Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004
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*****= An all-time favorite
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****The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place

by E. L. Konigsburg

Reviewed December 20, 2004.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2004.  296 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #1, Children's Contemporary Novels

I’ve come to believe that the world is full of two basic types of people.  The first type, the one I was born into, believe that you will do well in life if you just follow the rules.  Part of the challenge is finding out which rules are the right ones to follow, but once you find them, if you follow them, you’ll be okay.  We all have known teachers or authority figures who believe that their mission is to make sure their students follow the rules they have so cleverly devised.  It’s for the students’ own good.

Fortunately, I found a person to marry who belongs to the second type.  He has probably saved me from becoming as rigid as the worst people of my category.  This second type of person believes that rules are made to be broken, that there are exceptions to every rule.  These types tend to be more creative, they like to go with the flow, to see what the situation requires.  They believe that one should discern what’s best to do in any given situation rather than blindly follow rules.

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place is a story of Discerners triumphing over Rules-based Squelchers of Creativity, even though the odds against them are great.

The story begins when Uncle Alex comes to take Margaret Rose home early from camp.

The camp director, Mrs. Kaplan, is beautifully drawn, the epitome of a Rules-Based Authority Figure.  “We want Margaret to fit in,” she tells Uncle Alex.

When Margaret Rose was picked on at camp, she devised her own way of dealing with the situation.  When asked to participate in camp activities, like Bartleby the Scrivener, she simply said, “I prefer not to.”

When Margaret Rose gets to go stay with her uncles for the rest of the summer, she learns why they hadn’t offered to take her in the first place.  They are facing a bigger challenge, an attack against a precious part of life at 19 Schuyler Place, an old house on an old street in an old part of town.  Now the street is being called “historic” and the house is surrounded by lawyers’ offices.  These lawyers don’t like the art work that the uncles have added to the neighborhood.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at the power and interest that two-time Newbery medal winner E. L. Konigsburg has put into this simple story of Margaret Rose and her uncles quietly showing the world that sometimes creativity is important.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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