Newbery Project: 1920s

Some time back, I began a project to read all of the books that have been awarded the Newbery Medal. After scanning the list of winners, I realized that I’d only read a dozen or so of the books, the earliest of which was written in 1949 (Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind). So delving into the list at the beginning seemed a good way to tackle it. Unfortunately, a couple of ridiculously busy school years threw a giant roadblock into my progress, but I think I have my momentum back. For now, I’ll space out the posts I’ve already created so you won’t have a Newbery barrage! As I progress through the list, I’ll review my thoughts on each decade’s choice (the Medal was first awarded in 1923) and select my favorite work from each decade.

Let’s just say that children’s reading habits really have changed. Most of the books I checked out from the library were long–several hundred pages each. In reverse order, here are the titles:

The History of Mankind by Henrik Willem van Loon – He’s not kidding. He started with aaaaaaaaaaancient history (think primordial soup) and covered most major world events through the end of the first World War. Surprisingly, the writing was quite engaging. It was the hardest slog, though, probably because it was nonfiction (not my favorite genre).

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting – I kept picturing Rex Harrison, especially when they finally met the Great Glass Sea Snail. Apparently, this book has had to be revised to take out some of the more offensive language common for the 20s that would not fly these days.

Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger – This is a collection of stories from South America illustrated with woodcuts. I’m still wondering what a “gentle huanaco” is. I’m thinking llama, but I could be wrong.

The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes – A pirate-y kind of tale. Slow going at first, like a ship pulling out of the harbor, but plenty of skullduggery to keep things moving as you go along.

Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman – Another story collection with silhouette illustrations this time. All of these are Chinese, but none were familiar.

Smoky, The Cow Horse by Will James – Since I’ve never fully outgrown my Misty of Chincoteague phase, I figured I’d like this one, and I did. Will James was a self-taught writer and artist, and I have to say that this book is an excellent example of strong authorial voice. A book on tape of this title would demand Sam Elliott as its reader.

Gay-Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji – By the time I got to this book, I started to feel that the early Newbery committee members were making a conscious effort to introduce American children to other cultures. This one is set in India and the central characters are Indian natives, but it definitely nods its head to the country’s ruler at the time, Great Britain. Gay-Neck, the pigeon, ends up as a carrier pigeon for an Indian regiment fighting with the British in France during WWI. I liked it more than I thought I would.

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly – Historical fiction that blends Polish history, the Heynal played four times at the hour from the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow, alchemy, and intrigue. What exactly is Joseph’s father hiding in that pumpkin shell? Who are those creepy Tartars following the family from the Ukraine to Krakow? And will the Alchemist Kreutz discover how to transmute brass into gold?

And my favorite is…

The Trumpeter of Krakow!

Props to Eric Kelly for writing a gripping story that manages to teach you a heck of a lot about medieval Poland at the same time. I love historical fiction anyway, and this book, even though written for children, was complex and interesting. If you’re able to find the pictured copy (like I was; I think my public library bought it as a first edition), spend some time with the great illustrations. Janina Domanska has done a marvelous job evoking medieval art with her chapter illustrations.

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