The Giant-Slayer by Iain Lawrence

giant-slayerLynn: We humans seem to have a genetic link to stories. Stories connect us to each other and to our history. They beguile us, comfort us and distract us. Stories are told at bedtime, in a tent with a flashlight and at family celebrations linking generations. Authors have explored the power of story as a theme for centuries. Iain Lawrence takes this hoary thread and gives it fresh new life, not only exploring the power of story but intertwining two distinct yet dependent tales, transporting both the characters and the readers far beyond their worlds.

Giant-Slayer (Random, 2009) begins in 1955. Laurie Valentine, now eleven, has grown up quiet and shy. Her widowed father works for the Infantile Paralysis Foundation doing the important work of raising money to defeat polio. “We’re waging a war against polio, ” he would say and that meant he didn’t have much time for small things–like his daughter. As with many people, Mr. Valentine and Laurie’s nanny were terrified of polio and from spring to fall Laurie was forbidden to go to the movies, the playground or to swim in the city pool. It was a lonely life without even one friend until Dickie Espinosa moved into the neighborhood. The two children connected instantly and were hardly apart, playing, “scouting the neighborhood” and spinning stories. Then Dickie caught polio and was placed in an iron lung. When Laurie went to visit she found he shared the room with two other paralyzed children. Not knowing what to say, Laurie turned to stories, spinning a tale about Collosso, a marauding giant and Jimmy, small boy, who sets out to dispatch him. As Laurie adds characters and a heroic plot, she draws in other patients, wrapping them all in the transforming power of story. Then Laurie herself falls to the giant and it is her friends who must pick up the tale and bring the story to its conclusion.

The two narratives, one about a storyteller and one about the story being told, are each complete and engrossing. Each could stand alone but together they soar, enhancing the evocative impact of the book. The characters, many who lie confined in metal prisons, are rich and vivid and achingly real.The descriptions of the ravages of polio will be eye-opening to today’s children who have never seen classmates with braces and crutches or heard of iron lungs. The irony of the vaccine that went wrong won’t be missed by young readers and will help them to make sense of the current H1N1 debate. The metaphors while clear and strong are never obtrusive and the often dry humor firmly grounds the story as Dickie and the other children enthusiastically debate the progress of the narrative. “Wait a minute,” cried Dickie, “I don’t think the Swamp Witch would say that. She wouldn’t say beeswax!” “Who’s telling this story?” said Caroline. The answer is that the story belongs to all of them and thanks to Lawrence’s masterful prose, to all of us.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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