Thursday, February 2, 2012

Onion John (1960)

This book focuses on the friendship between 12-year-old Andy Rusch with the town eccentric, Onion John, and Andy's relationship with his father.  Onion John lives in a self-built house in which the main room sports three bath tubs which he uses to store stuff.  He wears most of his clothing at the same time layered and regularly sifts through the town dump looking for treasures.  He comes from some unnamed eastern European country and holds many strange, and to Andy's dad, unscientific ideas.  Andy is the only one who understands his speech.

Andy's dad wants Andy to leave Serenity,the small town they live in, and attend MIT so he can one day be an astronaut.  Problem is that Andy loves Serenity and wants to take over the hardware store when he grows up.  When Andy starts hanging out with Onion John his dad wants him to see that Onion John's ideas don't really make sense, but Andy has a great desire to believe in O.J.'s odd theories.  (Like burning 4-ft. trees on a parade to the river and throwing the mayor in the water will cause it to rain.)

Mr. Rusch decides that the town needs to get together to "help" Onion John.  They build him a new house, get him new clothes, and generally do everything they can to modernize him, and it makes him completely miserable.  Not understanding the new gas stove, he accidentally burns his brand new house down.

Andy wants to run away with Onion John, but mostly to escape from the dreams his dad has made for him.  In the course of this not working out, Andy and his dad have some good conversations about why they want what they want, and about not growing up too fast.  His dad lets him be a kid.

Only five authors have been awarded the Newbery medal twice.  Joseph Krumgold was the first.  The other book he won it for was ...and Now Miguel (1954), which I loved, but didn't think kids would.  This one was just a bit strange.  I don't think kids have the freedom that they had 50 years ago to roam about.  And I don't think most parents would feel comfortable with their child becoming B.F.F.'s with the town eccentric.  So hard to really relate to.  But a good example of parent/child relationships and working those out.

In looking up the repeat winners I found a quote on the Wikipedia Newbery entry that made me smile.  "The Newbery has probably done far more to turn kids off to reading than any other book award in children's publishing." --John Beach, associate professor of literacy education at St. John's University in New York (I'm sure that I did not include that quote in this review for any reason.  Wink, wink, nod, nod.)

Krumgold, Joseph.  Onion John.  HarperCollins, 1959.

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