I want to keep this brief so as to not spoil your perception of how awesome this book is. So a recap and then my explanation for why I give it five stars. The Newbery winner in 1965, Shadow of a Bull is the story of Manolo Olivar, approaching his twelfth birthday when he will be expected to fight his first bull, the same age his deceased father fought his first bull. The whole town expects Manolo to become the legend his father was. All of their hopes lie in him, and they are certain that he will be as good if not better than his father. Manolo, however, is torn between his desire to please the people, to maintain his honor and not accrue shame for his cowardice, and his fear of fighting bulls and, likewise, his repulsion at the idea of killing a bull. The tension builds throughout the story, as Manolo approaches the date of his first fight and wrestles with his fears and doubts.
I love this story because I can identify with Manolo on so many levels. I am sure most males could identify with him, although they might not want to admit it. We all feel that pull to “be a man,” yet some of the things required to “be a man,” especially in the south, are not things that appeal to my nature. I grew up, feeling at times inadequate to other male relatives, and I still feel very insecure when I go to 15-minute oil change, as if the greasy men can smell the lack of car knowledge on me. Yet, I, like Manolo, also went through a stage in my life where I embraced who I was: a boy, still very much a boy, yet one who didn’t possess the lust for violence and the need to assert my male dominance. Manolo and I are kindred spirits in that we share that seeminly magic memory when we experienced the relief of realizing there’s no law against being an unconventional male. For that reason, I love this story. It is beautifully told, the main character is very real, and the themes, though I only touched on one, are many and worthy of embracing.
5 out of 5 Newbery pies! That’s the most you can give! Jake’s going all out!
I agree with everything Jake said. When he told me he wanted to read this one, I cringed. I didn’t know anything about this book, but I have experienced a lot of pain when reading Newbery books about horses and cows (Thanks Smokey The Cow Horse) He texted me, though, before I started it and told me that I was going to love it. He was right. This book is really, really good. I usually spend a good amount of time during these reviews going back and forth on why or why not the title we’re discussing is or isn’t Newbery worthy. I’m not going to do that this time. There’s no question that Shadow of a Bull is distinguished and award-worthy. I love how compact the story is. It’s a novel about growing up, becoming a man, facing fears and finding identity all packed into 150 pages. There’s plenty in there about fighting bulls too. I feel like I could do it now. I still don’t feel like the fighting is really fair, though. I mean, the bull gets killed way more often than the bullfighter, and the odds are kind of stacked against him. Several characters in the book say that the bull really wants to die this way, but I call bull crap. (no pun intended.) That bull really would probably rather be left alone to eat and mate and just be a bull. But anyways this book isn’t about the ethics of bull fighting. The narrator doesn’t take a stance.The ending even surprised me a little. I thought Monolo was just going to run away and become a doctor, comfortable being who he was, but no, he actually got in the ring and confronted his fears, and then, after conquering them, left and became a doctor. Beautiful ending. Sorry if I spoiled it for anyone.
Anyways, I’m giving this book 4 Newbery pies. I could, in good conscience, give it five. I loved it, and there weren’t any big flaws that I could see, but I like to save the five stars for books like the one we’re reading next, The One and Only Ivan! Jake has never read it before, and I absolutely love it. I’ve read it several times to myself, and out loud to students, but I’m more than happy to read it again.
Sara’s Review: Manolo is expected to live up to the legacy of his father, the greatest bullfighter his town has ever seen. However, Manolo is terrified at the thought of fighting a bull. I was very sad to learn that a) Manolo’s father died in his early 20’s and b) he left his family with no money despite his grand success as a bullfighter; his supporters and friends give Manolo’s mother money to support the family. This support is one of the reasons that Manolo feels that he has go forward with the training as a bullfighter. As Manolo’s first fight draws near, he turns to his friend Juan for help. Juan dreams of fighting bulls, but his only chance of doing so is in the pasture in the middle of the night, a forbidden and dangerous practice. In exchange for an invitation to his first bullfight, Juan promises to take Manolo along on one of these excursions so that he can see if he has what it takes to face a bull before he shames himself at his debut. When Manolo gets to the fight, he decides to give bullfighting his best effort. However, when it is clear that he can handle the bull with the cape, but not the muleta (the small cloth), he allows Juan to take his place, fight the bull and receive the glory.
I never expected to be so enthralled by a story about bullfighting. I loved that Manolo doesn’t completely quit without trying, but knows to stop before he gets himself killed. I also think he is an amazing friend to Juan. In this novel, bullfighting is definitely a “depends on who you know” sport, and it really shows Manolo’s strength of character that he uses his failure as a chance for Juan to be successful.
When reading and reviewing an older Newbery book, it is always interesting to think about what else was published that year. Other books published in 1964 include Across Five Aprils, which won a Newbery Honor, Harriet the Spy and The Book of Three (the first in the Chronicles of Prydain series whose final book, The High King, won the Newbery Medal). Sometimes, we wonder what the committee was thinking when they chose the book that they did. And while I do love Harriet the Spy, I think Shadow of a Bull was the right choice for 1965 and I give it 4.5 out of 5 Newbery Pies.
Newbery Extras: Mr. Colby Sharp and John Schu recently finished up their own Newbery challenge, and I always end my reading of every book by watching their videos to each other about the title we’re reading. Colby’s video for Shadow of a Bull is too hilarious not to share. He is dead set on getting a cow in his video, but he is slightly afraid of being shot by a farmer, so like young Monolo, Colby must face his fears and prove to himself that he is indeed a man. His two minute epic quest to film a cow is too good to miss. Watch it here.
I was really impressed with Travis Jonker’s new cover for Shadow of a Bull.