Newbery Pie

A review site


March 2011

1923 Winner- The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (Books of Wonder)


Jake’s Review

Ah, what can I say about the winner of 1923’s Newbery Award, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle? Certainly not that it was mind-numbingly boring like I said about 1922’s The Story of Mankind. So wide was the gap of contrast between these books, that I think reading The Story of Mankind actually made Doctor Dolittle seem even better than it actually was, and I would gladly give it a generous 3.5 out of 5 stars.

My copy of the book was 316 pages, but, like a pie that looks too thick to finish but surprisingly goes down tasty and smooth, the story flew by. It was separated into many short chapters (rather than a few long chapters), which is just the way I like it, and its main character was extremely loveable. Rotund (the jolly sort of rotund) and usually in good spirits, Doctor Dolittle’s ambition is to learn how to speak the languages of all animals, many of which he already knows, and he takes the story’s narrator, a nine-and-a-half year old boy with a desire to sail the seas, on his ship, The Curlew, along with many other loveable characters.

Although these characters don’t literally teleport from one world to the next, this book had that mystical feeling one gets from reading The Chronicles of Narnia, the boy living a normal, rather dull life in England, yearning for adventure, then suddenly finding it in the acquaintance of the very peculiar doctor. One might say that young Tommy Stubbins is the eager Lucy and Dolittle the wise and trustworthy Aslin.

The only thing the book suffers slightly from is a small problem that is really no fault of its own. As old it is and as late as I am in reading this book in my life, it doesn’t have the same luster as it might have had had I read it at a younger age. Having already read so many adventurous books such as this one, many of the shock-worthy moments failed to shock me. In many ways, the fantasticness of this story has now been outdone by recent, more fantastic books, much in the way a drawn-out viewing of the three-hour Ben-Hur would fail in comparison to the more recent Braveheart.

3.5 out of 5 Newbery Pies

Benji’s Review

What I liked about this book:
As opposed to the 1922 book, this is a book that I think children would actually enjoy. You can tell that it was published in 1922, the language is a little archaic, but a good children’s book will appeal to children for many, many years. There are funny parts, there’s lots of adventure and there are talking animals! What’s not to love?

What I disliked about this book:
Not much, really. As mentioned before, the language is a bit archaic. Some words which may have been acceptable in 1922, that are not now were used (like the “n word” ) and  the speaker’s meaning was unclear or shocking to contemporary readers. There really isn’t a whole lot for me to criticize.

Did it deserve the Newbery?:
Yes, definitely.

After reading The Story of Mankind (the 1922 pick) this was refreshing. It was good to see the committee picking a book that children would actually want to read.

I think the fact that there were no Newbery Honor books in 1923 (there were five in 1922) shows that either, there wasn’t much else to choose from that year or that Dr. Dolittle was a unanimous pick. The only other children’s book of note that I can find that was published in that year is The Velveteen Rabbit, but that would have been more of a Caldecott contender if it had been around then. Dr. Dolittle is a very good Newbery pick.

I’ll give it four out of five Newbery Pies.

Sara’s Review: Another Newbery from the 1920s! When I started reading The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, I was extremely relieved almost instantly because it was so much better than Story of Mankind. I also had an exciting spark of childhood recognition when the book began describing Dr. Dolittle’s animals. I just KNEW I had read that book as a child. As I continued reading and little else became familiar, I realized I had probably read the other Dr. Dolittle book, The Stories of Dr. Dolittle instead.

In The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, young Tommy Stubbins, who is also the narrator of the book, meets Dr. Dolittle and wants to be trained by him as an animal scientist. After meeting all of his animals, they discover that the (human) son (Long Arrow) of one of Dr. Dolittle’s friends is missing. Dr. Dolittle and Tommy begin their voyage to find Long Arrow, making stops along the way. One of these stop is Spain, where Dr. Dolittle attempts to stop bullfighting. Finally, they arrive at Spider Monkey Island. They find Long Arrow and solve a conflict for the island’s inhabitants. The natives are so grateful that they make Dr. Dolittle king, and never want him to leave.

I’ve heard that some of the early Newbery books are horribly racist, and this book is not without its issues. Having a white British man come and solve all the problems of an island full of people of color just screams of racism. However, at this time in history, the sun had not yet set on the British Empire, so this imperialism fit into the historical time period. By the descriptions I’ve given, I also know there are other much more insensitive (and blatantly insulting) Newbery-winning books. In terms of readability, I found the book to lag at times, and felt like I was ready for them to “get off the island.” I give The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle 2.5 out of 5 Newbery pies.



1922 Winner- The Story of Mankind

The Story of Mankind



Jake’s Review

I would imagine that when the Oscars awards were first created, there was a lot of confusion over what constitutes a movie as a nominee for Best Picture – what makes a movie good and, therefore, potentially being worthy of being called “the best” and so on? Likewise, at the beginning there was probably much puzzling among the award-givers in trying to figure out what makes a book worthy of winning a Newbery Medal, the award given to “the best” children’s book of the year. Such befuddlement is evident when reading The Story of Mankind.

Let me explain it like this: if I were to somehow erase the glamorous, golden medal from the cover of this book and give it to you to read, you might respond by saying, “Okay, so it’s a boring history textbook – so what?” And of course, you would then be very surprised to learn that it was once actually considered a book for children and, in fact, the winner of the best children’s book award in the year of 1922.

The introduction, which is actually the best and most interesting part of the book, sets a wonderful stage for the book, the reader finding himself transported to a cozy living room, lying on a rug before the warm fire in the hearth, grinning up at his sweater vest-wearing grandfather as he opens a book and begins to read a wonderful story. When this gentle gramps begins to read, however, the reader suddenly finds himself in a smelly public school classroom, early in the morning, listening to his teacher and classmate volunteers read from a worn-out history textbook.

The task of setting forth the most important details of the world’s history from the beginning of existence until present day (at that time, 1921) is, inarguably, an altruistic task. Yet, nothing can save this novel from being the boring, mostly-just-facts book that it is.

It suffers from a lack of interesting transitions. One sentence may be talking about Napoleon Bonaparte and the very next may be mentioning something about Russia, and you’re wondering how the two connect, not wanting to take the necessary hours of reading and re-reading certain sentences it takes to understand. So what do you do? Well if you’re like me and you’re wanting to join the elite who can say they’ve actually read all ninety Newbery winners, you read the book as quickly as possible, comprehending, at best, 30 % of the information you’re reading and, like a man wishing to suffer a painless and quick death, surf along the rigid waves of these words as swiftly as you can.

Due to a couple of sparsely-spotted, wonderful quotes and a few interesting sections, I would at least give it 1.5 out of 5 stars. In fact, copying Benji copying me, I will give it 1.5 out of 5 Newbery Pies.

Bottom line: the book is very informational but not written in such a way that a child or even a twenty-four year old, such as myself, will remember it affectionately…save in the knowledge that you are holding in your hands the very first winner of such an awesome award.

Benji’s Review

My journey through the Newbery winners begins here with the Story of Mankind. I’ve never been a great book review writer. It’s hard for me to talk about a book without giving too much away to those who haven’t read it, so I think I will stick to a format. I will answer the following questions:What did I like about the book? What did I dislike about the book? Did this book deserve to win the Newbery? Why or why not?

What I liked about the book:
Imagine that your grandfather was a retired history professor, and he was in town for a week. You ask him,”Grandpa, why is the world the way it is now?” His eyes light up. He taught history for years, and no one has ever bothered to ask him a question like that. So every night that week, he sits you down and tells you the story of the world and how mankind got to be where it is now. That’s the sense I get from this book, yes, it is very flawed. This is the history of the world with no sources cited. It is very biased, (the author acknowledges this) but it is exactly what you would get if you asked your history professor grandpa for a fireside lecture and I think that aspect of the book is very charming.

What I disliked about this book:
Yes, there were boring parts, but I have always believed that’s not a reason for a book to be reviewed poorly. What is boring to one person could be extremely interesting to another, depending on his or her interests. What I didn’t like about this book is the fact that I don’t know a single kid who has or would read it. It is the winner of the most prestigious award for children’s literature, and honestly, I don’t know what the first Newbery committee was thinking. I don’t have a single middle schooler in a school of over 700 that I could get to read this whole book through. There might be a chapter (like the one on Napoleon) I could get them to read, but as a whole work, I think it is a book written for adults. Maybe the children in 1922 had less to choose from,or they were better readers, but I don’t think they read this book either.

Did this book deserve to win the Newbery: No

Why not: Well, I’ve gotten into this question already. This is not a book I think many children would read. I can see why the world needed history books at this time. In 1922, World War I (or the Great War as it’s still called in this book) was just ending. The world has just gotten through fighting the worst war it had ever seen. Naturally, people were stepping back from the situation and asking “Why did this happen?  How did we get here? How can we keep this from happening again?” Of course, history holds the answer to all of these questions. I understand that the Newbery committee was thinking about the children, our future leaders. If they could understand why a war like this happened, maybe in the distant future horrors like this could be prevented. I just think that this wasn’t the best book for the first Newbery. It set a bad precedent for future Newberry committees. Instead of picking the book that children are reading and enjoying, they picked the book that they thought children should be reading. This has happened time and time again with the Newbery Medal, not every time, but quite frequently.

Closing thoughts: I liked the book. I really did. Just not as the first Newbery Winner, ever.

Next up: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
Since Jake is giving star ratings, I will too. Hmmm I’ll give it 2.5 out of 5 Newbery Pies.
Sara’s Review:

Oh boy, where to start? First of all, are we sure this was a children’s book? It didn’t read as one. Secondly, I felt like it was bipolar. It started by giving very detailed information about every part of history. I actually enjoyed the chapter about Egyptian hieroglyphics, finding it interesting and informative. I thought, “Maybe this book will not be so bad after all.” Oh dear readers, I have never been more foolish.  As the book moves closer and closer to modern times (modern meaning 94 years ago when this book was published), the author started discussing different themes, like imperialism. I wonder if he had a book deal and could write no more than three hundred pages because he said many times that he wished the book could be longer, even one time mentioning a thousand pages! :shudder:

Another thing that irked me was Willem van Loon’s treatment of American History. The American Revolution gets  only TWO sentences!  He justified this by saying something like, “Well, America has only been around 150 years, which is a tiny amount of time in the history of man.” This would be valid if he doesn’t then go and spend several chapters going on incessantly about a time in French History that was less than 30 years! This time period he focuses on begins with the French Revolution. What was the inspiration for the French Revolution again? Oh yeah, that time we totally ousted the British from the American colonies and started our own country.

Willem van Loon admits that he has a bias toward French history/culture. Why not write that book then? The best part of this book?  THE END.

I give The Story of Mankind 1 Newbery Pie, which deserves to be thrown into the face of every committee member who chose this book for the award. Okay, that’s harsh, but seriously, what were they thinking?

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