Newbery Progress

There's a double meaning in that title:

1) I've made some headway in my goal to read all the Newbery winners.

2) The Newbery has made some serious progress since its first award was given.

I cracked open the thick spine of The Story of Mankind, by Hendrik Willem van Loon with high hopes. After all, first Newbery winner and everything. I always kind of had the idea that a group of librarians had read it and thought, "Hey, this is a great book! Why don't we have an award for excellence in children's literature?" Now I'm feeling more like they decided, "Hey, we should make this great award! We can even have stickers!" Then a few months later they were left staring at each other across a wide table, everyone thinking, "Wow. Not the best year to start up this thing, huh? Oh, well, maybe next year will be better."

Basically, I can't fault Mr. van Loon for his writing, which is excellent, though the style was tricky even for me to get through sometimes. But his history left much to be desired. The man was obviously anti-religion, and came across as particularly belittling toward all Jewish, from their very beginnings to more modern instances. Now, I understand that we have to place his work in political and social context... so I made some allowances. But it still bugged me that of all the books for children that were written that year (I know, I know, there weren't as many), the winner of the Newbery was pushing an anti-God, anti-anything-other-than-white-culture agenda. It was painful to read.

To give credit where it was due, I did laugh out loud at several points. Particularly the one where cooking meat was discovered when "a dead chicken dropped into the fire by accident". (I wish I could ask the author what a dead chicken was doing in that cave and how it dropped into the fire.) Or there was the bit about man's first attempts at language.... well, you should read it just for kicks.

I'd already read The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle--I will reread that someday, as the primary memory I have of it is, "Wow, that was a lot cooler than the movie!" But in the interest of moving forward, I went right to The Dark Frigate, by Charles Hawes. I'm only a fifth or so through now--but (especially after van Loon) I've been pleasantly surprised. It's harder to read than our current winners (the archaic language of 17th century England can be a task in itself), and as the MC is 19, maybe these days it'd be marketed as YA anyway. The thing is, there's a great adventure story going on. The writing is smooth and confident. I keep shaking my head, wondering why no one recommended it to me when I was in my Stevenson/Verne/Porter phase. Have any of you read it? I'm hoping it continues being wonderful.

Now, just because I'm curious: what is your favorite Newbery?


  1. I'm not sure about my favorite Newbery (I'd have to think), but I was talking Doctor Doolittle this weekend at our SCBWI retreat and how much I loved that series as a girl.

  2. I haven't read it, but I'll have to see if my library has it.

    What's my favorite Newbery?? That is a tough one to answer!! I'm going with a four-way tie: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, and Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski. My favorite Newbery Honors are Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, Indian Captive by Lois Lenski, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, and Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman. But really, I love nearly all of them that I've read, Newbery winners and honors!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

  3. I haven't read many Newbery's but Maniac Magee is one of my all time fav MGs. That book's the reason why I bought a box of Butterscotch Krumpets at the grocery store awhile back!

  4. I adored Dr. Doolittle when I was young (and that was even before the 1967 movie version with Rex Harrison!). Never read The Story of Mankind or The Dark Frigate, but I admire your goal of reading old Newbery winners. I've tried to catch up on more recent winners. As for my favorite Newbery, I'd have to go with HOLES, although MANIAC MAGEE would be a close second.

  5. Oh, interesting! Well, I suppose the pickin's were slim that year. So hard to pick a favorite Newbery ... I love so many of them, so I'll cheat as usual. The oldest I loved is THE CAT THAT WENT TO HEAVEN and of the newer ones ... MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE. Seeing all those covers from the link you had previously makes me tremble in admiration.

  6. I've never yet a Newberry book that I didn't absolutely love.

  7. The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1959's winner ... I read it around 1966—an unforgettable experience) and The Graveyard Book (2009's winner.)

    What a great way to do an historical survey of children's lit: read the Newberys! Just genius!

    1. And how could I forget ... 2011's Moon Over Manifest!

  8. Ack, it's hard to choose! But I think I have to go with The Giver.

  9. Naming ONE is very hard, but I might go with Jacob Have I Loved.


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