Newbery Books 1927: This Book Is An Example Of Why I Don’t Read Books About Animals

The Newbery Medal in 1927 was awarded to Smoky the Cow Horse by Will James, and it is a prime example as to why I almost never read books about animals.  The story begins with the birth of Smoky the horse.  At first he has a great life with his Mammy.  There is a very detailed account of his adventures as a young colt wandering the terrain with his mama keeping a close watch on him. He encounters a wolf and a mountain lion and  quickly learns that they are not his friends – throughout the story he will find that he has few friends.  His mostly peaceful way of life soon comes to end when he first meets humans who have come to brand him.  Humans, with one exception, do not prove to be a friend to Smoky either.

I found this book in its rather excruciating detail to be kind of boring, and when it wasn’t boring me, it was breaking my heart.  Smoky has this great life at first with his mom.  He roams free; it’s a good life for a young horse.  Then come the humans, and he is broken by a man named Clint.  This actually works out for awhile because Clint loves Smoky and they develop a great relationship.  Of course happiness for Smoky can’t possibly last, so Smoky is kidnapped by horse thieves and after that his life is pretty much crappy.  He is overworked, abused, and because he is stubborn and not a fan of humans, he ends up working as an “outlaw rodeo star” where he bucks off everyone that tries to stay on him.  By the end of the book, he is an old horse who is pretty much broken in both body and spirit. Miraculously, he is found by Clint (who has never forgotten him), and over time he begins to heal.

There is beautiful language and an appreciation for the Western culture that really comes through, but I just didn’t really like this book.  I say the language is beautiful, but it is written in a Western dialect that I am just not sure I like.  For example, mighty is a frequent descriptive word as in that was “mighty good” or the horse was “mighty strong”.  There is a lot of “figgering”.  Verb usage includes phrases like “he knowed this” or “he seen that”.  “Critters” abound throughout the book. There is something poetic though in the way James writes, and perhaps some readers would find his language suitable and endearing.

For me personally, I don’t know why anyone would want to read a book filled with such difficulty and sadness for a poor defenseless animal. I am anticipating Ole Yeller somewhere up the Newbery reading pipeline, and I am already trying to figure out a game plan for reading that.  My old game plan, which had worked for 48 years, was to avoid that book like the plague.  But now – it awaits.

 

 

 

Newbery Books 1926: Shen of the Sea and The Voyagers

The Newbery winners of 1925 and 1926 have been books of folk tales, fairy tales, and tales of adventure.

The 1926 Newbery Honor was a book called The Voyagers by Padraic Colum. It is about the early exploration of the Atlantic Ocean leading up to the discovery of the Americas. One of the cool things about reading this book is that it was an edition of the book actually published in 1925.  The pages are thick and sturdy and made with rag paper.  I also loved the illustrations.  Most of them are black and white, but there were a few color illustrations included.  Here’s an example: voyagersI really enjoyed some of these adventure and exploration stories, but then I became bored with others because they started to feel more like a recitation of history rather than an engaging story.  I did really like the story about the city of Atlantis.  It was in this book also that I learned that the word anchorite means religiouse recluse.  I don’t think I’d ever seen that word before.  Overall, it was ok.  I really like the “1926 reading experience” but the book was not anything that I found to be that memorable.

The Newbery Medal winner was also a compilation of stories.  It is called Shen of the Sea: Chinese Stories for Children by Arthur Bowie Chrisman.  The thing is – Chrisman is an American who never visited China, and he made up all of these “folk tales”.  They are written “in the style of Chinese folk tales”.  I just don’t know quite what to think about it.  Some of the stories are really funny.  Some of them are quite engaging.  It’s just odd to me that the Newbery Medal would be awarded to a book of “faux-Chinese folk tales”.  It’s been food for thought for sure.  I think I don’t like the idea of it, but why?  Well, if I hadn’t done any research and in 1926 there would have been no quick “google search”, I would have read this to my 1926 version of Davey and presented it to him as Chinese folk stories.  It would have just won the Newbery Medal and I’d think “well this must be a great book of Chinese stories!  We will learn something”.  Most of them are really fun to read though – I just am not sure I would have chosen this book for “the most distinguished contribution to American Children’s literature”.

There are some fun illustrations in this book too.

shen2I often am enjoying the illustrations as much (and more in some of these books) then the story.

shen1

I will remember Shen of the Sea – the whole idea of a book of “faux Chinese folk tales” was just too unusual to me to forget.

Now on to Smoky the Cowhorse – the 1927 Medal winner!

Newberry Books 1925: Silver Lands and a Dream Coach

I recently finished reading two of the three the 1925 Newberry books. The problem is that I am still waiting for the second Honor book to arrive via Interlibrary loan.

I gave it some thought, and I have decided to give myself permission to go ahead and write about the 1925 books.  It’s funny how I make these rules and then have these discussions with myself as to whether or not I can make exceptions to the rules.   I will come back and update this 1925 entry when I finally get my hands on the third book which is called Nicholas: A Manhattan Christmas.

The other 1925 Honor book was The Dream Coach by Anne and Dillwyn Parrish.  It is another book I’d requested via Interlibrary Loan and which I hadn’t yet received.  Luckily it can be found digitally at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/parrish/dream/dream.html so I read it there.   This book was a collaborative effort between a sister and brother.  Anne wrote the book and it was illustrated by Dillwywn.

The illustrations are pen and ink.

Dream Coach

There are four stories, and in these stories, there is a coach which delivers dreams to children each night.  Well-behaved children receive good dreams, and naughty children receive nightmares!  Unfortunately sometimes mistakes are made, and those nightmares sometimes go to well-behaved children too.

Delivering dreams from a basket of moonbeams in a coach is a pretty concept and the stories make for nice fairy tales.  I liked this illustration as well.

poppyThe Newberry Medal went to Tales From Silver Lands.  The author, Charles Finger, learned these stories from his encounters with the indigenous people of South America.  These stories are filled with monsters and magical creatures.  They include witches and giants. There are stories about a “noseless” people who live in the water.  They are darn scary as is another character named El Enano who is a creepy monsterish guy.  He is “a squat creature, yellow of skin, and snag-toothed and his legs were crooked, his arms were crooked, and his face was crooked….He had scraggy whiskers that hung to the ground and looked like legs”.  Creepy!  These stories are fun to read.  I wouldn’t recommend reading them from start to finish though.  At least for me, that’s just too many folk tales all at once.  Ideally, I’d have this book on my bookshelf, and I’d grab it and share a story with Davey – although probably not at bedtime.  Some of those stories would give us bad dreams!

Here’s our Silver Lands Selfie!

daveymesilver

 

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.
darkfrigate

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.

darkfrigate2

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!