11 August 2009

Newbery Medal books

I finished reading the last of the John Newbery Medal winners the other day.

In March of '07, I took a look at a list of the 86 winners (now 88) of the medal, which is presented annually to the author of "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children" (ie, the "best" new children's/YA book published in the US during the preceding year). I was quite surprised to discover that I had only read seven of the books, and that the newest of those seven was forty years old. The seven were:
The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (the 1923 winner, by Hugh Lofting)
Rabbit Hill (1945, Robert Lawson)
Strawberry Girl (1946, Lois Lenski)
The Twenty-One Balloons (1948, William Pène du Bois)
A Wrinkle in Time (1963, Madeleine L'Engle)
It's Like This, Cat (1964, Emily Neville)
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler (1968, E L Konigsburg)
So I began reading my way through the list. They're a very mixed bag. The first winner, The Story of Mankind (1922, Hendrik Willem van Loon) is a history of the world*. There are four biographies (of Louisa May Alcott, Daniel Boone, Amos Fortune and Abraham Lincoln), two books of poetry, and a book of short "plays" that might as well be poetry. There's a lot of historical fiction, ranging from mediaeval England (Adam of the Road, The Door in the Wall) to the American Revolution (Johnny Tremain) to the USCW (Rifles for Watie) to 12th-century Korea (A Single Shard) to 17th-century Spain (I, Juan de Pareja) to WWII Denmark (Number the Stars). There's a bit of fantasy, both high fantasy like The Hero and the Crown and modern-world-with-magic stuff like The Grey King, and I think A Wrinkle in Time is normally classified as science fiction. And, of course, there are plenty of "regular" books like Thimble Summer, Miracles on Maple Hill, Criss Cross and It's Like This, Cat.

Some of them called for a bit of extra reading: Dicey's Song (1983, Cynthia Voigt), for instance, was the second in a series, The High King (1969, Lloyd Alexander) was the fifth, and The Grey King (1976, Susan Cooper) was the fourth, and I figured they'd make a little more sense to me if I read the preceding books first.

As could be expected, there were some I liked and others I disliked. My favourites (in order of publication) were:

Rabbit Hill (1945, Robert Lawson)
Miracles on Maple Hill (1957, Virginia Sorensen)
Onion John (1960, Joseph Krumgold)
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler (1968, E L Konigsburg)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1977, Mildred D Taylor)
The Westing Game (1979, Ellen Raskin)
Dicey's Song (1983, Cynthia Voigt)
Number the Stars (1990, Lois Lowry)
Maniac Magee (1991, Jerry Spinelli)
Walk Two Moons (1995, Sharon Creech)
The Graveyard Book (2009, Neil Gaiman)

It's hard to name a single, number-one favourite, but Dicey's Song may be the one - I enjoyed it and its prequel, Homecoming, so much that I went on to read three other books in the series. On the other hand, I've read Frankweiler several times through the years....

The ones I really didn't care for were (same order):
Smoky, the Cowhorse (1927, Will James)
Dobry (1935, Monica Shannon)
The White Stag (1938, Kate Seredy)
Secret of the Andes (1953, Ann Nolan Clark)
The Bronze Bow (1962, Elizabeth George Speare)
Out of the Dust (1998, Karen Hesse)
Kira-Kira (2005, Cynthia Kadohata)

Fortunately, there were more books in the first group than the second! Smoky, the Cowhorse is just what the title implies: A book about a cow pony. Not a bad story overall, but the book is written in dialect. Not just the dialogue - the whole bloody book! A little of that goes a long, long way indeed.

Dobry is about a Bulgarian peasant boy who wants to become a sculptor. Kira-Kira is about a Japanese family - two girls and their parents - living in rural Georgia in the 1950s. In both cases, I couldn't really develop an interest in either the protagonists or their situation.

The White Stag is apparently based on Hungarian legend. I can't really say why I didn't care for it; I just didn't.

Secret of the Andes is about a young boy raised high in the mountains as a heir to the Incas. I thought this one was just plain boring. Extremely boring. Ditto The Bronze Bow, which is about a band of Jewish rebels in early first-century Judaea.

Out of the Dust is about a family in Dust Bowl Oklahoma. The mother and her baby die as the result of a rather horrible accident, leaving the daughter and her father to try to keep the family farm going. This could have been a very good book - both the plot and the characters were interesting - but unfortunately Hesse wrote the story not as a novel, but as a series of poems. I'm not all that big on poetry to begin with, and when I do I want both rhyme and metre. Blank verse just doesn't do a thing for me.

I'm somewhat ambivalent about A Wrinkle in Time - I really enjoyed it when I first read it, back in fourth grade**, but when I tried rereading it a few years ago I couldn't finish it. It's one of the two books I'd read before that I haven't reread yet this year; we'll see what I think of it this time round.

I couldn't make up my mind if I liked Criss Cross (2006, Lynne Rae Perkins) or not. My 13-year-old daughter agrees with me that it is a very peculiar story.

Here's the complete list:
1922: The Story of Mankind, by Hendrik Willem van Loon
1923: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting
1924: The Dark Frigate, by Charles Hawes
1925: Tales from Silver Lands, by Charles J Finger
1926: Shen of the Sea, by Arthur Bowie Chrisman
1927: Smoky, the Cowhorse, by Will James
1928: Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon, by Dhan Gopal Mukerji
1929: The Trumpeter of Krakow, by Eric P. Kelly
1930: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field
1931: The Cat Who Went to Heaven, by Elizabeth Coatsworth
1932: Waterless Mountain, by Laura Adams Armer
1933: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, by Elizabeth Lewis
1934: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women, by Cornelia Meigs
1935: Dobry, by Monica Shannon
1936: Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink
1937: Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer
1938: The White Stag, by Kate Seredy
1939: Thimble Summer, by Elizabeth Enright
1940: Daniel Boone, by James Daugherty
1941: Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry
1942: The Matchlock Gun, by Walter Edmonds
1943: Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray
1944: Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes
1945: Rabbit Hill, by Robert Lawson
1946: Strawberry Girl, by Lois Lenski
1947: Miss Hickory, by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey
1948: The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pène du Bois
1949: King of the Wind, by Marguerite Henry
1950: The Door in the Wall, by Marguerite de Angeli
1951: Amos Fortune, Free Man, by Elizabeth Yates
1952: Ginger Pye, by Eleanor Estes
1953: Secret of the Andes, by Ann Nolan Clark
1954: ...And Now Miguel, by Joseph Krumgold
1955: The Wheel on the School, by Meindert DeJong
1956: Carry On, Mr Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham
1957: Miracles on Maple Hill, by Virginia Sorensen
1958: Rifles for Watie, by Harold Keith
1959: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare
1960: Onion John, by Joseph Krumgold
1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell
1962: The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare
1963: A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle
1964: It's Like This, Cat, by Emily Neville
1965: Shadow of a Bull, by Maia Wojciechowska
1966: I, Juan de Pareja, by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
1967: Up a Road Slowly, by Irene Hunt
1968: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, by E L Konigsburg
1969: The High King, by Lloyd Alexander
1970: Sounder, by William H Armstrong
1971: The Summer of the Swans, by Betsy Byars
1972: Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C O'Brien
1973: Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
1974: The Slave Dancer, by Paula Fox
1975: M C Higgins, the Great, by Virginia Hamilton
1976: The Grey King, by Susan Cooper
1977: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D Taylor
1978: Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
1979: The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin
1980: A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-1832, by Joan W Blos
1981: Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson
1982: A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers, by Nancy Willard
1983: Dicey's Song, by Cynthia Voigt
1984: Dear Mr Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary
1985: The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley
1986: Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan
1987: The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman
1988: Lincoln: A Photobiography, by Russell Freedman
1989: Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, by Paul Fleischman
1990: Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry
1991: Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli
1992: Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
1993: Missing May, by Cynthia Rylant
1994: The Giver, by Lois Lowry
1995: Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech
1996: The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman
1997: The View from Saturday, by E L Konigsburg
1998: Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse
1999: Holes, by Louis Sachar
2000: Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis
2001: A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck
2002: A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park
2003: Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi
2004: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, by Kate DiCamillo
2005: Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata
2006: Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins
2007: The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron, illustrated by Matt Phelan
2008: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz
2009: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

As you can see, a few fortunate writers have won the medal twice: Joseph Krumgold (1954 and 1960), Elizabeth George Speare (1959, 1962), E L Konigsburg (1968, 1997), Katherine Paterson (1978, 1981) and Lois Lowry (1990, 1994). Sharon Creech is the only author thus far to receive both the Newbery Medal (1995) and its British equivalent, the Carnegie Medal (2002, for Ruby Holler).

Wendy Burton, at Six Boxes of Books, finished reading all of the Newbery winners last year. Her three-part commentary can be found here, here and here. The Newbery Project has reviews of all 88 books, written by various contributors to the blog.

Note: Amazon links are provided for reference, and to let you read other people's reviews of the books. As always, buying from your local independent bookstore is encouraged. Daniel Boone, I think, is the only Newbery winner not still in print, and I had no trouble obtaining it by ILL.

* There's a movie!
** Three cheers for Scholastic books and their in-school orders.


Wendy said...

Thanks for linking! I thought it was interesting that three of your favorites made my least-favorite list.

Onion John was probably the book that surprised me the most (in that I had no interest in reading it beforehand but ended up liking it very much). Was there a surprise book for you?

RM1(SS) (ret) said...

Onion John was probably the book that surprised me the most (in that I had no interest in reading it beforehand but ended up liking it very much). Was there a surprise book for you?

I have to agree with you there - I thought that was going to be one I'd end up finishing only because it was a Newbery. Can't remember which one it was offhand, but there was another one that surprised me in the opposite way - I thought I'd really like it, but didn't.