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.
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
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
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).
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The story of young Nicholas Drury’s struggle to maintain his uncle’s shipyard in a Massachusetts town in the difficult years following the American Revolution. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Clearing Weather tells the story of the years right after the Revolutionary War. Nicholas is in charge of his uncle’s failing business when he decides to build his own ship and set it off in search of riches. This is not a bad story; I found myself enjoying the plot in many places, but it’s full of racism and sexism. For that reason, I found this book unsalvageable.
If you receive my newsletter (and if you don’t, get on that!), you know that I’ve been relying on our wonderful library’s interlibrary loan system to help me get some of the older, out of print Newbery honor books. Unfortunately, these books are often not as enjoyable as the more recent Newbery books, but I soldiered through them so you don’t have to! Read on to find out what I thought of three recent reads.
Tod of the Fens
Mystery farce with historical novel aspects set against the development of England’s merchant fleet and its trade in wool with the continent in the early 15th century. A bluff and jovial man, with an infectious laugh and a great shock of unkempt hair, Tod of the Fens leads a band of merry rogues and adventurers who live in rude huts in the fens near the port of Boston and prey on travelers for fun. Tod takes into his band Dismas, who is really Henry, the Prince of Wales. For a lark, he wagers Tod’s men that in a week and a day he will make fools of all the townsmen in Boston. Assuming various disguises, he steals one by one the five keys to the town strong box. he leaves the contents untouched and deposits the ekeys at the foot of the steeple of St. Botolph’s. The townspeople assume their treasure has been stolen, and suspicion falls on the wrong person. A series of amusing misadventures ensues involving a large number of people until finally Tod of the Fens takes possession of the treasure. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book is full of Old Timey Racism (this kind of goes without saying for most of the older Newbery books). And sadly, it doesn’t get interesting until the second half. Johanna, the mayor’s daughter, was pretty cool, though (she wants to sail, despite the restrictions on women in the 15th century, and she later gets kidnapped, providing some of the only excitement in the book).
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Runaway Papoose
Nah-Tee, a young Pueblo Indian girl, is separated from her parents when enemies raid their camp. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I actually really enjoyed this story. The illustrations are nice, and the story kept my interest the whole way. I wanted to find out what happened to Nah-tee and Moyo as they get in and out of trouble in their quest to find Nah-tee’s parents. Unfortunately I can’t recommend this book wholeheartedly, as it is (shockingly!) a bit racist and sexist.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Wonder Smith and His Son
The classic Gaelic stories about Gubbaun Saor, maker of worlds and shapes of universes, and his son, kept alive by Ella Young — as she heard them — in the tradition of Celtic storytelling. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
People, I just don’t like myths, or fables, or tall tales. So it probably comes as no surprise to you that I didn’t really enjoy this book. Some of the stories were entertaining, but I forgot them about as quickly as I read them. If you liked any of theseotherNewberybooks, you’ll probably like this one.
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.
These two Newbery books don’t really have anything to do with each other (other than the award). El Deafo is a 2015 honor book, a graphic novel about growing up deaf. George Washington’s World, on the other hand, was an honor book in 1942, and it fleshes out the history and leaders of the 1700s. The one thing these books have in common? They’re both really good!
“Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.
Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school–in the hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
El Deafo is a cute graphic novel that tackles the joys and difficulties of growing up deaf. It’s based on the author’s experiences, which I loved. This book definitely deserves the Newbery honor it received–it’s well written and drawn, and it offers representation to an underrepresented group. You’ll enjoy the book if you want to learn more about growing up deaf, but every kid will also be able to relate to the topic of not fitting in.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
George Washington’s World
This book offers information on the leaders and events around the world during the 1700s. Although you might think from the title that this book focuses mainly on American history, that’s not the case. Each chapter focuses on a different character from history, from Catherine the Great to George III to John and Abigail Adams. Although the Revolutionary War is the main event, the French Revolution, the Seven Years War, and other events and leaders from Russia to China to Australia to Africa are also included. The book is full of great drawings, maps, and musical snippets, so there’s a lot of visual interest (important in a history book of this length!).
At first I was put off by the cheery way most events and people are talked about (war, slavery, colonization, etc.), but later I started to appreciate the subtlety–none of the people discussed were wholly bad or good, and the author doesn’t shy away from mentioning the less savory aspects of our forefathers’ lives, even if she doesn’t dwell on them. The other thing I love about this book is that it was updated by the author’s daughter to add diversity. This book does a better job of discussing the roles of women, Native Americans, and African-Americans during this time period than you would expect, and I really appreciated that.
Many kids may not enjoy this book because it is pretty lengthy and a straight up history book, but if you or your child has a deep interest in this time period, it’s worth looking into.