Friday, November 10, 2017

Onion John

Well, I was reminded of the song, "Catfish John," when I read Joseph Krumgold's Newbery Medal-winning Onion John:

Mama said: 'Don't go near that river
'Don't be hanging around old Catfish John'
Come the morning, I'd always be there
Walking in his footsteps in the sweet Delta dawn.
Catfish John was a river hobo who lived and died by the river bed
Thinking back, I still remember I was proud to be his friend. (Alison Krauss does it well, but I really like Jerry Garcia's version.)

"Onion John" is what the locals call the strange, sort of derelict man who hardly talks. "The way John spoke was his own secret. Most of the words he used were full of x's and z's and noises like ptchky and grvtch. It was a high speed language full of jokes, from the way he carried on. Every so often, talking away, he'd get too much for himself and bust out. There was no way of telling whether the jokes were that good or not. The only part of his conversation I ever understood was the end of it. He said, "Well, good day," each word separate and clear and then you knew he was finished with whatever he was telling you."

The story is narrated by Andy, a young teen. His folks don't forbid him to befriend Onion John, but they think Andy should focus on his studies, go to M.I.T., become an engineer, and/or be an astronaut.

I don't want to give away the plot, but will say this: The author won the Newbery Medal twice, which doesn't happen a lot. This one was good enough that I look forward to reading more Joseph Krumgold stories.

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