After his family is killed by a mysterious assassin, a toddler wanders into a graveyard, where he is adopted by a ghost couple named Owens, and formalAfter his family is killed by a mysterious assassin, a toddler wanders into a graveyard, where he is adopted by a ghost couple named Owens, and formally given the Right of the Graveyard by all, which means he can fade from view, walk through walls, and so on. Under the tutelage of the mysterious “neither living nor dead” Silas, the young Nobody Owens, as he is called, sees the underworld of goblins, werewolves, and macabre dances, as well as the more prosaic world of school bullies and money-grubbing adults. Eventually, however, he grows old enough to seek vengeance upon the man Jack who killed his family, and no one, not even Silas, can dissuade him.
This 2009 Newbery winner is an amazingly inventive riff on Kipling’s The Jungle Books, not only in its overarching theme of the orphan brought up among powerful non-humans but including the scenes of the buried treasure that brings death, the mindless hooting greedy apes (here cast as goblins) who have pretenses to greatness, and so on. But you don't need to have read and enjoyed the Kipling to be amazed and delighted by this dark, thrilling tale. With black humor, real suspense, a righteous hero the reader can't help but cheer for, all told as if through the innocent eyes of a child (only a child is innocent enough to both believe in and to not be afraid of ghosts, after all), this is both a brilliant homage and a wonderful adventure book....more
The 1987 Newbery Winner, this fanciful tale is set in a quasi-medieval kingdom, and tells of the arrogant Prince Brat (as everyone calls him; his realThe 1987 Newbery Winner, this fanciful tale is set in a quasi-medieval kingdom, and tells of the arrogant Prince Brat (as everyone calls him; his real name is Horace) and the titular Whipping Boy who has been impressed into service as the stand-in for all the punishments the Prince would get for his behavior, were he not of royal blood. When the clever whipping boy, Jemmy, decides to run away, the sullen, lonely prince insists on accompanying him. They are immediately captured and held for ransom by two doltish outlaws, then manage to escape, but remain only a few steps ahead of the pair.
This is a fun, lightweight adventure, full of memorable period characters such as the illiterate outlaw Hold-Your-Nose Billy (so named for his garlicky breath), Captain Nips the hot-potato seller, and Betsy who displays a trained bear for cash. It’s a good mixture of silliness and suspense in tone. Fleischman skillfully shows not only a gradual change in the prince, as he is shamed by being mistaken for the whipping boy, since he is lazy and illiterate himself, then saddened to learn what people think of him; but he also manipulates the readers’ expectations by showing that the prince’s life, in its own way, has been oppressive and unfair to him. When Jemmy learns that he is wanted for “abducting” the prince, he hopes that he and Horace have actually become friends during their adventure. A very enjoyably, witty tale....more
This 1991 Newbery winner tells of Jeffrey Magee, an orphan boy who runs from his unloving aunt and uncle’s house and keeps on running. Possessed of aThis 1991 Newbery winner tells of Jeffrey Magee, an orphan boy who runs from his unloving aunt and uncle’s house and keeps on running. Possessed of a preternatural athletic talent, he passes, throws and catches his way across the playgrounds and fields of working-class and racially divided town Two Mills, dubbed “Maniac” for his skill. Eschewing school but loving books, he sleeps in a band shell, someone’s shed, even a zoo, when he isn’t being adopted by any family that will take him in. Magee is unusual in not just his athleticism, fearlessness and nomadic life, but also in his ignorance of race relations and his near-inability to see why anyone should care about skin color. So he trots from the east end of the town to the west, making friends equally, but also making enemies because of his blithe acceptance of everyone, and their acceptance of him.
Despite such heady themes, this is a fun, rollicking story, equal parts modern legend (told as if looking back long after the facts have become lost, in the language of legend, starting with “They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump…”) and morality tale. Over a series of vignettes, Spinelli shows how Maniac becomes known, then respected, until finally… Well, the climax is a bit of an anti-climax, in that Magee inspires change rather than trailblazing it himself, but perhaps that’s a point in its favor. Maniac is a hero, certainly, but he’s a product of his fears and the losses in his life as well as his persistence and friendliness; his speed and physical skill may be fictional, but his character is real....more
The 1940 Newbery winner, this biography of the Kentucky frontiersman is a mixture of fact and probable legend. It tells of Boone’s life in bits and piThe 1940 Newbery winner, this biography of the Kentucky frontiersman is a mixture of fact and probable legend. It tells of Boone’s life in bits and pieces, from his birth in Pennsylvania to his trapping and trading and Indian-fighting in the wilderness of Kentucky. The picture Daugherty paints is of a bluff, honest, uncompromising but friendly figure. The Boone this book gives us is a family man, patriot, and resourceful hunter, and little else. He fights against the British and the Indians, is captured by Chief Blackfish and is adopted into the Shawnee tribe, but escapes and returns to his countrymen, of course. He founds a frontier town in Kentucky, Boonesborough, and works as a pathfinder in the wilderness. A simple man who can read and write, but not nearly as well as he can shoot and hunt and track, Boone tries his hand at farming, public office, soldiering, even land speculation (though he is far too kindhearted and naïve to make money at it, and loses all the land he fought so hard to claim). Poor for much of his life, hunting skins to make a living, stoic about the death of his son Israel, he is portrayed here as the consummate early American: tough, proud, self-sufficient, uncomplaining.
Daugherty has a way with words and there are some quite lyrical passages. It also can be bombastic, reveling in what Daughtery considers natural glory but what the modern reader might consider land-grabbing colonialism. At times the book tries so hard to be home-spun and aw-shucks and evocative of frontier spirit (“they waddled west as soon as they could stagger… they wrassled the wild cats and they romped with wolves”) that it comes of as totally charmless. But it also has some charm, as when, for example, Daughtery quotes Boone as saying he was never lost, “but I was right bewildered once for three days.” ...more
The winner of the 1934 Newbery, this non-fiction work tells of Louisa’s family, her deep bond with her loved ones, her struggles in poverty and as a nThe winner of the 1934 Newbery, this non-fiction work tells of Louisa’s family, her deep bond with her loved ones, her struggles in poverty and as a nurse and with typhoid, and finally her writing success. It’s an informative book, written in the rather overly convoluted style of the time, but certainly understandable to anyone who enjoys Alcott’s own works. I had no idea that her father, Bronson, was celebrated in his time for his prescient and bizarre ideas on children’s education and communal living. The family knew Emerson well, and he helped fund some of Bronson’s short-lived initiatives. The section on Louisa’s experiences as a war nurse are also illuminating: they show a dedicated, strong woman, easily identifiable as Jo March.
I can’t quite see why this would be picked as the very best in juvenile literature for the year – it’s a good story, nicely told, but nothing amazing. Still, it’s nice to think that at one point in the pre-TV past, American adolescents and young adults read not only good novels, but liked them so much they sought out books about authors. ...more
This 1933 Newbery winner tells of the coming of age of the titular Fu, a fourteen-year-old boy from the countryside who in the 1920s arrives in the vaThis 1933 Newbery winner tells of the coming of age of the titular Fu, a fourteen-year-old boy from the countryside who in the 1920s arrives in the vast city of Chungking (modern Chongqing) with his widowed mother. Apprenticed to Tang, a consummate coppersmith, Fu learns to temper his naïve curiosity, swallow his fears, face the bizarre novelty of foreign devils and gasoline-powered cars, and master his pride. Episode by episode, Fu grows wiser from his mistakes, and is a very likeable, sympathetic hero who risks his life for others on two occasions.
This is an exciting and engaging young adult novel. Like many books of this era, it reflects an era of more exacting learning in schools. Some of the vocabulary is rather abstruse – badinage, enmity, stinting, auspicious, for random examples – and the writing is sometimes tortuous (“Not one man in all China but would make the journey..”). But it’s rewarding, and a book-loving kid could easily get plunged into this almost alien world that was once very real. The most interesting thing about the book, indeed, is seeing the differences and similarities between Fu’s world and thought and those of us today. There are eternal truths about humans, and Fu shows bravery and kindness and pride and stupidity, all of which readers can relate to. But then there’s the traditional Chinese way of life, with its reverence for age and unquestioning obedience of mothers, fear of evil and mischievous spirits, fatalistic resignation to oppression, foot-binding, coolies, poverty, opium, sedan chairs, draconian punishments, and so on. At a few decades past the turn of the century, many Chinese still lived the way their ancestors did thousands of years previously, and knew just as little about the outside world. Fu, for example, cannot imagine the ocean across which the foreigners live, assuming it must be smaller than the mighty Yangtze. (Actually, judging from some of the travel literature about China I’ve read, such as the superb Iron and Silk, some Chinese in the countryside even ten years ago knew very little about geography, space, and other fields irrelevant to their lives.) Lewis’ wonderfully written book (her first!) is a terrific window for young adults into history and the study of other cultures....more
The 1931 Newbery winner, this slim tale is set “far away in Japan.” A poor artist’s housekeeper brings in a small spotted cat, who is named Good FortuThe 1931 Newbery winner, this slim tale is set “far away in Japan.” A poor artist’s housekeeper brings in a small spotted cat, who is named Good Fortune. Shortly afterwards, he is commissioned by a temple to paint Buddha’s death scene. The artist meditates on the various sacrifices that various animals – the snail, the horse, the deer, the ox, the monkey, the dog – all made for the Buddha, or made when they were the Buddha in a different lifetime, and then he paints them coming to pay respects. Then, even though the cat, an independent, ill-favored animal, did not receive the Buddha’s blessing on his death, the artist puts the cat in the picture as well. This is not looked upon favorably by the local priest.
It’s a sweet tale, full of gently subtle teachings on restraint, sacrifice, and love for all beings. Many of the animals sacrifice themselves for the benefit of Buddha or their masters; the deer, for example, convinces a king to become vegetarian by offering himself for sacrifice at a feast. I would guess that most American kids these days would find this a charming story, perhaps a bit over their heads but planting seeds of great ideas for the future. It’s not as lightweight as its brevity implies, and has a certain timeless, fairy tale quality to it. ...more
Winner of the 1970 Newbery. Set probably some time in the ‘30s, this book centers on an unnamed black boy who must grow up fast after his poor, sharecWinner of the 1970 Newbery. Set probably some time in the ‘30s, this book centers on an unnamed black boy who must grow up fast after his poor, sharecropper father is arrested for stealing a ham for his hungry family. The titular dog, a hound/bulldog mix who loves to hunt with the father, is hit with a shotgun during the arrest, and never hunts again. It’s a bleak tale; the boy’s silent rage, in which he visualizes brutal violence befalling the unjust, cruel white men who oppress him and his father, is mitigated only by a persistent desire to educate himself, which blooms when he meets a kindly widowed teacher.
This gift of literacy, which literally opens up new worlds to the boy (there is a distinct albeit unsaid implication that he will eventually move beyond the narrow world of shacks in which he grew up), in some small way helps the boy from being crushed by the destruction of the spirits and bodies of both father and dog. In the end, after the miserable dog finally dies under the house, the boy is glad: “Only the unwise think that what has changed is dead,” he consoles himself. Is this really a book for children? I suppose so, despite the bleakness and injustice that saturates the story. I read this book as a child, and though much of his poetic prose and historical import must have gone over my head, I remember being very moved by the cruelties the boy and dog endured. However, this is definitely also a story that adults not only can by edified by, they ought to.
The 1929 Newbery winner, this novel is set in Poland, 1461. Joseph Charnetski, a fifteen-year-old, travels with his family to Krakow after their homeThe 1929 Newbery winner, this novel is set in Poland, 1461. Joseph Charnetski, a fifteen-year-old, travels with his family to Krakow after their home and fields in the Ukraine were destroyed. The family befriends a wise scholar and goes to live in the house of an alchemist and his daughter. Joseph becomes a watchman in the Church of Our Lady Mary. In the tower there, he plays on the hour the Heynal, a theme that is traditionally broken off in mid-note out of respect for a brave Polish lad who was killed by an arrow while playing it as Tartars advanced. The family is shadowed and accosted several times by a mysterious rogue, who turns out to be a dreaded Ukranian warlord who originally drove them from their home and is out to steal a priceless treasure which, to Joseph’s surprise, his father is guarding for the king.
This is a fine historical adventure, written in a clear but highly literate style, full of drama and suspense. Krakow is also made central to the story, as Kelly lovingly details its various buildings and streets. Nor is this a story that could be transplanted to another time, as lesser historical tales can be; alchemy plays a great role in this book, as part of the drama stems from Kreutz, the alchemist, and his attempts to find the secret of transmuting base metals to gold. It’s fun to read, and the brisk pacing and suspense keep the pages turning – a perfect children’s adventure story....more
Winner of the 1996 Newbery, this slim book tells the story of a orphaned street urchin, who for lack of a known name is Brat or Dung Beetle, who livesWinner of the 1996 Newbery, this slim book tells the story of a orphaned street urchin, who for lack of a known name is Brat or Dung Beetle, who lives in England during the time of Edward I, Longshanks, the Hammer of the Scots. But this tale has nothing whatever to do with the king, or anyone near him. Indeed, most people in the girl’s village don’t know the king’s name; they just do their daily work, baking, milling, or midwifery, in the place they were born and will likely die. The girl slowly forges her own identity, decides on the name Alyce, and learns not only that she has much to learn, she can recover from failure by trying again.
Cushman writes very compellingly, and as far as I can tell realistically of the medieval period, using almost-forgotten terms for spices and potions, or even apple varieties. The holy days and high days, the expressions and superstitions of the people – these are all rendered with attention to detail, with no glaring anachronisms in speech or in attitudes. The difference between this book, which seems so real and has such a sympathetic character in poor ignorant but brave Alyce, and the misplaced modernism of the dull The Witch Of Blackbird Pond, is great. It’s a worthy award winner and has a plucky, admirable female hero, which is always a good thing. And Cushman avoids any heavy-handed lessons or closure to the story – nothing comes easy to Alyce, and she still has a long way to go at tale’s end, but she’s worked her way to the right path, and that’s inspiring....more
In this Newbery winner, an Indian boy raises carrier pigeons in the early 1900s. Gay-Neck, named for his colorful neck plumage, is the finest, able toIn this Newbery winner, an Indian boy raises carrier pigeons in the early 1900s. Gay-Neck, named for his colorful neck plumage, is the finest, able to outfly eagles and hawks. When WWI breaks out, Gay-Neck is used as a messenger pigeon under the boy’s friend, Ghond the hunter. The bird must dodge the screaming mechanical eagles (planes) and barking dogs (machine guns) that try to destroy him. Both are wounded, and both develop a form of traumatic disorder. They travel to the lamaseries in the Himalayas to meditate and overcome their fear. The story is told mostly from the boy’s point of view, but occasionally Gay-Neck narrates when the bird is alone, and Ghond is also given his view, during the most harrowing battle.
It is a story of a pigeon, in a strict sense, but the plot is really only the steed that the message rides, so to speak. Mukerji’s main concern is promoting Buddhist concerns of peace, courage, and wisdom. Prayers and meditations on overcoming fear are not only included, they’re the main lesson of the story – “No beast of prey can kill his victim without frightening him first,” and “each being that lives is a reservoir of infinite courage.” Rarely does a children’s book manage to tread such deep waters without looking ridiculous, but Mukerji manages to imbue his little tale with an enormous amount of inspiration and wisdom....more
The fifth book in the Chronicles of Prydain, this one finally won the Newbery. When Arawn the Death-Lord steals the magic sword Dyrnwyn, all the compaThe fifth book in the Chronicles of Prydain, this one finally won the Newbery. When Arawn the Death-Lord steals the magic sword Dyrnwyn, all the companions move to get it back before he can use it to rule all Pyrdain. Taran rallies the men of the Commots whom he won over during his travels in the previous book, becoming an unlikely war-leader under the banner of the White Pig. Braving harsh winter, the monstrous gwythaints, the Cauldron-Born undead, and the mystically bonded Huntsmen, the companions must make one hard decision after another.
Since this is in essence a tale of growing up, that’s what this book ultimately comes down to: hard choices, and the wisdom to ask for help when it’s needed. That’s not to say there isn’t great drama in the fight scenes, or clever humor in the dialogue, or deep pathos in the struggle (well-liked, heroic characters die; the bard Fflewddur makes a tremendous sacrifice). Indeed, I had either forgotten or never noticed just how sad the ending of this book is: in becoming king, Taran sacrifices nearly everything he’s ever loved in order to serve others. I enjoyed all these books as a child for their adventure and magic and I enjoyed them once more this time, perhaps with a much better appreciation for the maturity and wisdom that Taran cherishes above heroism after all. And that ability to entertain and inform adults as well as children is really the hallmark of the best children’s literature.
This 1927 Newbery Winner follows the life of a range horse, from his birth to being put out to pasture for retirement. James makes the horse the centeThis 1927 Newbery Winner follows the life of a range horse, from his birth to being put out to pasture for retirement. James makes the horse the center of the story, and tells it as realistically as possible while making Smoky an exceptional beast. (He never voices an opinion, let alone talks; James tries to express silent instinct or antipathy without anthropomorphizing the animal.) Smoky isn’t actually his name, except inasmuch as a bronco buster named Clint calls him that for a while. Most of his life he’s free on the range, learning to stay with the herd, avoid and kill rattlesnakes, fight wolves, and so on. Annually he is corralled and made to do range work, herding steer, which he grows to enjoy. He later goes by the Cougar as a famous cowboy-killing bucker, and then Cloudy as an indifferent riding horse for dude equestrians. Things look bleakest for him when, older and enfeebled by a lifetime of action, he’s sold as a workhorse, regularly beaten and mistreated. Of course there’s a happy ending, but James lets it unfold with patience; nothing is neatly packaged or trite, and Smoky is far from a pet, or even tame, even at the end.
It’s a superior animal story, made a bit difficult by two factors. One, James writes in a sub-literate dialect (“them horses was running,” “If Smoky could only knowed, there’d been a lot of suffering which he wouldn’t had to’ve went thru”), which may have been intentional or not, but either way it’s not charming or conducive to good reading practice. Words such as “gait” are even misspelled, which indicates that the dialect may have been the best James could do. Second, and far worse, there’s a deep racism in the book. The two villains are Mexican; one is referred to with contempt as a “breed” (half-Mexican, half “other blood that’s darker”) with no morals. The other is a similarly immoral, cruel man who is beaten in front of a laughing sheriff who stops the fight only because it would make work for him, “same as if he were a white man.” Unfortunate, because James is a decent storyteller, and though I don’t care for animal tales as a rule, this one drew me in. It’s a product of its time, certainly....more
The 1948 Newbery Winner, this lighthearted adventure tale blends fact and fiction to craft a humorous and fanciful tale that informs and entertains. TThe 1948 Newbery Winner, this lighthearted adventure tale blends fact and fiction to craft a humorous and fanciful tale that informs and entertains. The protagonist, William Waterman Sherman, leaves San Francisco to fly across the Pacific in a single balloon (inspired by real-life airship pioneers such as Henri Giffard and Felix Nadar). He is found later adrift in the Atlantic, near death, clinging to the wreckage of not one but twenty balloons. After an amusing, suspense-building delay in recounting the story of his travels, Sherman finally tells it all: of an unlimited supply of boulder-size mines, a secret colony of billionaires on Krakatoa, a calendar based on the world’s cuisines, inventive architecture, and the real-life explosion that destroyed the island in 1883.
This is close to the ideal children’s book: fantastic enough to inspiring and beg emulation (who hasn’t dreamed of unlimited wealth and fantastic contraptions?), but grounded enough in reality to reward any further curiosity about some of the subjects or events, and with a crafty everyman hero who revels in all manner of adventure. Indeed, a sequel would not have been amiss....more
A collection of stories from South America, this book won the 1925 Newbery. There are explanatory stories (“A Tale of Three Tails,” which explains howA collection of stories from South America, this book won the 1925 Newbery. There are explanatory stories (“A Tale of Three Tails,” which explains how the rat and deer and rabbit got their tails), fairy tales of recognizable structure and climax (“The Hungry Old Witch,” “The Wonderful Mirror”), trickster tales (“El Enano,” about a fox who tricks the titular greedy monster into leaving a village) and hero tales (“The Hero Twins” and “The Four Hundred,” which tell of how some heroic lads killed three giants).
While the stories are pleasant enough and Finger’s authorial voice is kindly and inviting, I didn’t think there was anything remarkable in their characters, plot, or the execution of the telling. I’d rather read Kipling or Grimm, who did the same things better. Of all the stories, only the last – “The Cat and Dream Man” – stands out, remarkable for its surreal nature (a destructive, monstrous cat dreams of a fox-faced man who grants wishes in a cruel manner) and the unusual use of a particular magic item (an axe which splits what it hits into two replicas of the original). For the most part, though, this is pretty ordinary stuff; perhaps in 1926 the then-atypical provenance of the stories made them stand out....more
The 1926 Newbery winner, this is a collection of humorous folk tales from China, written in a light, mostly tongue-in-cheek style that mimics the inflThe 1926 Newbery winner, this is a collection of humorous folk tales from China, written in a light, mostly tongue-in-cheek style that mimics the inflections and honorifics of Chinese. The title story describes a monarch who tricks and captures the shen, or demons, of the sea, who wish to flood his domain. Other entries are reminiscent of the Just-So stories: how chopsticks came to be (the king was always being attacked by his queen with the silverware) or how we came to call fine porcelain China (it was a collection of mud pies fired hard by dragon breath), or how tea came to be (a witch enchanted Chah’s herbs so he wouldn’t be so sleepy, after a black dragon, or oo long, chased her into Chah’s house). A couple are love stories, and a few are like the European folk tales of silly people who do things literally. It’s fun reading, but there’s nothing spectacular about the prose, nor particularly memorable about the tales, so I do hope this wasn’t actually the finest children’s book of its year....more
Garnet Linden, a nine-year-old girl who lives on a farm in Wisconsin with her two brothers. After finding a silver thimble, a drought ends, and she beGarnet Linden, a nine-year-old girl who lives on a farm in Wisconsin with her two brothers. After finding a silver thimble, a drought ends, and she begins to have delightful adventures: being accidentally locked in the town library; hitchhiking to the nearest city, New Conniston; entering her prized pig into a regional fair.
This 125-page book, with charming line illustrations by the author, won the 1939 Newbery. It’s told in clear, bright-eyed prose, with the wonder of a farm girl seeing extravagant exotic things like Ferris wheels, or the joy of finding “magic” treasure,” or the simple childlike fun of running in the rain. There’s little drama and less despair in this book, just the ups and downs of a bright child who loves her home town and her family. There are unfortunately several quasi-disparaging remarks about “fat” people in the book, which mars an otherwise kid-friendly tone....more
Kit, a young wealthy girl from Barbados, is forced to leave her home and seek shelter at her aunt and uncle’s house, Puritans with two girls of marryiKit, a young wealthy girl from Barbados, is forced to leave her home and seek shelter at her aunt and uncle’s house, Puritans with two girls of marrying age who live in Connecticut. Kit meets three men: Nat, a sailor; John, a preacher; and William, a nobleman, all of whom she is linked with either by real affection or rumor. Her friendship with an old Quaker outcast, Hannah, and her ability to read and swim brand her as a witch later in the book, and Nat comes to her rescue.
This is another Newbery winner that I don’t see as all that worthy of the award. It’s a decent story, and a nice introduction to 17th century America, but not a masterpiece. It’s basically a romance, with the drama of the witch hunt taking up a few scanty pages near the end; the resolution is never in doubt. And I was severely distracted with what appears to be wrong old-style speech in Hannah: the use of “thee” as in the nominative instead of “thou.”...more
The sequel to Homecoming, in which the Tillerman family continues to settle into life with their acerbic but loving grandmother. Dicey gets an after-sThe sequel to Homecoming, in which the Tillerman family continues to settle into life with their acerbic but loving grandmother. Dicey gets an after-school job, meets a girl and a boy who might become her friend, sands her boat, and tries not to worry about her siblings’ ups and downs at the new school.
This book won the Newbery, though I didn’t find it nearly as arresting and powerful as the first one. The ending scenes, when Gran and Dicey return with the ashes of Dicey’s mother, are very moving, however. I liked the realistic touches when describing the classroom; I can tell Voigt was a teacher. And I must admit I would not mind reading on to find out what happens further to this family....more
This Newbery winner is an episodic novel of the Navajo people. A boy called Younger Brother, party inspired by his Uncle, a shaman, leaves his familyThis Newbery winner is an episodic novel of the Navajo people. A boy called Younger Brother, party inspired by his Uncle, a shaman, leaves his family and goes west, following the Turquoise Woman who went west to marry the sun. Along the way, he rescues a white boy, routs some horse thieves, and flies in a plane with “Grandfather,” the white trader who knows and loves the Navajo.
It’s all told in a very muted style, almost entirely from the Navajo point of view, with poetic phrases like “my heart is making a new song,” so that ceremonies and scenes of nature do seem mystical and full of moment. It’s an interesting book, but I didn’t find it compelling, probably because of its episodic plot: there’s no great struggle or resolution....more
A sixth-grader named Claudia and her clever little brother Jamie run away from home out of boredom, just for some adventure. They stay in the MetropolA sixth-grader named Claudia and her clever little brother Jamie run away from home out of boredom, just for some adventure. They stay in the Metropolitan Museum and decide to try to solve an art mystery: whether Michelangelo sculpted the statue called Angel on exhibit there.
This book won the Newbery, but it is easily the most juvenile of the winners I’ve read this year. This book has very simplistic episodes and lacks a level that adults can enjoy as well – it’s written directly at children and no higher. Beyond that, I just didn’t enjoy it – the children do nothing exceptionally clever, and Mrs. Frankweiler is a rather unpleasant old lady, to boot.
Jess Aarons, a lonely middle child in the fifth grade at a rural school outside of Washington, meets Leslie, a new girl whose parents are educated andJess Aarons, a lonely middle child in the fifth grade at a rural school outside of Washington, meets Leslie, a new girl whose parents are educated and wealthy. They form an unlikely friendship, as she teaches him imagination and inspires him to be brave enough to embrace creativity. Then tragedy strikes.
This book, which won the Newbery, was one of my favorites as a child, and I found it just as powerful and affecting now. Paterson obviously has terrific insight into the social structure, fears and shames of fifth graders, and handles the emotional aftermath of death with care (the tragedy is based on a story that happened to her son). An important work, and easily qualified to be called literature. [Read twice]...more
The narrator, a nine-year-old boy named Tommy Stubbins, describes how he came to meet the man who can talk to animals and became his assistant. They tThe narrator, a nine-year-old boy named Tommy Stubbins, describes how he came to meet the man who can talk to animals and became his assistant. They travel together to Spain and then to Spidermonkey Island, a floating island, in a search for one of the world’s great naturalist, an Indian named Long Arrow.
This is an amusing, if lightweight, bit of fantasy, part of the wide British reaction to the horrors of WWI. It’s one of the early winners of the Newbery, and though I wasn’t highly impressed with the book at first, after he gets to the island, a plot breaks out. And even before that part, there are two memorable scenes involving Dolittle interrogating a dog at a murder trial and pretending to participate in a bullfight in Spain. I was unaware (even after I’d read it!) that this was the second book in a series. I had also been previously unaware of the book’s mildly racist tones (very much in the ‘white man’s burden” vein). Fairly good fun in all, though....more
Meg Murry, an ugly duckling and social outcast, and her five-year-old brother Charles Wallace, a super-genius with some kind of empathic power, live iMeg Murry, an ugly duckling and social outcast, and her five-year-old brother Charles Wallace, a super-genius with some kind of empathic power, live in a small town with their mother. Their long-absent father is a source of town gossip. When Meg meets Calvin, another “strange” child, and the eerie “witches” Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit, the three children tesseract across space and time to find their father, imprisoned by the evil IT on a faraway planet.
It’s a very strange novel, an allegory about the problem of evil and the grace of God wrapped in social and science fiction. It won the Newbery, and probably deservedly so for its novelty and depth of imagination at least. I can see how it would resonate deeply with a shy, introspective, smart child. For me, it was a bit too quasi-mystical (Mrs. Whatsit becoming a male winged centaur on Uriel? Wha?), but fine reading overall, with a good resolution. ...more
This Newbery winner tells of the trials of Mafatu, a fifteen-year-old Polynesian boy, the son of a chief. Due to a tragedy that took his mother when hThis Newbery winner tells of the trials of Mafatu, a fifteen-year-old Polynesian boy, the son of a chief. Due to a tragedy that took his mother when he was a baby, Mafatu has a great distrust of the sea, so one day he takes a small boat and, accompanied by his dog, forces himself to face his fears. After a storm, he washes up on an island of cannibals. While building a shelter and another boat, he also faces predators and then the return of the cannibals.
This slim story is, unfortunately, rather simplistic, and is dramatic only in the way that, say, old Tarzan serials are. First, the book validates the importance of conformity to existing social values; although Mafatu has made himself useful in the making of spears and nets, this is dismissed by his peers (and the tone of the narration) as “women’s work.” Also, disappointingly, Mafatu’s victories are not a result of his being particularly clever or adept; bravery and brute force are the only attributes extolled here. He kills a boar, a shark, and most ludicrously, a giant octopus capable of grabbing him by the waist, not through clever stratagems, but simply by standing his ground and stabbing them. Admirable, perhaps, but not exactly thrilling plots. Certainly, Sperry means well, and he’s good at describing this Adventure Story For Eager Lads, but I question the book’s underlying message, and its one-note hero, as a model for young minds. ...more
Winner of the 1938 Newbery, this slim book is a fairy-tale adaptation of Hungarian legend, from the Biblical hunter Nimrod to the historical Attila thWinner of the 1938 Newbery, this slim book is a fairy-tale adaptation of Hungarian legend, from the Biblical hunter Nimrod to the historical Attila the Hun, Scourge of God, in four generations. The miraculous beast of the title inspires the Hun and Magyar tribes (led by the warriors Hunor and Magyar respectively) to head west, looking for a plentiful paradise ringed by mountains promised by Hadur, the war god whose sword Attila is destined to find.
This is a bizarre book for children, and a bizarre choice for a children’s award. It has no historical value, being only legend, though Seredy grafts Attila onto her mythological genealogy. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it’s frankly unworkable as a fairy tale either. There’s no reason to admire or sympathize with the bloodthirsty warriors who murder their way through Europe, and it’s such a brief tale there’s no time for the reader to feel anything for them in any case. There’s no denying that it’s beautifully written, but I just couldn’t get past the baffling subject matter, nor the abrupt and wholly unsatisfying ending....more
Winner of the 1937 Newbery, this book tells of one summer the life of Lucinda, a ten-year-old girl left by her parents in the care of an instructress,Winner of the 1937 Newbery, this book tells of one summer the life of Lucinda, a ten-year-old girl left by her parents in the care of an instructress, Miss Peters (and not, she is thankful, in the care of her officious, too-proper Aunt Emily). Roller skating with freedom around 1890s New York, she finds a variety of people to befriend, some of whom seem like stereotypes today: the Irish hansom cab driver, the friendly Irish patrolman on his beat, the Italian fruit seller and his family living in a crowded room with many "bambinos," even Rags an’ Bones, a junk peddler. She is introduced to Shakespeare, puts on a puppet play, befriends a poor couple’s daughter and a foreign woman she thinks of a princess, and becomes acquainted with sudden, unfair death.
Sawyer's prose is full of life and happiness, but is also thoughtful and clear. There’s nothing overly careful about it, though; she doesn’t write down to children. The various characters are sympathetic and colorful, so it's easy to become intrigued with them, as Lucinda does. Abounding with contemporary literary references (Thanatopsis, Little Orphant Annie, Tanglewood Tales, the Peterkin Papers) and the people of the age (Lucinda meets the orator Robert Ingersoll and Anton Seidl), it’s an intelligent, lively record of being an educated, inquisitive child at the end of the 19th century....more
The third Newbery winner, this is a pirate tale set in the days just before the English Civil Wars. Philip Marsham sets off to sea, and the ship is ovThe third Newbery winner, this is a pirate tale set in the days just before the English Civil Wars. Philip Marsham sets off to sea, and the ship is overtaken by pirates. Marsham must sail with them for a while, then escapes only to be captured and tried with the crew.
It's an interesting book for the historical detail (down to the rather hard to follow speech and arcane vocabulary) and for Hawes' unwillingness to be trite or shallow: some characters loom large and then fade away, as in life, and the villain of the piece is given his due as a brave and clever man, true to his own principles. But there's something to be said for getting drama out of the age-old yet stirring trope of heroism vs. treachery, and I felt as if Marsham was merely an observer to the tale, and not its protagonist; in that sense it compares unfavorably to the somewhat similar The Black Arrow, which made a truly gripping tale. I can't imagine most adults, let alone children, of today reading this book with much understanding: the language is really very obscure, even for me, practically raised on archaic Britishisms....more
This won the first Newbery. And what a hefty fellow this book is! Published in 1921 and updated every decade or so until the mid-80s, this world histoThis won the first Newbery. And what a hefty fellow this book is! Published in 1921 and updated every decade or so until the mid-80s, this world history for the younger set clocks in at a generous 590 close-typed pages. Van Loon starts at the very beginning, with a mention of how very brief Mankind's time on Earth has been compared to other previous inhabitants' reigns, and then moves right into our early ape-like ancestors, the development of tools and writing, Egypt, the Sumerians, Greece, and so on.
He's got a breezy, warm style, writing as if he's talking to an interested (and advanced) young scholar, and it's mostly engaging. Every once in a while, though, van Loon gets caught up in tangents and relative clauses, and we get a nightmare sentence like this: "In central Europe, in Bohemia, the devoted disciples of Johanness Huss, the friend and follower of John Wycliffe, the English reformer, were avenging with a terrible warfare the death of their beloved leader who had been burned at the stake by order of that same Council of Constance, which had promised him a safe-conduct if he would come to Switzerland and explain his doctrines to the Pope, the Emperor, twenty-three cardinals, thirty-three archbishops and bishops, one hundred and fifty abbots and more than a hundred princes and dukes who had gathered together to reform their church." This single sentence is found in the second paragraph of a chapter ostensibly about Thomas à Kempis and "The Age of Expression;" neither Huss, Wycliffe, nor even the Council of Constance had been mentioned before. It's all a bit much for the educated adult, let alone a child trying to learn a little history. Some of it is interesting (the brief chapter on the life of Jesus is handled beautifully), but the sheer depth of it all starts to take its toll. And it gets worse. Van Loon died in 1944, so the chapters on post-war Europe, Vietnam, the space race, and the Cold War are written by other scholars, who lack van Loon's affable (if sometimes meandering) narrative style. The last dozen or so pages are particularly redolent of the dry textbook. I got through it, but I didn't feel as if I'd learned all that much at the end. I know adults these days give way too little credit for how much kids can and want to learn, but this tome isn't suitable for even a very intelligent fourth-grader to use as a learning tool. ...more
Winner of the 1943 Newbery. In late 13th-century England, eleven-year-old Adam and his trusty spaniel Nick await at St. Alban's abbey the return of AdWinner of the 1943 Newbery. In late 13th-century England, eleven-year-old Adam and his trusty spaniel Nick await at St. Alban's abbey the return of Adam’s father, the minstrel Roger, who has been wandering and plying his trade. The family is reunited, but after Adam's dog is stolen, he gives chase, and loses Roger again. There begins a long wandering, from London to Winchester and Oxford, over months, as Adam gets by on his minstrel skills and from the kindness of strangers.
As with most early Newbery winners, plot takes a back seat to character growth and historical setting. Without modern comment, Gray shares tidbits from the medieval world: inn guests, including young Adam, sharing beds with strangers (and fleas); knights, ladies, robbers and bailiffs; the hue and cry when a theft is discovered. A noblewoman has no say in her marriage, because "she's just a girl" and "must do as she’s told." A woman ties cloth around a cow's tail to keep witches away; Londoners ski on the frozen river Fleet with shin bones tied to their soles. It's these snippets of description that elevate this book from the ruck of coming-of-age stories and give it breath and color....more