stood a wall of some height,
designed to repel the glance of
idle curiosity and keep us all from
slipping away and running for
freedom; though that of course, I
did not yet understand.”
Octavian Nothing, Vol. I
It has taken me a while to get around to writing this post, primarily because I wanted to finish reading volume II of Octavian Nothing prior to writing it. I am a huge MT Anderson fan and have been planning on writing a dedicated post to his work for some time now. After my trip to ALA, it was a definite; I got to have my rock star moment in which I literally turned around at an exhibit booth and there he was right next to me! I had a 30 second moment where I thought to myself, “Do I act like a complete idiot and go up and talk to him or just pretend like I’m not totally blown away by standing next to one of my favorite authors?” Of course I walked up and talked to him! MT was absolutely gracious and every bit as open and intelligent as he comes across in the interviews I have read. I was so impressed by our 10-minute conversation and look forward to having him come speak at whatever library I end up in as a full-time teacher. He is truly a class act!
For those of you who have no idea who MT Anderson is, you are in for a treat when you pick up his books. He has written a huge number of books for both children and young adults. I love the range and diversity of his writing. He doesn’t stick to one topic or even one style, although it’s all thoughtful, intelligent, and well written. He has written about teens using a satiric teen voice in Thirsty and Burger Wuss, created a fabulous dystopia with Feed, and shown a perspective of history not generally known with the amazing historical fiction of the Octavian Nothing volumes. More recently he has written books for middle school children with the Jasper Dash adventure series. MT lives in Boston and did his undergraduate studies at Harvard and Cambridge and an MFA at Syracuse. Both volumes of Octavian Nothing won Printz Awards and the first volume won a National Book Award. Feed was a National Book Award Finalist. With awards like these to his credit, he deserves to be called a rock star.
One award that MT did not receive that I believe he should have at least received a nomination, but he was not eligible for, is currently a point of discussion among librarians. The Coretta Scott King Award is awarded only to African American authors and yet I believe that both Octavian Nothing novels fully represent the ideals of Dr. King through
their interpretation of African American history. These two books are books that should be in every high school library and ultimately should be part of our curriculum. They are not easy reading. The vocabulary is challenging. They are both such wonderfully written books and I believe that the Coretta Scott King Award would have brought a different recognition in raising them as a respected piece of literature for use in the classroom to teach about our history as Americans — all Americans. I believe that ultimately that is what Dr. King — and Octavian — are both trying to say and do. They are trying to fight for equality of all humanity.
MT does not end his second volume with the words of Octavian, but ends in the present day with an author’s note. I really like this addition. I like it because he makes a point that the story cannot end in the same way as a true fantasy because we know that history did not turn that way. Slavery persisted in our country for many generations after the tale ended. He leaves several poignant quotes to walk away and think about, the most important perhaps being this;
“Yes, our Revolutionary forefathers espoused a vexed and even contradictory view of liberty. But it is easy to condemn the dead for their mistakes. Hindsight is cheap, and the dead can’t argue. It is harder to examine our own actions and to ask what abuses we commit, what conspicuous cruelties we allow to afford our luxuries, which of our deeds will be condemned by our children’s children when they look back upon us. We, too, have our hypocrisies, our systems of shame.”
I hope you will pick up one of MT’s books. All of them are great and will give you food for thought. He is a must for any YA collection in the library — public, private, or school. And the newer adventure series are loads of fun – besides he one of them involves Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware. Any reference to Delaware gets extra bonus points from this librarian! Happy reading!
I originally picked up a copy of Feed and gave it to Madeline (my stepdaughter) for Christmas. I laughed when I first saw the cover due to the uncanny resemblance to my brother Eric...shortly thereafter he had this photo posted from his 1st and only modeling gig. Like I said, uncanny!
“I think the truffle
it is nonetheless an
occasion of great moment
to meet one of her erotic