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 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.)