I have begun a new reading project: I have decided that I want to read all of the Newbery Medal and Honor books. At first, I thought I’d read the just the Medal books, but then I decided that reading more than one of the most highly regarded books published in a given year might give me at least a sense of the world of children’s literature at that time. Initially, I wanted to make a rule that I would finish each one of them, but I have decided that that will ruin my quest for me. The fact that they are even Newbery books at all leads me to believe that I will want to read most of them, but if I come across a book that is boring me to tears, freaking me out, or leaving me in tears, I am giving myself permission to skim and move along.
I have pretty much finished with 1922 which was the first year the Newbery was awarded. I began with Windy Hill by Cornelia Meigs. This was a very engaging story about a boy and girl who spend the summer with their uncle. A man from the past comes back into the uncle’s life, and the man seemingly has some power over him. This leads to problems, and the book is about how the boy and the girl help the uncle. One of my favorite parts of the story is a wonderful character who tells great shorter tales within the main story. His name is the Beeman. It’s a beautifully written story.
It’s interesting that another one of the Honor books has a similar theme. The Great Quest by Charles Hawes is also about a man, Neil Gleazen, who returns from the past to wreak havoc in the lives of a man and his nephew. Gleazen basically blackmails the uncle into buying a ship and and traveling to Africa to complete a mission for riches that Gleazen had been unable to complete. I really like parts of the book and the way Hawes writes, but overall, this type of adventure is not my favorite genre. It is really interesting to read about the attitudes toward the Africans though, and I felt a sense of what it might have been like to go to Africa during that time in history (although this story is written several decades after slavery was abolished).
Cedric the Forester, by Bernard Marshall, was the next Honor book that I read. This is a wonderful story about a boy and his friend, and they grow up to be knights who adventure together. Even though it’s adventure, Marshall had a way of writing which made me care about the main characters and those they were helping. The dialogue and story might be difficult for younger children to follow, but I think it could be a fun read a loud.
Next there was The Old Tobacco Shop: A True Account of What Befell a Little Boy in Search of Adventure by William Bowen. This book was odd. It had a fantastical quirky Alice in Wonderland feel to it, and it wasn’t my favorite. Not that there was anything wrong with the book, it just wasn’t my favorite type of book. A boy smokes some tobacco (which he’s been warned not to smoke), and off he goes on a series of crazy adventures. I admit I skimmed parts of it. I will say there was a wonderful very endearing character named Aunt Amanda who I loved.
The last Newbery Honor Book was The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles by Padraic Colum. I began this book, and it’s really fun to read. However, I have spent the last year and a half reading tons of mythology with Davey so I was feeling impatient reading this story again (although in a different voice as told by Colum). I haven’t finished it yet, but I am thinking I will read it with Davey eventually.
I have been thinking about these Honor books and common themes. The 1922 books are definitely all about the boys. The boys are the main characters and the heroes. The girls play secondary roles if they have any roles at all. In all of these books, there is an adventure, a quest, a pursuit for justice and the boys pretty much come out victorious (with some losses along the way). There is no hesitation in violently killing anyone off in these stories either. The “bad guys” are killed by African tribesmen, run through by swords, and dropped by arrows. However, there are also many acts of great heroism, loyalty and love as well.
The Newbery Medal winner for 1922 is different from the Honor books in that it is a history book. It’s called The Story of Mankind. It begins with an evolutionary explanation of the creatures crawling out of the sea and evolving over time to live on the land. It continues through the cavemen, the ancient Greeks, and ancient Christianity which is where I am in the book now. It is so well written and very engaging. I haven’t finished it yet but I’ve decided that I am going to continue reading it as I move on to 1923. I’d rather read it more slowly. I wanted initially to finish a year of award books before I moved to the next year, but I am going to make an exception for The Story of Mankind.
While still reading The Story of Mankind, I have begun the Medal winner for 1923. There were no Honor books awarded in 1923 (I’m not sure why), and the Medal winner was The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle. How have I never read Doctor Doolittle? He is a delightful character!
A note: All of the books from 1922 are free ebooks on Amazon thanks to the Gutenberg Project!
What a great idea! And a wonderful way to learn the history of children’s literature and cultural history too. I really enjoyed your book reviews. The Story of Mankind is one of the first books I ever bought. I haven’t finished it yet – need to get back to it. 😊