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Soonchild

Overview

Two internationally acclaimed artists create a groundbreaking, genre-defying adventure to transcend time, place, and identity.

In the cold north where the white wind blows lives Sixteen-Face John, a shaman. His wife is expecting their first child — a "soonchild." But Soonchild won’t come out! So John sets out to find the World Songs that inspire all soonchildren to leave the womb. Along the way, he must shift shape and size, converse with animals and ancestors, and face demons ...

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Overview

Two internationally acclaimed artists create a groundbreaking, genre-defying adventure to transcend time, place, and identity.

In the cold north where the white wind blows lives Sixteen-Face John, a shaman. His wife is expecting their first child — a "soonchild." But Soonchild won’t come out! So John sets out to find the World Songs that inspire all soonchildren to leave the womb. Along the way, he must shift shape and size, converse with animals and ancestors, and face demons and death. But he also pursues an elusive golden-eyed presence that hints at a connection with his past. This breathtaking novel, as exciting as it is spooky, is a lyrical tribute to the forces of nature, magic, and family.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Hoban's final work (he died in 2011), rough-edged characters who speak in prose-poetry hurtle through an Arctic world in which humans, animals, and underworld spirits share a dizzying variety of magical powers ("OK, stand back now," says the hero's raven sidekick at one point, "I'm going to disappear into the generations of ravens all the way back to the Original Egg. Be careful not to get sucked into my slipstream"). Sixteen-Face John is a former shaman with a big gut and pants that won't stay up. When his daughter-to-be, Soonchild, refuses to be born, he uses his rusty shamanic powers to bring back the World Songs that will coax her out—though he dies not once, but three times in the process. Hoban fearlessly tackles the big questions: the distinction between the real and the unreal, the nature of courage, and the debt humans owe the dead and the unborn. Deacon's charcoal drawings (seen by PW only in b&w) render Hoban's mix of horror and slapstick note for note. Hoban's fans will revel in this last tale of his, and they'll mourn when it's done. Ages 14–up. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
In Hoban's final work, rough-edged characters who speak in prose-poetry hurtle through an Arctic world in which humans, animals, and underworld spirits share a dizzying variety of magical powers... Hoban fearlessly tackles the big questions: the distinction between the real and the unreal, the nature of courage, and the debt humans owe the dead and the unborn. Deacon's charcoal drawings render Hoban's mix of horror and slapstick note for note. Hoban's fans will revel in this last tale of his, and they'll mourn when it's done.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

It’s sort of a legend and sort of contemporary, it’s both playful and challenging, and it’s equally profound and offhandedly glib. And among its numerous, unexpected joys is perhaps the simplest and best summation of life yet: "It’s one good-bye after another until you reach the Big Hello at the end when That’s All She Wrote." . . . Deacon’s contributions to the story begin as a few pieces of spot art scattered about the periphery, which then become more integrated and even include pages-long sequences that carry just as much weight and wit as the narrative. Together, they weave a funny and wise tale that will echo with readers for a long time.
—Booklist (starred review)

These illustrations, combined with the author’s lyrical language, engage the reader in a magical, thought-provoking expedition.
—NY Journal of Books

VOYA - Kristi Sadowski
Set in the far north, this story is a new twist on Native myths. Former shaman, Sixteen-Face John, and his wife are worried about their soon-to-be-born child—or "Soonchild"—because after nine months, she still has not moved. They can hear her thoughts, however, and she does not want to enter the world because she cannot hear the World Songs of the whale, bear, and other elements of nature. Sixteen-Face John returns to his shaman routes and goes on a spirit journey where he meets spirit animals, and rediscovers and renames himself several times, so that he can help save the world and find the songs to coax his baby out of the womb. Soonchild is beautifully illustrated by Alexis Deacon with pictures that not only accompany the story but also pull the reader along John's path and spirit journey. This is a very short book, however, the complexity of the Native names and the extent of the fantasy elements give the story an unexpected depth and make this the perfect book for discussion in either a book club or classroom setting. Readers will be reticent to pick this book, but fantasy lovers willing to take on and discuss bigger issues will be glad they did. Adults will also find this book charming and thought-provoking. Reviewer: Kristi Sadowski
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—In the far north, Sixteen-Face John and his wife, No Problem, cannot convince their daughter, Soonchild, to be born. The spirits have left, and she cannot hear the World Songs of nature. Although John is a shaman, he wastes his time drinking Coca-Cola, watching TV, and reading magazines with centerfolds. No Problem and her friends scrape hides to earn money for videos. To coax Soonchild forth, retrieve the songs, and save the world, John concocts a Big-Dream Brew. In his dream travels, he encounters various animals and spirits that help or hinder his quest. After overcoming fear, dying several times, and spending thousands of years in the spirit world, he retrieves the songs and returns. Soonchild emerges as Here and Now. When she grows up, she forms a band and writes songs that incorporate phrases from John's journey, turning a monumental quest into lyrics that generate celebrity and wealth. Hoban's intent is unclear. Is he paying homage to tales of Native peoples by incorporating characters such as Raven or making fun of them by giving people names such as Where Is It?, Take It Easy, and Way to Go? John's shaman Granny plays poker with her spirit friends and demands vodka and cigars before helping him. Deacon's charcoal-and-pencil drawings, particularly of animals such as the ice bear, walrus, and killer whale, are impressive. Some of the illustrated sequences advance the narrative more effectively than Hoban's words. The book may appeal to adults who enjoy Hoban's novels and will give literary scholars fodder for comparative studies with his other works. Consider as needed for academic libraries.—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University, Mankato
Kirkus Reviews
Beloved for such classics as Bedtime for Frances and The Mouse and His Child, the late master leaves a mystical tale about life, death and expiation of mistakes wrapped up as a romanticized Inuit fable. A pre-story note sets the geography as "The North in my mind." It provides references for fauna, snowmobiles and cold weather, but not for Inuit people; if Hoban researched Inuit culture beyond "my mind," he doesn't say. The story addresses distinctly non-Inuit readers: "Maybe…there isn't any north where you are. Maybe it's warm….There aren't any Inuit or dogsleds, nothing like that." In that Otherized "North" lives Sixteen-Face John, a shaman. As John indulges in "drinking Coca-Cola…watching TV…and reading magazines with centerfolds" and hunting "with a skidoo instead of a dogsled," the text indulges in a problematic stereotype: native culture choked by excessive modernism and individual decadence. Soonchild, the unborn baby of John and his wife, No Problem, refuses to be born until she hears the World Songs, which contain "the memory of ancient rains that filled the oceans." John mixes a Big-Dream Brew and goes on a dream-quest. He meets animals and spirits including Old Man Raven; he changes form and confronts demons; he retrieves the Songs. Deacon's soft, primitive pencil and charcoal reinforce the drama. Hoban sneaks poetry into prose: "They taught him dreams and trances, magic songs and dances." A lyrically beautiful existential fable, unfortunately based on paternalistic and romanticized notions about Native peoples. (author's note) (Fantasy. 10 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763659202
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 8/14/2012
  • Pages: 144
  • Age range: 14 years
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Russell Hoban (1925–2011) once described himself as "an addict to writing" and wrote more than fifty books for children, including such classics as Bedtime for Frances, How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen, and The Sea-Thing Child. He was also the author of many acclaimed novels for adults, including Turtle Diary and Riddley Walker.

Alexis Deacon created the acclaimed picture books Slow Loris, Beegu, and While You Are Sleeping and has twice been short-listed for the Kate Greenaway Medal. He lives in London.

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