1971

The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian

By Lloyd Alexander

Original Publisher: Dutton
Current Publisher: Out of Print
Digital Publisher: Not Available

Reading Level: Not Available

William Alexander writes:

My copy of The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian wears an oval-shaped version of the National Book Award medallion. It also has a checkout slip pocket from years of service in the Houston Public Library. And it has the word DISCARD stamped all over it, a harsh brand burned into paper skin. We could read these stamps as memento mori, somber reminders that literary fame is fleeting, but Sebastian's story insists on a more lighthearted interpretation.

Marvelous Misadventures is silly, whimsical, fun, and includes a few of my favorite things: a traveling theater troupe, a musical instrument that may or may not be cursed, and music with a will of its own. Sebastian the hapless musician seeks his fortune and stumbles through hilarious mishaps before finding the love of a good princess. He takes nothing seriously, least of all his own craft and profession as a fiddler. But his gift is larger than himself. His music requires more of him. The National Book Award Judges singled out that part of the story in their citation:

Employing all the traditional elements of romantic fantasy to high comic effect, this entertainment nevertheless recognizes a universally important aspect of life—a personal responsibility for a disciplined development of one's own gifts. A sense of fun and a sense of hope are always special strengths, and both are superbly shared here with generations of readers who are going to continue to need them.

Now the book is out of print and roughly discarded by the Houston Public Library, but this state of affairs doesn't bother it much. Marvelous Misadventures still cheerfully wanders the world, seeking its fortune and glad for whatever company it happens to find. Go find it. Share its friendly jokes and beautiful music. Then give it away. Extant copies need to travel rather than lead shelved and sedentary lives. Scribble a note in the back pages, something to balance out all of those severe DISCARD stamps, and then give it to another willing listener. Sebastian still has traveling to do.

William Alexander won the National Book Award for his debut novel, Goblin Secrets, and the Earphones Award for his narration of the audiobook. He isn't related to Lloyd Alexander, but he is happy that their novels sit next to each other on bookshelves.

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Children’s Books Finalists That Year:

  • Vera and Bill Cleaver for Grover
  • Paula Fox for Blowfish Live in the Sea
  • Arnold Lobel for Frog and Toad Are Friends
  • E.B. White for The Trumpet of the Swan

Children’s Books Winner That Year: Lloyd Alexander for The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian

Judges That Year: B.J. Chute, Helen Jones, Lillian Gerhardt

The Year in Literature: The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars won the Newbery Medal.

More Information: Alexander also won the National Book Award for Children’s Books in 1982 for Westmark, the third book in the Westmark Trilogy. He was a Finalist in 1969 and 1981 for the hardcover and paperback editions of The High King, in 1979 for The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha, in 1982 for The Wizard in the Tree, and in 1983 for the second book of the Westmark Trilogy, The Kestrel.

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