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 Roundup: January 2017

The latest Newbery books, both new and old, that I've read over the past couple of months. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was so lovely! Minli’s journey to find the Old Man of the Moon was such a fun way to string together the Chinese folk stories that author Grace Lin grew up reading. Plus there is beautiful full color art. This is a quick read that should be on your (or your child’s) TBR list.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Tangle-Coated Horse

Ella Young was born in 1867 in the little village of Feenagh, County Antrim. “From childhood I heard tales of ghosts, banshees, haunted castles, mischievous and friendly sprites, snatches of ballads, and political arguments….It was not until I came to Dublin and met Standish O’Grady, A.E., and Kuna Meyer that I realized what a heritage waited for me in Celtic literature. I read every translation I could get, learned Irish, and betook myself to Gaelic Ireland where, by turf fires, I could hear the poems of the Fianna recited by folk who had heard the faery music and danced in faery circles…”

This is one of the old, out of print Honor books that I’ve ordered through interlibrary loan. I’m finding that most of the books that fall into that category are short story collections, which I’m not a big fan of (as you might remember). This one, a collection of tales about ancient Ireland and the magical creatures that lived there, is not too bad, but I found myself getting bored much of the time. I have a feeling your kids will probably feel the same way about it.

Rating: Meh

Vaino

Tales and legends from Finland form the background to this story of a modern Finnish boy who is a student during the Finnish Revolution of World War I that freed that country from oppressive Russian rule.

Vaino was surprisingly enjoyable. Expecting another short story collection (see above), I was glad to find that the majority of this book consists of historical fiction focused on Finland in the early 20th century. There are short stories here about the fictional creatures and gods that populated ancient Finland (of course there are), but they are interspersed with the real-life events of the Finnish revolution during WWI and the adventures of Vaino, a young Finnish boy who gets caught up in these events. The intertwining of these two threads made this book work.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

In the Beginning

A thought-provoking collection of twenty-five stories that reflect the wonder and glory of the origins of the world and humankind. With commentary by the author.

You know I love Virginia Hamilton. This Newbery book of hers, In the Beginning, retells many of the world’s creation stories. The book is filled with great illustrations and explanations of these myths, including the various types of creation stories. I didn’t find this book as compelling as the last Virginia Hamilton I read, but I certainly don’t regret reading it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Year of Billy Miller

When Billy Miller has a mishap at the statue of the Jolly Green Giant at the end of summer vacation, he ends up with a big lump on his head. What a way to start second grade, with a lump on your head! As the year goes by, though, Billy figures out how to navigate elementary school, how to appreciate his little sister, and how to be a more grown up and responsible member of the family and a help to his busy working mom and stay-at-home dad.

If you’ve read as many Newbery books as I have, you start to realize that there are major themes for the different time periods in which they’ve given the award. As mentioned above, many of the early Newbery books are collections of myths and short stories, while the 70s and 80s brought a glut of historical fiction. The most recent decade or so has been marked by unique, easy-to-read writing styles and a branching out from the topics of previous years.

The Year of Billy Miller, a Newbery honor book from 2014, fits nicely into that description. It’s a sweet story about a wonderful, ordinary second grade year. In four consecutive sections, seven-year-old Billy learns how to get along with his teacher, his mother, his sister, and his father. Your second grader will almost certainly enjoy this book.

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 Roundup: November

Quick reviews of my latest Newbery reads, both recent and backlist. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’ve been working my way through several more Newbery books, both new and old, this month. Surprisingly, all of them were enjoyable, and a couple were very good!

Splendors and Glooms

The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants.

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is just fun children’s fiction. It’s a dark story with lots of magic. The kids are likable characters, and the inner thoughts of each of the three (pampered but overprotected Clara, hardworking Lizzie Rose, and frightened, angry Parsefall) are interesting to follow.

If you or your kids are looking for a magical story with a bit of an edge, you couldn’t do much better than Splendors and Glooms.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Inside Out & Back Again

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Inside Out & Back Again is a novel told in free verse poetry. It depicts the author’s fictionalized experiences of moving to Alabama after the Vietnam War, and it is by turns heartwarming and saddening. The first segment of the book describes Hà’s life in Vietnam with all the foods and traditions that she loves. But after the Vietnam War forces Hà and her family to move to the United States, Hà finds herself struggling to learn a new language, eat new foods, and meet people who aren’t excited to see a different face.

This is a book that not only teaches about a certain era of our world’s recent history, but also has important applications in our world today. In a time of worldwide upheaval with millions of refugees fleeing their home countries, Inside Out & Back Again can offer middle grade kids a new perspective on the struggles and joys that many immigrants face.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Her Stories

In the tradition of Hamilton’s The People Could Fly and In the Beginning, a dramatic new collection of 25 compelling tales from the female African American storytelling tradition. Each story focuses on the role of women–both real and fantastic–and their particular strengths, joys and sorrows. Full-color illustrations. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is probably my favorite book in this whole roundup, and it’s not even a Newbery book (Virginia Hamilton is a multiple-time Newbery author, but this book is not one of those Newbery books). Her Stories is a book of lovely stories and illustrations. It includes African, African-American, and Creole folk tales and fairy tales, along with a few nonfiction bios, all focused on female protagonists. And I love the fact that each of the tales includes helpful explanatory notes which describe the origins of the story and how it ties into that culture’s storytelling tradition.

If you want to add diversity to your child’s bookshelf, you could hardly do better than this collection of stories about African and African American women. The stories themselves are wonderful, the illustrations are gorgeous, and the short story format makes it easy to read one or two with your child before bed. I can’t recommend this not-quite-Newbery book enough.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Little Blacknose

A fictional history of railroading, as told by the first steam engine. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Little Blacknose is a short story for young children about the first steam engine in the United States. The little engine makes its journeys to Schenectady and gradually meets many other engines throughout his career.

Reading this as an adult was not super enjoyable; it’s just too simple and even silly. If your young child is really into trains, though, this might make a good read-aloud book (just be sure to skip the few racist bits).

Rating: Meh

The Crossover

“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’m not a big fan of poetry (another recent Newbery book, Brown Girl Dreaming, is a notable exception), but this book was good. Josh and his twin brother JB deal with basketball, girls, tragedy, and growing up through Josh’s rhymes.

Crossover is a fun book with some surprisingly dark themes. Definitely recommended for middle grade readers.

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 Reads: October

Reviews of Monica's latest Newbery reads. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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The Family Under the Bridge

This is the delightfully warm and enjoyable story of an old Parisian named Armand, who relished his solitary life. Children, he said, were like starlings, and one was better off without them. But the children who lived under the bridge recognized a true friend when they met one, even if the friend seemed a trifle unwilling at the start. And it did not take Armand very long to realize that he had gotten himself ready-made family; one that he loved with all his heart, and one for whom he would have to find a better home than the bridge. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a book I’m almost sure I read as a child, but I couldn’t quite remember it, so I decided to read it again. It’s a sweet story about a homeless man whose home under a bridge in Paris is suddenly invaded by a trio of children and their mother. Armand takes the children on adventures (much to their mother’s chagrin), and he even begins to enjoy their company.

There is a bit of sexism throughout the book, as well as references to “gypsies” that are outdated at best and Old-Timey Racism at worst. There are also some great illustrations by the illustrator behind the Little House on the Prairie series, Garth Williams.

Despite some questionable aspects, this is still an enjoyable, sweet book. If you read this one to your child, you can skip over some of the more offensive statements.

“Today is today and tomorrow may come late this year.”

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Belling the Tiger

The classic story is brought to life with colorful illustrations in a picture book format. Award-winning illustrator Pierre Pratt adds whimsical new art to this charming tale about two little mice assigned to a mission of putting a bell collar on the mean house cat. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is all about the illustrations. The well-known story about mice attempting to put a bell on the house cat turns into a wild adventure when two small mice get taken away on a ship and eventually meet a tiger. It’s a short, cute, funny story that younger kids will love.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can read all the posts in this series here.

Newbery Mini Review

This 1929 Newbery book is not worth your time. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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This book is the only Newbery book from 1929 that I hadn’t already read. It’s a book of short stories and poems, many of which are based on historical events, myths, or fairy tales. This is going to be a very short review, because The Pigtail of Ah Lee Ben Loo consists of intricate but racist illustrations and a variety of fun, funny, or boring racist/sexist stories and poems. People, just leave this book alone.

Rating: Skip This One

Despite my usual hatred for short stories in general and this book in particular, I really like this quote about short stories by Neil Gaiman:

“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.

Newbery Review: The Boy Who Was

The Boy Who Was is yet another early Newbery book full of mythology. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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The latest in my exploration of the oldest Newbery books continues with The Boy Who Was. This book is yet another mythology collection, this time about Italy. A young boy named Nino is given eternal life, and thus he is present throughout many factual and mythological events in Italy’s history.

You all know my feelings about mythology and short stories (I hate them), and although this one was better written and more interesting than most, I still wouldn’t read it again.

Rating: Meh

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