Twenty-Five Newberies in, I thought I’d pause and reflect on a quarter century’s worth of award winning children books from 1922 to 1946. I started this project with pretty high hopes about the delight of reading so many wonderful children’s books. However, it became apparent only a few books in that this was going to definitely be a labor of love at times, emphasis on labor.
I struggle with knowing how to talk about the books that I didn’t love (Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy has started a great conversation about this issue in general.) One thing about reviewing these old Newberies is that the authors have all died, and no one will really get offended if I say that I really didn’t enjoy a particular book. But at the same time, I want to get in the habit of talking about books the way that I’d like people to talk about my book someday, even if they didn’t like it: honestly tempered with respect and a gracious spirit.
Still, I am finding that there are some books I’m recommending to friends, and some that I am not. The majority of the early Newberies I’d recommend if someone had a particular interest in that topic. And a few I wouldn’t recommend even if someone really was interested in it, because there are so many other books that do it better.
The books I find I’m recommending most are: Caddie Woodlawn, Strawberry Girl, Roller Skates, and Thimble Summer (female protagonists); Johnny Tremain, Adam of the Road, and Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze (male protagonists), and Dr. Dolittle and Rabbit Hill (animal adventures).
Here’s the first 25, with my original tweets about them and who (if anyone) I would recommend these books to:
Newbery Review #25, Strawberry Girl, 1946: 1900s rural Florida, feuding farming families, strong pioneer ladies.
Recommend? Yes! especially Laura Ingles Wilder fans.
Newbery Review #24, Rabbit Hill, 1945 farm animals anticipate a new farmer arriving, spirit of Beatrix Potter.
Recommended? Yes! especially anyone longing for spring (i.e. all the Midwest).
Newbery Review #23, Johnny Tremain, 1944: Teenage Patriot Bostonian in months leading up to American Revolution.
Recommended? Yes, most everyone, especially boys or revolutionary war buffs.
Newbery Review #22, Adam of the Road, 1943: Medieval minstrel boy’s journey. One of the best Newberies far.
Recommended? Yes! everyone, especially lovers of medieval adventures and dogs coming home.
Newbery Review #21, Matchlock Gun, 1943: Surprisingly strong mother figure and very cool old Spanish gun.
Recommended? Only if you really like Dutch New York or quick stories about stand-offs with Native Americans, or very old guns.
Newbery Review #20, Call it Courage, 1941: Polynesian Legend. Hero’s Journey. Desert Island Adventure.
Recommended? Maybe, if you really like desert survivor stories or are looking to study the hero’s journey.
Newbery Review #19, Daniel Boone, 1940: Did almost being WWII make this Americana book win the Newbery?
Recommended? No, not even if you really love Daniel Boone, not even if he is your great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.
Newbery Review #18, Thimble Summer, 1939: one of my favorite early Newberies, about a plucky Wisconsin girl.
Recommended? Yes! especially Laura Ingles Wilder Fans.
Newbery Review #17, White Stag,1938: Attila the Hun in a tiny Wagner opera/Norse-Eastern take on Moses.
Recommended? No, not even if you really love Attlia the Hun and Wagner. Well maybe then; maybe.
Newbery Review #16, Roller Skates,1937: if Anne (of Green Gables) got stuck in Manhattan w/ roller skates.
Recommended? Yes! everyone who loves a spunky girl and can handle a mediocre ending to a fantastic beginning.
Newbery Review# 15, Caddie Woodlawn, 1936: 15 years & 25 miles apart, Caddie & Laura Ingles Wilder could have been best friends.
Recommended? Yes! especially Laura Ingles Wilder Fans.
Newbery Review #14, Dobry, 1935: Bulgarian peasant boy wants to be sculptor, not farmer. Beautiful setting.
Recommended? Probably, especially if you love art, Eastern Europe, and meditations on snow.
Newbery Review #13, Invincible Louisa, 1934: Biography of Louisa May Alcott. Makes you want to re-read Little Women.
Recommended? Probably, especially if you love Little Women and/or strange utopian transcendentalist societies in the early 19th century.
Newbery Review #12, Young Fu, 1933: Coming of Age story of a young 1920s Chinese copper-smith’s apprentice.
Recommended? Yes, especially if you love coming of age stories and early 20th century China.
Newbery Review #11, Waterless Mountain, 1932: Coming of Age story of a young Navajo Boy, slow and beautiful.
Recommended? If you really like the southwest and stories about Native American relics and coming of age tales.
Newbery Review #10, Cat Who Went To Heaven, 1931: short & sweet, but spoiler alert, the cat dies…
Recommended? Only if you are doing a book report on Japan or Buddhism for school and want a quick folk tale and a heroic cat.
Newbery Review #9, Hitty, 1930: Wooden Doll’s Adventures through 100 years of American History.
Recommended? Only if you really like a doll teaching you US history.
Newbery Review #8, Trumpeter of Krakow, 1929: Medieval Polish Tale: includes female character, with name!
Recommended? If you like medieval alchemy or early modern Poland.
Newbery Review #7, Gay-Neck, 1928: Possibly the most unfortunately named kids book about a beautiful pigeon.
Recommended? If you like poems about the Himalayas and some Eastern spiritualism lessons taught by a pigeon.
Newbery Review # 6, Smoky the Cowhorse, 1927: Black Beauty set in the Wild West.
Recommended? Only if you love horse stories and the west, but can handle a long series of horse mistreatment passages.
Newbery Review # 5, Shen of the Sea, 1925: 16 Chinese Folk Tales. No more Newbery folktale collections!
Recommended? Nope, there are so many better Chinese folktale collections. There have to be; there just have to be.
Newbery Review # 4, Tales from the Silver Lands, 1925: 19 South American Folk Tales. Favorite Story:#12.
Recommended? Again, probably better collections of stories out there, but I did really like #12 about the night princess and the day prince and the evil witch.
Newbery Review # 3 The Dark Frigate, 1924, A demanding read: pirate tale set in 17th century Atlantic World.
Recommended? Only, if you really like pirates and don’t mind reading Shakespeare-like dialogue, so not a lot of kids I know.
Newbery Review #2: whimsical Dr. Dolittle, 1923, talking animal adventures for the best 1920s Newbery.
Recommended? Yes! especially if you get the more recent editions that edit out the worst of the racist language and pictures.
Newbery Review #1, Story of Mankind, 1922: like a funny history professor who draws on the board & tells long stories.
Recommended? Maybe for anyone who wants to have a readable Ancient History textbook and has time in their lives for a stroll through a 500+ course on world history. The more recent editions have continued the story to present day with another 500 pages.
Do you have a favorite early Newbery to recommend? How do you recommend books?
Subscribe to Blog via Email
Follow Me on Instagram!
- Follow me on Twitter!
Belonging to A Church
Reflections on Dyslexia: May B. A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose
A Defining Retreat: Deciding to Leave Grad School
The Beginning of a Love Story In Honor of Anniversary Weekend
Scramble Up A Simple Paleo Breakfast
Bake Up A Flourless Chocolate Cake
Organize Bookshelves by Color
My Life In Trees
An Elimination Diet Figure Out What Foods Are Making You Sick
A Goodbye Letter to Our Church: Leaving Those You Love
Paleo Chai: A Blended Coconut Oil & Butter Recipe
16 Online Resources: Liturgical Prayer Apps & Websites