Reflecting on my progress
Since the beginning of 2012, I’ve participated in the Newbery Challenge, in which I am reading the Newbery Medal award-winning books from 1922-present. To date, I’ve finished with the 1930s. I’m not breaking any speed records for this challenge, and admittedly have been distracted by more modern-day fiction. Much like the 1920s, many of the titles in this decade feature decidedly non-American settings (The Cat Who Went to Heaven, Young Fu, Dobry and The White Stag). And Waterless Mountain, which is set in the American Southwest and features Native Americans, was probably consider quite exotic at the time of its publication. I find it so interesting that these profiled pieces of literature were published and recognized when America itself was well rooted in political isolationism. We didn’t want to be involved with these other cultures politically, but clearly we wanted to learn about them.
What’s worth reading today?
Overall, I’d like to say the 1930s picked up a bit on the kid-friendly front compared to the winners from the 1920s, but I still can only find a few options that feel I can recommend. I think Invincible Louisa, Caddie Woodlawn, and Thimble Summer still hold up in both writing style and interest level and can imagine suggesting them to today’s readers.
Be sure to visit Mr. Schu’s and Mr. Sharp’s blogs to watch their always entertaining Newbery Challenge videos. They’re both in the homestretch of the challenge. Thanks to both of them for hosting this challenge and cheering on readers like myself!
Here’s my brief wrap up of each title:
1930: Hitty: The First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (Goodreads rating: 3/5)
The tale of a doll first created in the early 1800s, as told from her point of view. Poor Hitty has indeed lead a dramatic life with many owners and harrowing adventures including being grabbed by crows, stolen, and worst of all being ignored for years on end. Not a bad book by any means, but it did seem too long for my tastes. I did like the little bits of history, such as references to Abraham Lincoln and the first automobiles.
1931: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Goodreads rating: 3/5)
Not a two-star book, but not a three-star book in my opinion, mainly because I don’t think many kids today would be drawn to this book. Perhaps it would be a good text to use when introducing Buddhism. On the plus side, it was short, had nice animal illustrations, and the story about an artist inspired by his studio cat was pleasant enough to read.
1932: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer (Goodreads rating: 2/5)
I thought this was okay, and definitely went in the better than “Shen of the Sea” and “The Dark Frigate” category. This is a collection of stories about Little Brother, a Navajo, as he comes of age and becomes acquainted with the skills needed to be a medicine man. Many chapters are him seeing something that reminds him of a legend or story that he’s been told. I much preferred the adventures that he had personally (like dealing with horse thieves) than the legends themselves. Like many of these early Newbery’s I’m hard pressed to think of a child to whom I’d recommend this.
1933: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Charles Finger (Goodreads rating: 3/5)
I was dreading this one, fearing another Shen of the Sea, but ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would. The story follows Young Fu’s adventures in the first few years of training as a coppersmith in 1920s Chungking, a very tumultuous time in China. Modern day readers interested in this time might enjoy the story.
1934: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women written by Cornelia Meigs (Goodreads rating: 4/5)
I thoroughly enjoyed this biography of Louisa May Alcott, and think that it holds up well. Fans of the author will find her life story fascinating.
1935: Dobry by Monica Shannon, illustrated by Atanas Katchamakoff (Goodreads rating: 3/5)
This is a quiet book about a peasant boy in Bulgaria who longs to become an artist. Not documented anywhere in my book is the fact that the story is loosely based on the life of real Bulgarian artist, which frankly might have changed some of the connections and interpretations I made with the text.
1936: Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink (Goodreads rating: 4/5)
This is a re-read for me from childhood. I enjoyed this, and though it has dated references to Native Americans and the role of women, it does seem reflective of the time and a good launching point for discussion. Not heavy on a plot, it reminded me in many ways of the storytelling-style of the Little House books and I think kids who enjoy those books will enjoy spunky Caddie, too. I have a special place in my heart for Caddie, as the author grew up in my hometown of Moscow, Idaho and there are several tributes to her around town, including the beautiful children’s room at the Carnegie-era library.
1937: Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer (Goodreads rating: 3/5)
Young Lucinda is left in 1890s New York City for a year while her parents travel and she spends it meeting many people and exploring her world on roller skates. She is extremely perky in spite of a couple of grim deaths in the book.
1938: The White Stag, by Kate Seredy (Goodreads rating: 2/5)
This is a telling of the journey of the Hun and Magyar people as they move their people to sacred land in Europe. There are lots of battles and even mythical creatures, but I found it pretty painful to read. One of those Newbery books I can’t imagine recommending to a child.
1939: Thimble Summer, by Elizabeth Enright (Goodreads rating: /5)
I really enjoyed this one a lot, which makes sense as Enright’s later Melendy Quartet (The Saturdays, The Four-story Mistake, etc.) books are some of my all-time favorites. The book is set during one 1930s summer for farm girl Garnet Linden after she finds what she believes to be a magical thimble. The overall book isn’t deeply tied to a plot, but rather nostalgic tales fill each chapter and are a celebration of an unplugged time in childhood.
1940 Newbery Medal