Newbery Books 1924: The Dark Frigate

I just finished the 1924 Newbery Medal book: The Dark Frigate. It’s about a boy who gets mixed up with pirates, but throughout it all he remains honest and incorruptible.  It is a grand pirate adventure, but this book’s audience would likely be for at least 12+. There is some pretty graphic violence and scary characters.  Before I knew this, I started reading the first few pages to Davey. Fortunately, I didn’t have to read to him for too long. He loves stories more than anything, but his eyes quickly began to glaze over.  Who can blame him with paragraphs like these:

“Thy haste, thou pop-eyed fool, would work the end of us all.  Think you, if they see us fling every sail to the wind, they will abide our coming without charging their guns and stationing every gunner with a linstock and lighted match? Nay, though she be but a ketch, let us go limping across her bows as lame as a pipped hen.”

“Pop-eyed fool” got our attention briefly, but I soon lost him after that.   I get the gist, but the specifics of a ketch and pipped hen?  I’d need to do some google searches.

The dialogue is tricky but it is very energetic and descriptive. The dialogue also made more sense when I took the time to read it out loud.

At the end of the book, the author seems to hint at the possibility of a sequel but unfortunately before the book was even published, he died of pneumatic meningitis at the age of only 34.  His widow was awarded the Newbery Medal after his death.  Sadly, there would be no sequel about his subsequent adventures.

There are things I really liked about this book. It was just a matter of slowing down and not being intimidated by the language.  Hawes’ dialogue and expressions are very colorful and often humorous.  The characters are great.  The main “bad guy” is a complex character who also shows moments of kindness and even of heroism.  I’m glad I read it.

So even a blog post about books can use at least the occasional picture.  Davey agreed to model the book for me.

Then I decided that since he didn’t actually read the book, I should have him take a picture of me.  That’s always fun; he likes to take silly pictures.  He’s a good photo assistant though.


I was able to check out The Dark Frigate from our local library. There were no Honor books awarded in 1924, so I am beginning on 1925!



Newbery Books 1923: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

I’ve not been on this reading (and writing about my reading) quest very long, but I have already had the side benefit of learning that I need to be more diligent in my spelling.  It’s not as good as it used to be or at least it’s not as as good as I think it used to be, and so I had to learn the following:

It’s Newbery.  Not Newberry
It’s Doctor Dolittle.  Not Doctor Doolittle.

Beyond that realization, I am having a great time with my new reading project.

 I just finished The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. It won the Newberry Medal in 1923. For some reason, there were no honor books awarded in 1923, so I had only one book to read for that year. What a fun book it was!  I am a lover of animals, so a book where a man talks to the animals, and the animals are consistently the heroes in the book?  This was perfect for me.  I realized that this was not the first book in the series, so I found and downloaded the The Story of Doctor Dolittle to read first.  This was the introduction to Doctor Dolittle and was also very fun to read.  (The nice thing about these books also is that they are both available for free download through Amazon thanks to Project Gutenberg!)
Lofting was inspired to create the Doctor Dolittle adventures from the “story-letters” he wrote to his children when he was in the trenches in France during World War I.
Doctor Dolittle is a very endearing delightful character. He is so curious.  He is very kind and truly cares about his fellow humans and animals.  At one point in the book, Doctor Dolittle fights side by side with a native tribesman from a tribe he encounters on a floating island.  Joining them in the fight is Prince Bumpo who is from Africa.  Dr. Dolittle is the last man standing, but it is not he who saves the tribe (at least not directly). Instead the real heroes are the millions of parrots that he summons.  It is always the animals who end up saving the humans throughout the book.  The whales, porpoises, parrots, other birds, and dogs are the ones who literally move islands and ships. They fight battles and they provide direction when the humans are lost.  It’s what makes these books such fun!
(These books have been edited over the years to remove some racial language and attitudes.  I read several articles some of which were critical of Lofting and some which were supportive of his books.  Some of the writers of these articles argued that Doctor Dolittle was portrayed as “The Great Man Who Nobly Saves the Poor Natives”.  Some argue instead that Dolittle’s kind spirit transcends these attitudes, and that there is much to be appreciated from reading the books.  I think this all is a great opportunity for discussion with young readers, and I’d love to share these books with my Davey.)

Newbery Books 1922: A New Reading Quest

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!