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 Book Roundup: January Edition

A collection of all the Newbery books I read in January. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Over the past month or so, I spent a lot of my reading time catching up on some Newbery books. If you’re here for the Newbery part of Newbery and Beyond, this post is for you. Enjoy!

Along Came a Dog

This book is by Meindert Dejong, a guy who I’ve had limited success reading in the past. This is partly because his books are old, and they read that way–the stories are old-fashioned and slow, and usually not much happens. Another strike against Dejong is that he tends to write animal books, something I have a hard time liking. But this one wasn’t too bad. I enjoyed the story of the little red hen, the big dog, and the man who watches out for them both. It’s cute and lighthearted, especially if you or your kids are particularly interested in the eccentricities of farm animals.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Voyagers

Ah, a book of mythology and short stories, two things which I really dislike as a general rule. Unfortunately, The Voyagers was no exception. This book was a 1926 Newbery honor book, and Colum’s writing is just as outdated as Dejong’s. (I realize this makes me sound like a spoiled modern-day reader who can’t stand anything slower paced than The Hunger Games… I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about that!)

The many stories in this book are all about ships and exploration and discovering new lands. Some are myths, but Columbus and Magellan also get a mention here. These short stories could make for fun bedtime reading if your kid is especially interested in exploring new worlds.

Rating: Meh

Honk, the Moose

This book was adorable. It’s a 1936 Newbery honor book, and it’s all about a moose that two boys discover inside their barn in Minnesota. At first, everyone is afraid and doesn’t know how to get rid of the moose, but the boys befriend him and start calling him Honk. The book is fully illustrated by Kurt Wiese, which makes it even more fun. The book does get into some dated and offensive cultural stereotypes (it was written in the 1930s), but these are easy to skim over if you are reading it aloud to your child.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Voice that Challenged a Nation

Oh, Russell Freedman. You are the best. You make me care about reading biographies, which is yet another book genre I usually steer clear of. Freedman has a way of shining new light on the famous figures in American history (his book on Eleanor Roosevelt is one of my favorites), and his biography of Marian Anderson is fantastic. Freedman discusses not only the incredible musical achievements of the contralto, but also gets into her fight for civil rights for African Americans. She, like Eleanor Roosevelt, broke ground in ways that were shocking for their time, ways which I was only remotely aware of before reading this book. (And apparently, Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson were friends! I love that thought.) Chock full of photos and snippets from newspapers and personal letters, this book is sure to teach your kids (or you) something new about this amazing woman.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Great Wheel

This Newbery honor book was a pretty interesting look at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (especially in light of one of my other recent reads). It follows Conn, a young Irish man who moves to Chicago to help his uncle build the first Ferris wheel in time for the fair. I do wish women weren’t relegated only to a romantic role throughout the book, but it’s still a fun read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Waterless Mountain

Let me start this mini review by saying that I have absolutely no idea how this book would have been received by Native Americans at the time it was written. The story follows a young Navajo boy (spelled “Navaho” throughout the book) and his journey to become a medicine man, but it was written in the 1930s by a white woman. Armer was well respected by the Native Americans she lived with, and she became very familiar with their customs and way of life, but it does beg the question of how accurate a portrait this book actually is.

As a story, I found Waterless Mountain pretty interesting. I enjoyed reading about the ceremonies and traditional stories that the Navajos passed down through the generations, and I didn’t find it patronizing as many Goodreads reviewers did. Still, use caution before passing this book down to your child.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ABC Bunny

This is a rhyming ABC book that tells the story of a bunny and his adventures, complete with black and white illustrations and a song you can sing with your child. (Interestingly, Gag’s sister and brother were the ones who wrote the song and drew the illustrations.) It’s pretty darn cute.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Extravaganza

This set of Newbery books contains some great stuff--and some less-than-great books. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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I’m posting another set of review of Newbery books I’ve read recently. Some I enjoyed; others, not so much. Learn from my mistakes!

Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery

This book was wonderful. I was amazed at how well-written a biography it was–not too complex for kids to follow, but not too dumbed-down for adults, either. And Eleanor Roosevelt was awesome! How did I not hear more about her in school? Anyway, I know about her now, and I have this book to thank. Even if you don’t normally go in for biographies (I don’t), this one is worth a look.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Silver Pencil

This book, on the other hand, was not a winner. It covers the story of a young girl as she grows up in Trinidad, moves to England after her father dies, and eventually winds up as a teacher in America. I found most of the book slow moving and boring (and sometimes a little racist–it was published in the 1940s), and the book covered so much of the girl’s life that I couldn’t figure out what age group would be interested in the story. This one was not for me.

Rating: Meh

The Loner

The nameless protagonist of this book is a nomad. He has no family, so he lives by his wits, picking crops to raise money to convince families to let him travel with them. His goal is to get to California, but when he finds himself alone again in Montana, he latches onto a brusque sheepherder and finds out that maybe belonging isn’t so bad after all. The story was definitely interesting and unusual–what’s the last book you read with a 13-year-old kid living on his own (that wasn’t a dystopian book)? I’m not sure if I’ll be reading it again, but I’m glad I read it once, at least.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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