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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Hitty is a doll of great charm and character. It is indeed a privilege to publish her memoirs, which, besides being full of the most thrilling adventures on land and sea, also reveal her delightful personality. One glance at her portrait will show that she is no ordinary doll. Hitty, or Mehitable as she was really named, was made in the early 1800s for Phoebe Preble, a little girl from Maine. Young Phoebe was very proud of her beautiful doll and took her everywhere, even on a long sailing trip in a whaler. This is the story of Hitty’s years with Phoebe, and the many that follow in the life of a well-loved doll. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This story about a beloved doll and her adventures was surprisingly interesting. Hitty is taken on trips, passed from girl to girl, and even lost during her first hundred years. I do remember that, reading this as a young teenager, I was a bit overwhelmed by the length of the book and the old-fashioned writing style, so for a younger kid, it might work better as a story you read to them, bit by bit. But don’t pass this book by simply because the main character is a doll. Hitty and her many owners over the years are sweet, fun characters to spend time with.
A dramatic tale of 15th century Poland, it tells the story of a courageous young patriot and a mysterious jewel of great value. The beautifully written book, filled with adventure and excitement, gives young readers a vivid picture of Krakow in the early Renaissance. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This was a fun, interesting story with what my young self described as a “very unusual setting.” I had not then read many books set in Poland, and I still haven’t, so I stick by that description. In fact, I might read this book again in the future to refresh my memory of this exciting story.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Millions of Cats
Once upon a time there was an old man and an old woman who were very lonely. They decided to get a cat, but when the old man went out searching, he found not one cat, but millions and billions and trillions of cats! Unable to decide which one would be the best pet, he brought them all home. How the old couple came to have just one cat to call their own is a classic tale that has been loved for generations. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This was so cute! It’s such a funny story with nice illustrations. Young kids will probably love it, and if you’re into cats and have a soft spot for the ridiculous, you might too.
It has been a while since I first read Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon, the 1928 Newbery medal winner, and I kind of want to go back and read it again. I enjoyed it well enough when I originally read it, but I think I might enjoy it even more as an adult.
Writing out of his own experience as a boy in India, Dhan Gopal Mukerji tells how Gay Neck’s master sent his prized pigeon to serve in Word War I, and of how, because of his exceptional training and his brave heart, Gay Neck served his new masters heroically. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book was actually pretty interesting and different from many of the other Newbery books of its time. It’s the story of a homing pigeon and the boy who owned him. Gay-Neck (so named because of his colorful feathers) is carefully trained by his young owner and then sent to serve in WWI. I can’t remember if the book is actually set in India as the Goodreads summary seems to imply, but if so, it’s one of the most diverse and interesting books out of the first ten or even twenty years of Newbery books. It’s definitely worth a read, whether you’re a child or an adult.
I’m picking back up with myNewberyreviewsbyyear, starting with 1927. Again, there was only one Newbery book for this year.
Medal Winner: Smokey, the Cowhorse; Will James
Smoky knows only one way of life: freedom. Living on the open range, he is free to go where he wants and to do what he wants. And he knows what he has to do to survive. He can beat any enemy, whether it be a rattlesnake or a hungry wolf. He is as much a part of the Wild West as it is of him, and Smoky can’t imagine anything else.
But then he comes across a new enemy, one that walks on two legs and makes funny sounds. Smoky can’t beat this enemy the way he has all the others. But does he really want to? Or could giving up some of his freedom mean getting something in return that’s even more valuable? (Summary via Goodreads.com)
When I first read this book, I wrote myself a note about it, which said, “A little slow, but usually pretty interesting.” I remember practically nothing about this book, which probably has something to do with my usual disdain for animalstories. My recommendation is, if you enjoy books about horses, you’ll probably enjoy this one. If not, you’ll probably forget everything about it as soon as you put it down, just like I did.
A series of fascinating Chinese stories, strong in humor and rich in Chinese wisdom, in which the author has caught admirably the spirit of Chinese life and thought. (Summary via Amazon.com)
This very short Amazon summary is close to the only information I could find about this Newbery winner. I read it as a child, so I don’t remember a huge amount about it, but even on the basis of this short review, I wish I did! My note to self from when I read the book says, “Very fun, short Chinese folk tales.” Maybe I should reread this one! It sounds great, but I remember close to nothing about it. I do remember that of all the Newbery short story/folk tale collections, this was my favorite. Let me know your thoughts if you read this one!