Newbery Reviews: 1940

Unfortunately, the 1940 Newbery books were not really my favorites. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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It’s time for another Newbery roundup! This time I’m retroactively reviewing the 1940 Newbery books that I read as a child. And I’m sorry to say there were no real winners from that year. (All summaries via Goodreads.com.)

Medal Winner: Daniel Boone

Daniel Boone was a farmer who couldn’t stay put. Something was always pulling him westward into new and mysterious lands, and when this pull got so strong that he could no longer ignore it, and his wife and children could not persuade him to stay, he just went, with his toes pointing into the West and his eyes glued to the hills.

As a child, I knew a fair amount about Daniel Boone. He lived an interesting life full of adventure, and any kid who enjoys adventure stories is likely to enjoy learning about Daniel Boone’s life. Still, I found this book just okay. It definitely shows its age, and despite the interesting material, it couldn’t keep my attention for long.

Rating: Meh

Runner of the Mountain Tops: The Life of Louis Agassiz

Runner of the Mountain Tops: The Life of Louis Agassiz is a children’s biography of the nineteenth-century paleontologist and natural scientist Louis Agassiz by Mabel Robinson. It tells his life story from his boyhood in Switzerland to his professorship at Harvard.

When I read this book as a kid, I found it pretty awful. It was dry and boring, as many children’s biographies were at the time. Unless for some reason your child has a fascination with Louis Agassiz (I don’t know any children who do), I’d skip this book.

Rating: Skip This One

By the Shores of Silver Lake

Laura and her family are head to the Dakota Territory for a chance to own their own land–and stop moving. The new town of De Smet is filling up with settlers lured west by the promise of free land, and the Ingalls family must do whatever it takes too defend their claim.

If you enjoy the Little House on the Prairie series, I don’t need to tell you about this book. I enjoyed it when I read it, but it kind of blurs together with all the other books in the series. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that these books are classics for a reason–if you or your kids haven’t read them yet, give them a shot!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1939

The 1939 Newbery books includes the classic Mr. Popper's Penguins and the lovely Thimble Summer. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Medal Winner: Thimble Summer

When Garnet finds a silver thimble in the sand by the river, she is sure it’s magical. But is it magical enough to help her pig, Timmy, win a blue ribbon on Fair Day? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is one of those books that you could describe as charming. I love county fairs and kids having good old-fashioned fun, and that’s what Thimble Summer is all about. As with many of my childhood Newbery reads, I just wish I could remember more about it!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

The Poppers unexpectedly come into possession of a penguin, then get a penguin from the zoo who mates with the first penguin to have 10 baby penguins. Before long, something must be done before they eat the Poppers out of house and home! (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is probably one of the best-known Newbery books ever given the award (aside from the Little House on the Prairie series and A Wrinkle in Time), and for good reason. It’s funny, cute, and a little ridiculous. Mr. Popper somehow acquires a houseful of penguins, which he and his family must then deal with. Kids have loved this book for decades, and I don’t think that will change anytime soon.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 1938

In which Kate Seredy finally wins a Newbery medal and Laura Ingalls Wilder wins a Newbery honor. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Medal Winner: The White Stag
Finally Kate Seredy wins a Newbery Medal! This book of myths from the Hungarian culture is by the author of The Good Master and The Singing Tree, and if you remember how much I enjoyed those books, you’ll have an idea of how I felt about this one. I’m not usually a fan of myths, but these are well written and a beautiful look at a country to which I feel a deep connection.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

On the Banks of Plum Creek
This book is part of the Little House on the Prairie series, which I loved as a child. This one wasn’t my favorite, but it fits well in the series. Other than that, I honestly can’t remember much about this book–all of them seem to blur together. It may be time for a Little House on the Prairie readthrough!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Review: 1937

A quick review of Roller Skates, the 1937 Newbery medal winner. | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Medal Winner: Roller Skates

Growing up in a well-to-do family with strict rules and routines can be tough for a ten-year-old girl who only wants to roller skate. But when Lucinda Wyman’s parents go overseas on a trip to Italy and leave her behind in the care of Miss Peters and Miss Nettie in New York City, she suddenly gets all the freedom she wants! Lucinda zips around New York on her roller skates, meeting tons of new friends and having new adventures every day. But Lucinda has no idea what new experiences the city will show her…. Some of which will change her life forever. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is yet another book I read as a child and remember very little about. What I do remember is Lucinda’s freedom in New York City, as she uses her trusty roller skates to explore. My note to myself at the time I read it was that this was a fun story, and I believe it. If only I could remember more about it! (Thus why I started this blog: I’m super forgetful about the books I read unless I write down what I thought about them.)

P.S. I recently (December 2016) re-read this book. It was just as fun–Lucinda is a great, spunky character–but there are a lot more sad moments than I remembered. Be aware before you hand this one off to a child.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1936

Quick reviews of the 1936 Newbery medal and honor books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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It’s time for another round of quick reviews of my long-ago Newbery reads! Today’s post is all about the 1936 Newbery books.

Medal Winner: Caddie Woodlawn

Caddie Woodlawn is a real adventurer. She’d rather hunt than sew and plow than bake, and tries to beat her brother’s dares every chance she gets. Caddie is friends with Indians, who scare most of the neighbors — neighbors who, like her mother and sisters, don’t understand her at all.

Caddie is brave, and her story is special because it’s based on the life and memories of Carol Ryrie Brink’s grandmother, the real Caddie Woodlawn. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is yet another historical fiction book I read while in elementary school. Although I remember enjoying it, I remember almost nothing about the plot. Caddie is a fun character, though, and reading the plot summary has made me want to re-read the book and see how it holds up.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Good Master

As you may remember from my review of The Singing Tree, I really like Kate Seredy’s books. This one (a prequel to The Singing Tree) still has a lot of interesting Hungarian history, but it’s a lot more cheerful, and the kids are much younger and more mischievous. Kate is sent to the Nagy farm by her father, who is at his wits’ end. Kate is selfish, spoiled, and temperamental, but her cousin Jancsi, her aunt and uncle, and life on the farm soon straighten her out. Definitely worth a read, especially if you follow it up with the sequel.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Review: 1935

A quick review of Day on Skates, a Newbery Honor winner from 1935. | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Although the 1935 Newbery award was given to several books, I have read only one of the honor books. Day on Skates: The Story of a Dutch Picnic is a sweet, fully illustrated story of a winter day in Holland when the canal ices over.

Day on Skates is exactly what the title leads you to believe. It’s very short, making it a great book to read with your younger kids (but do watch out for Old-Timey Sexism). I enjoy reading about the daily lives of people from countries other than the U.S. and England, the locations of most of the children’s books that are readily available in my country, and this book scratches that itch.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Review: 1934

An interesting look at Louisa May Alcott's fascinating life and views on writing. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Medal Winner: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women

This book is a short biography about Little Women author Louisa May Alcott. She lived a fascinating life surrounded by some of the greatest writers of the time, and her own views on writing and her classic book are not what you might think. This is a book for children, so of course it’s not a tell-all (and of course no one can stack up to Russell Freedman for biographies about important and fascinating historical figures), but it is full of interesting facts and stories about Louisa May Alcott’s life. Definitely worth a look if your child is a fan of Little Women or wants to learn more about the lives of female American authors.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1933

A quick review of the 1933 Newbery medal and honor books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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In our journey through the early years of Newbery winners, we have now come to the place in which I have actually read many of the books, but I read them so long ago or they were so unmemorable that I have little to say about them. Although I definitely read these 1933 Newbery books, I have very little memory of them. Still, I’ll offer you my best thoughts to help you decide whether or not you (or your kid) will enjoy them.

Medal Winner: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze

When Young Fu arrives with his mother in bustling 1920s Chungking, all he has seen of the world is the rural farming village where he has grown up. He knows nothing of city life. But the city, with its wonders and dangers, fascinates the thirteen-year-old boy, and he sets out to make the best of what it has to offer him. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I have memories of reading this book for school as a kid, and to this day, most of what I know about 1900s China probably comes from this book (sad but true). This is the kind of book that made me love historical fiction, and I would be totally interested in reading it again sometime.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Swift Rivers

Barred from his family homestead by his mean-spirited uncle, eighteen-year-old Chris weathers a Minnesota winter in a small cabin with his grandfather. Poverty and the tempting stories of a wandering Easterner convince Chris to harvest the trees on his grandfather’s land and float the logs down the spring floodwaters of the Mississippi to the lumber mills in Saint Louis. Filled with stories of raft hands and river pilots, this fast-paced novel has all the momentum of the great Mississippi. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

In my original notes from reading this book, I wrote that it was “surprisingly interesting and usually fast-paced.” Does that mean I remember it? Apparently not. But I can tell you that if I wrote “surprisingly interesting” about a book about logging down the Mississippi, “surprisingly” is the key word.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Review: 1932

A quick review of Calico Bush, one of the 1932 Newbery honor books. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Calico Bush

Left orphaned and alone in a strange country, thirteen-year-old Marguerite Ledoux has no choice but to become a servant girl. She promises her services to the Sargent family for six long years in return for food and shelter. But life as a “bound-out girl” is full of more hardship than Maggie ever could have imagined. Living with the family in an isolated part of northern Maine, Maggie struggles through the harsh, hungry winter of 1743, the constant threat of Indian attacks, and worst of all, the loneliness she suffers knowing that her own family is lost forever. Will the Sargents’ house ever feel like home? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Calico Bush is another historical fiction Newbery book that I read as part of my homeschool curriculum. (Thanks, Sonlight!) Although it is written by Rachel Field, author of Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, this book is nothing like her early Newbery book.

The main character of this book, Maggie, gives the reader a window into early colonial life, complete with all its hardships. You’ll read about indentured servants, harsh weather, illness, death, and conflict with Native Americans (remember that this book was written in 1932, and thus has all the insensitivity you would expect from a book of that time). Although I don’t remember being traumatized by this book as a child, it is definitely for a middle grades audience.

Books like these are why I still count myself a fan of historical fiction, even though I find most adult historical fiction novels a bit dry. I would love to read this book again someday and refresh my memories of it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1931

The latest addition to my series of Newbery book reviews: quick reviews of the 1931 Newbery books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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1931 Newbery Medal Winner: The Cat Who Went to Heaven

This is the story of a little cat who came to the home of a poor Japanese artist, and, by humility and devotion, brought him good fortune. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I read this book as a child as part of my homeschool curriculum. It’s about a cat who belongs to a painter who is commissioned to paint a picture of the Buddha surrounded by animals. The painter includes a cat in the picture, and he gets in a lot of trouble for doing so–apparently the cat refused to help Buddha when he was walking around on earth. But the painter’s beloved cat keeps worming its way back into the artist’s life and heart. It’s a short and sweet story that you or your pet-loving kids will really enjoy.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Spice and the Devil’s Cave

A story of the rivalry between Arab traders, the city-state of Venice, and of the struggling nation of Portugal to dominate the spice trade by finding a new sea route to India by going around the “Devil’s Cave” — the Cape of Good Hope. In Lisbon, the workshop of Abel Zakuto, a Jew, becomes the meeting place for Vasco da Gama, Bartholomeu Dias, and Ferdinand Magellan to discuss their plans to find this sea route. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

In my original notes for this book, I wrote that it was a “really interesting story.” I honestly don’t remember much about it now, but the fact that I said a book was “very good” when it’s all about ocean voyages is really saying something (as you might recall, I have mixed feelings about books about the sea). So… maybe pick it up? I obviously enjoyed it, but the fact that it was so forgettable doesn’t make me feel great about recommending it wholeheartedly.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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