It is one of my life’s goals to read all the Newbery Award Winner and Honor books. The Newbery award was first given out in 1922, and every year since then, the committee has selected at least one book (the medal winner), but usually multiple books (the honor books), to receive this prestigious children’s literature award. I’d estimate that I’m about halfway through reading all the books on the list from 1922 to today, but since they add more books every year, it’s a struggle (a very enjoyable one) to catch up.
Shadrach was written by Meindert Dejong, who wrote several other Newbery books, and this book was a Newbery Honor book in 1954. The illustrations are by Maurice Sendak, of Where the Wild Things Are fame.
This book, like many of the early Newbery books, is fairly short and has an old-fashioned feel to it. The story is about a little boy named Davie who is going to get a black rabbit, which he names Shadrach. The story goes into Davie’s escapades before and after he gets his rabbit. To be honest, I felt like I was too old to be reading this book. Although many Newbery books are written so that adults can enjoy them and learn from them as well, this one was not. Dejong captured perfectly what it is to be a six-year-old boy, impatient and ready to be grown up–but it was incredibly annoying! Davie reminded me of the small children I used to take care of in the nursery, and how frustrating it is to have a child in your care disobey you, run off, and generally get into trouble. Oh well. Maybe next time, Dejong. I have another of your Newbery books on my shelf right now; maybe it will be more enjoyable for someone in their twenties.
Okay, I’ve read my other Dejong Newbery book: Hurry Home, Candy. It was a Newbery Honor book in 1954–the same year as Shadrach, so kudos to Dejong for his prolific writing. I liked this book much better than I liked Shadrach. There were children in this story, yes, but they didn’t figure so prominently in it. The plot centers around a small dog named Candy and his life, from puppyhood with the children and the mother who abused him with a broom (which I thought was slightly traumatizing, especially for a kids book), to his life as a stray in the woods, to his discovery of a man who became his companion. The story is told mostly from the viewpoint of the dog, and although I’m not a dog person, I feel Dejong really got inside the brain of a puppy who is lost and forced to fend for himself. The pain, the fear, the instinctual actions all felt real to me. Still, although I did like this book more than the previous Dejong book, it still wasn’t my favorite. Maybe I’m just not interested enough in dogs, but I think the real reason is that these books are–I hate to say it–outdated. Some books are enjoyable no matter how old they are, but some are a real product of their times, not just in subject matter, but in writing style. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the subtle humor of J.K. Rowling and the choppy, firsthand narrative of Suzanne Collins, but these books didn’t do it for me. Give them a read if you’re looking for something to remind you of a simpler time, but otherwise I’d skip them.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Have you read either of these books? Have any suggestions for what I should read next? Let me know in the comments!