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Newbery Pie

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August 2014

Daniel Boone: The 1940 Newbery Winner

I’ve reached the 40’s now and what a terrible way to begin. Daniel Boone isn’t that long, only 100 pages, but it’s a very hard 100 pages to get through. To me, it amounted to a boring list of all the times that Daniel Boone killed some “savages.”  I didn’t really enjoy anything about it. I give it one Newbery Pie.

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Mr. Popper’s Penguins: A 1939 Honor Book

PopperCoverI decided a while back that I was going to read all of the Newberys, and that I would also choose one honor book to read each decade. For the 30’s I chose Mr. Popper’s Penguins. It’s a well-known book, that I hadn’t read, and it’s not very long. It was a very entertaining read, and I enjoyed it very much.

One thing blew my mind, though. NO ONE, in the novel except for Mr. Popper and a few others knew what a penguin was. Every time Mr. Popper took the penguins out in public, everyone was like, “What are those? Are they pelicans? Are they big parrots?” Nowadays, if you line ten children up and show them a penguin, all ten of them are going to know that it’s a penguin. Maybe people in the 1930’s just really weren’t that aware of the world outside of the U.S. (but come on, wouldn’t there at least be penguins in the zoos?) or maybe there was a National Penguin Awareness Campaign sometime in the 50’s that I’m not aware of. Either way, I think that part of the book might confuse kids today. I think they would wonder why 90% of the characters in this book don’t know what a penguin is.

Anyways, I liked it much better than the actual winner, Thimble Summer, but that usually happens when I read a Newbery honor book. They’re usually better than the winners. I give this one 4 Newbery Pies.

Ps. I didn’t even know there was a Jim Carrey movie, until just now. I’ll have to give it a watch.

Thimble Summer, the 1939 Newbery Winner.

Oh looky here, ANOTHER 1930’s Newbery winner about a tweenage tomboy. Don’t get me wrong, I like tomboys. All evidence points towards my daughter being one. She’s loud, rambunctious and mimics every move her big brother makes, but at some point you would think the editors of the 30’s (or at least the Newbery committee) would have said, “Umm. We’ve had a lot of these tomboy novels recently. Let’s slow it down some.” I mean I enjoyed all of the books independently, but together, they aren’t really all that unique.

That being said, I did appreciate a few things about this book. It’s a obviously a forerunner to Charlotte’s Web, one of my all time favorites. A girl saves the runt of a pig litter, raises it by hand, it goes off to win ribbons at the state fair, etc. I’m pretty sure that E.B. White had to have at least read Thimble Summer at some point.

It was short, as most of the 1930’s winners have been (a big departure from the 20’s), and that made the annoying things a bit more bearable, and the characters were all pretty likable.

Unfortunately, like Roller Skates, Caddie Woodlawn and the rest, this novel suffered from a lack of plot. Not a whole lot happens, and there was never really that much at stake. This probably would have been a two pie book, but like I said, I’m not sure if Charlotte’s Web would have ever been written without it, so I’ll give it three Newbery Pies just because of the greatness that I think it probably inspired.

Next up: 1939 Honor Book, Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

The White Stag: The 1938 Newbery Winner

This was the shortest Newbery winner so far. Not only is it under 100 pages, almost every other page had a huge illustration taking up the entire page. I can see how a kid in the 30’s might have really enjoyed this book. That was before WWII and the huge amount of propaganda posters/movies/tv shows/etc that came with the war. That’s really what this book is, it’s a short propaganda story. The premise is that it was ok for Atilla to slaughter all of those people. He had a destiny to fulfill. It was all part of a bigger story. It didn’t really impress me all that much. The illustrations were lovely, though.

Roller Skates: The 1937 Newbery Winner

This book wasn’t an unpleasant read. At times it was really fun. It was just kind of random. Lucinda is a tomboy growing up in the late 19th century, which is a story that has been written again and again and again. (Caddie Woodlawn, which won the Newbery the year that Roller Skates was published immediately comes to mind). Instead of putting the tomboy on a farm this time, she grows in in New York City.  Lucinda makes a lot of friends, in the city, and that’s basically the story. In order to give the story a little plot (the last 50 pages is a little too late to develop a plot, just saying) a few of the characters die. One is actually stabbed to death. Lucinda finds the body and the dagger, but her neighbors encourage her to let someone else “discover” the body, so she won’t be involved legally. The murder isn’t mentioned again. We never discover who did it or why. It was kind of just a random murder to give the story some semblance of a plot. Like I said before, it wasn’t a bad read, but there had to have been better books published in 1936. It probably wouldn’t have been published at all today (which might have actually been a shame) but it definitely wouldn’t have won the Newbery. (Which would not have been a shame.)

I give it three Newbery pies.

Caddie Woodlawn: The 1936 Winner

In a lot of the older books in my library, there are those cards in the back where the kids used to sign their name to check the book out with the due dates stamped on. Several of the previous Newbery winners from the 20’s and 30’s had these cards, but not a whole lot of check outs. Usually only 2 or 3 students’ names were signed on the card. I picked up Caddie Woodlawn, and I couldn’t help but check. Here’s what I found. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo (1)As you can see, the card was completely filled out. You can’t see the back, but it was completely filled out as well. This got me excited about reading Caddie Woodlawn for the first time. Even if I didn’t like it,  this book has obviously stood the test of time, and some of my students would probably be into it.

I wasn’t disappointed. Caddie is a brave, kind character, and I found her story to be a fun one to read.  If I had any complaints, it’s that her mother was a little bit racist towards Native Americans , and a lot classist. She calls her neighbors “poor trash” at one point because they couldn’t afford her turkeys and wanted her to lower the price. I don’t mind characters like that, but the narrator doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with it. I don’t want my student thinking this is an OK way to view the world. It may have spoiled a really good book for me. I didn’t ruin it, but it kept it from becoming a life-long favorite. 

I’ll give it 4 out of 5 Newbery Pies.

Dobry: the 1935 winner

This Newbery winner, more than any other that I’ve read so far has me feeling very conflicted. I can see that it’s a charming book. (Any book that starts with a boy sick in bed because he ate too many tomatoes has got to be at least a little charming right?) I liked the simpleness of the story, I loved the illustrations, and I loved the Bulgarian setting. I knew practically nothing about Bulgaria before reading Dobry, and I’m certain that I’ve never read a novel set in Bulgaria before.

Unfortunately, the charming aspects end there. There is virtually no plot at all, nothing is at stake, it’s incredibly boring and really the only thing that makes the book at all readable is its Bulgarianness. It seems pretty obvious to me that the the book was written simple for its setting, and a book has to have more than an unusual setting and pretty illustrations to be a great book. That’s why this one hasn’t stood the test of time.

 I give it two Newbery pies.

Next up: Caddie Woodlawn (woop woop!)

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