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The Pull of the Ocean
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that in the fable-like context here, there is some mild swearing and violence, and that kids run away from their awful home for several days, and one of them forever. This is the winner of the Batchelder Award, an honor given by the American Library Association for foreign books, and while some teens might appreciate the writing and open ending, this may seem like an odd book to many American readers.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Yann is the youngest of seven boys, the rest of whom are all twins. While his brothers are big and strong, Yann is as tiny as a toddler, mute as well, and brilliant. Resented by his angry and abusive parents, he communicates nonverbally with his brothers. One night, after overhearing his arguing parents, he tells his brothers that they are all in danger and must run away. Heading out into a storm in the middle of the night, Yann leads them west, toward the ocean, and his brothers unquestioningly follow. They walk, hitch rides when they can, steal tickets, and take a train for part of the way. They beg and steal food and sleep where they can, while police search and their story is splashed all over the media.
Is it any good?
This tale may be based on a fable, but it's not one of the happily-ever-after kind. Based on Charles Perrault's Hop o' My Thumb, this seamless translation from French, will, like so many European children's books, seem rather odd to American readers. Its disturbing ending leaves many questions unanswered. Why did Yann put his brothers through this ordeal? What will happen to him?
Told in first person, as if in testimony, from dozens of viewpoints -- the various brothers, parents, witnesses along the way, social worker, police, etc. -- the book is well-written and engrossing, if somewhat, in the way of fables, emotionally distant. Yann is an enigmatic protagonist, and readers won't feel that they know him, or any of the other characters. The ending is open-ended; Yann's motives, both for the journey he leads his brothers on and for his desire to continue west, are not clear; and ultimately, this fascinating story leaves the reader vaguely unsettled and unsatisfied.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence here: There is child abuse and the kids are locked up in the house and almost die -- but this is a fable. Do the magical elements of this story make the grittiness easier to handle?
Families who read this story together may want to discuss the open ending. What happens to Yann?
For kids who love fairy tales
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