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the avion my uncle flew

21 may 2013

This will be a brief note on Cyrus Fisher's 1947 Newbery Honor Book The Avion My Uncle Flew, not a full-scale review. I'm trying to make notes on Newbery winners across the decades, and some just don't seem all that readable anymore, but I hate to ignore them altogether.

The Avion My Uncle Flew is an ambitious children's novel. It has a disabled protagonist, a postwar setting in troubled Europe, and a language-learning agenda. It's also a boys-in-airplanes novel, as you might guess from the title. It's safe to say there aren't a whole lot of books like it.

The language of the novel, like its title, is deliberately macaronic. As soon as narrator Johnny Littlehorn gets to France, he starts to pepper his English with French words that he hears, till we get to the point where a fair amount of every sentence is in English syntax but French vocabulary. At the end, there's a little story entirely in simple French that the alert reader can probably understand just from having followed the transformation of Johnny's language.

Meanwhile there's some sort of spy story, and the aforementioned airplanes. All of this would be fine, except that the novel is garrulous as all get-out. The author (whose real name was Darwin Teilhet) is channeling Huck Finn, but in broken French, and he writes as if words were a free resource; the book bogs down in a "told-not-shown" steady drizzle of verbiage.

And having just slated a book for using too many words, I should stop using more here.

Fisher, Cyrus [pseudonym for Darwin Teilhet]. The Avion My Uncle Flew. Illustrated by Richard Floethe. 1946. New York: Scholastic, 1993.