Pictured here is Anderson upon winning the National Book Award for Young Adult Fiction for his [insert uproariously-praise-filled adjective here] novel The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One The Pox Party. And the award wasn't just for the longest title ever. It also won the Printz Award. Though it does on some level fill me with sadness that only his most grownup book (in terms of diction, thematic elements and content) has received the crazy accolades that this novel did, it is undoubtedly a work of staggering accomplishment. The second volume, The Kingdom on the Waves was similarly fantastic, though, some have criticized it for the lack of focus in comparison to the first, very taut, installment (I actually favored the second for its scope, but that's just me). Published in two volumes, just as books would have been published in the era Octavian Nothing lived, these books serve to ask all attentive readers very pertinent questions about the nature of American freedom. By providing a narrative that illuminates the origins of our nation through the lens of a man subjugated by that very celebrated system, Anderson allows readers to examine their collective history on a very personal and very contemporary (despite the historical setting) manner. The back of the books suggest the reading age of 14 and up, but I have come across more than a couple of younger readers capable of handling it. Both installments contain brutally honest depictions of atrocities committed against slaves, yes, but the beauty of Octavian's narrative voice serve to show even the younger readers that there is power not only in literacy, but in appreciation and love of well-crafted prose. It is, in fact, Octavian's love for narrative that in many ways sets him apart, and for that reason he is the perfect conduit for Anderson's tale.
But even in Anderson's less serious works, his commitment to creating intelligent work for young readers is undeniable. In his series for middle readers, MT ANDERSON'S THRILLING TALES!, Anderson follows three main protagonists, two of whom are already stars in their own separate children's books series. The first installment, Whales on Stilts, is exactly as it promises. Whales. On stilts. Bent on world domination. Oh, with laser beams coming out their eyes. The second installment, Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen circles around a mystery unfolding in a ski lodge where the stars of numerous children's franchises are staying. (The third, Jasper Dash and the Fire Pits of Delaware, is not out just yet). But what Anderson does in these decidedly goofy tales that is, well, not goofy at all, is to playfully remind the readers of the absurdity of these franchises in the first place. While at once spinning a crazy story about something completely silly, he seems to be gently reminding the reader that anything that is made simply so that people will buy it is something that is, well, silly. On my favorite page in the first book, there is a page dedicated to an add for Katie Mulligan's (one of the three central protagonists) products, which prompts consumers to: "rush out and stuff your arms, pockets, and mouth with more... HORROR HOLLOW BOOKS" The books, which have gotten into the 200's, use exclamation points in triplets and all sound like Goosebumps titles. Basically, it's the series I recommend to all kids who are in the Dairy of a Wimpy Goosebumps Nancy Hardy Stilton Treehouse rut.
To be continued... (I've only gushed about half his books now, so stay tuned for more gushing)
or, just click this link, and hear it from the horse's mouth: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/28/AR2008112802766.html?nav=rss_print/style