His books work!!

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