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Newbery Pie

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February 2015

King of the Wind: The 1949 Winner

king

Wow. The 1940’s ended really strong,at least when it came to the Newbery Award winners. 21 Balloons in 1948 and then this one in 1949.

When I saw that the next Newbery winner on the list was another horse book, I kind of panicked a little bit. I did not have a pleasant time with Smoky the Cow Horse. Fortunately, King of the Wind is everything Smoky isn’t.  It isn’t incredibly racist. It’s concise and well-written, the author doesn’t weigh us down with pages and pages of useless horse trivia.  In short, it’s very good. When I pictured reading through all of the Newberys in my head, this was the kind of book I was imagining myself reading, charming little gems that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise because I hadn’t really heard of them. I could actually see some of my students, who are really into horses reading this one.

I give it 4 out of 5 Newbery Pies

Twenty one Balloons: The 1948 Winner

21I really liked this one. It’s probably my favorite Newbery winner up to this point. I feel like I really got the main character. I think everyone who works with kids on a daily basis has those days when he or she just wants to float away in a balloon for a year, and read books. This man taught MATH for 40 YEARS. I totally get it. He sticks to his guns, too. When he’s stranded on the island, and teaching is the only way he can contribute to the local society in a valuable way, he refuses to tell the inhabitants that he was a teacher because he’s afraid of being coerced into teaching again. He’s like. “Even if I am stranded on an island, and I’m the only one here mooching, I’m retired, man. I’ve put in my time, and I’m going to sit on the beach all day.”

The ending was very fitting. The whole book, Sherman’s only motive is to get away from it all and relax, so when he comes into some money, he announces that he’s going to buy another balloon, and even though he’s had some traumatic balloon experiences, he’s going to try to sail away again. Not a very dynamic character, by any means. His adventures don’t change him in the slightest, but he’s hilarious and it’s a pretty darn good book.

There is some brief, Native American racism in the beginning (Who gets up in the morning and walks outside beating their chest? Besides gorillas, I mean, and apparently, even when there aren’t any white people around, Native Americans still speak to each other in dumbed down broken English) but it was very brief, and only lowered the overall quality of the book a very tiny bit.

I give it 4 out of 5 Newbery Pies

Next up: King of the Wind

Miss Hickory: The 1947 Newbery Winner

hickoryWhat a strange book! When I first saw the cover, I thought, “Wow! An African American pre-1950 Newbery protagonist!” But I was wrong. Miss Hickory was not an African American. She was just a doll made of twigs and a hickory nut.

I wasn’t expecting to like another doll book. I didn’t really enjoy Hitty all that much, and there are many similarities. (authors in this era, really got a kick out placing dolls in birds’ nests for some reason) But I did like a lot of things about it. Parts of it are downright funny, especially when Miss Hickory gets her head eaten by the squirrel she is always insulting. I really liked the illustrations. They were very nicely done.

There were a few weird parts that I didn’t really get. The doe is by all appearances, shot by a hunter. The fawn follows her blood drops for a while and grieves her loss. The author even tells us that she is dead twice in the beginning of the book. In the list of characters it says “Doe: With God” and in the author’s note, she says that all the characters were still living, except doe. But then, when all the animals are lining up to look in the manger on Christmas Eve the doe lines right up with fawn, who doesn’t seem to think it’s all that remarkable. So either, doe wasn’t really dead, and fawn was just mistaken (and the author lied to us twice) or it was a ghost who was there as part of a Christmas miracle. Either way, the author could have done a better job explaining.

I looked to see if there were any other kids’ books published in 1946 that I liked better, but it didn’t seem to have that much competition, so I have no problem with it winning the 1947 Newbery.

I give it 3 out of 5 Newbery Pies.

The 1946 Newbery Winner: Strawberry Girl

strawberryThere were some aspects of this book I really liked: the Hatfield and McCoy-llike family feuding, (without all of the human murder), the old Florida setting and the cheerful resolution at the end. There were some aspects I didn’t like: the terrible illustrations (none of the characters seemed to be able to open or close their hands in the drawings) and some of the scenes that were especially stereotypical and contrived, like the boys throwing their school books on the ground and yelling “WE DON”T NEED NARY BOOK LURNIN,” (the dialect was pretty condescending and tiring the whole novel) They brothers make the scene original though at the end by beating up the teacher.

All in all, it’s not a terrible Newbery winner. It’s not my favorite by any means, but it’s not too long, and I’ve suffered through much worse.

3 out of five Newbery Pies

Next up: Miss Hickory

Rabbit Hill: The 1945 Newbery Winner

rabbit

We’re officially back in the swing of things at Newbery Pie, and I’ll pick up right where we left off.

It was 1945. The U.S. was right in the middle of a pretty dark war, and there were some terrible things going on around the world. There were concentration camps in Europe, interment camps in the U.S. and everyone knew and loved someone who could possibly not come back from the war alive. The world of kid’s literature needed a book that was simple, light and pleasant and that’s exactly what they got with Rabbit Hill. 

I thought the book was charming. The dialogue is funny, the characters are cute, even if they are kind of flat and not very deep. The main problem with the novel, though, is that it’s boring. I could never see one of my students reading the whole thing, and it’s only 128 pages. Maybe the world did need a Newbery winner that wasn’t too serious in the middle of WWII, but I can name two books right off the bat that were better than Rabbit Hill and more deserving of the Newbery. Ready? Stuart Little and The 100 Dresses. Both books still circulate decently in my library in 2014. Both are distinguished, and both mop the floor with Rabbit Hill. If Pippi Longstockings was eligible, it would have been more deserving too. I don’t know what happened with that 1945 Newbery Committee, but this is the first time that I obviously see them dropping the ball. This is the first of two slights to Mr. E.B. White. The next would happen in 1953. (Yeah, you know which one I’m talking about.) I wonder why the committees were so reluctant to award the man. He was a genius.

I give Rabbit Hill three Newbery Pies

Next up: Strawberry Girl

The 2015 Newbery Winner: Crossover

Last week, I did a Newbery prediction post here. While I didn’t get the winner right (Brown Girl Dreaming won an honor, but not the medal) I’m happy to say that I did mention the winner and both honor books in the post. Unfortunately, I didn’t spend a lot of time on El Deafo. I just mentioned that I hoped it would get some Newbery recognition, but that I didn’t really expect it to because it’s a graphic novel. But it did! Imagine that. I graphic novel won a Newbery Honor!

Anyways, even though I wanted, and expected Brown Girl Dreaming to win the whole shebang, (it did leave the YMA’s as probably the most heavily decorated book) I was super excited to see that Crossover actually took home the gold. I loved it and a lot of my fourth and fifth grade students have read it and loved it and recommended it to their classmates A few told me that it was better than BDG. I guess the committee agreed with them.

crossover

At first glance, Crossover is a basketball book, and it does have a lot of basketball in it (which serves to draw the middle-school/tween reader in) but it’s really so much more than that. It’s about family. It’s about growing up and meeting a father’s expectations. It’s about loss. As a novel in verse, it reads very quickly, which my students appreciate, and the rhythms of the book mesmerize.  I’ll admit it. I cried. I ask every student who checks it in if they did too, and all of them but one have said they did. (the other was a 5th grade boy and was probably lying) So yeah. There you have it. Your 2015 winner.

I happily give it five out of five Newbery Pies.

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