Newbery Medal Challenge
Because I have always loved children's literature, last year I thought it would be fun to challenge myself to read all of the Newbery Medal winners.
The Newbery Medal is considered to be the one of the most prestigious awards in children's literature. It is awarded each year by the Association for Library Service to Children to a the author of a book published in the previous year, for "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children". The medal was first awarded in 1922,so 2022 will mark the hundred year anniversary of the Newbery Medal. It's a good year for a Newbery reading challenge.
Before I started I was curious how many of the books on the list I had already read. I thought it would be quite a few since I grew up going to the library on a regular basis and reading stacks and stacks of books from the juvenile fiction section. Libraries nearly always have the Newbery Medal books in their juvenile fiction collection (though books do not necessarily need to be fiction to win the medal) and I remembered seeing a lot of them over and over. Like "Dear Mr. Henshaw". Why do libraries always have 4 or 5 copies of that one?
Turns out of the 100 books on the list I had read about 28 of them. Not nearly as many as I thought. Some books I didn't count because I couldn't be sure. For example, I've read a lot of Lois Lenski books but have I read "Strawberry Girl"? I just couldn't remember. And then I remember seeing "A Year Down Yonder" lying around our house when I was a teenager but did I actually read it? Maybe? "Kira-Kira" sounded familiar but I couldn't say for sure that I had read it.
Others on the list are some of my favorite books that I read over and over as a child and I am looking forward to reading again. "Caddie Woodlawn". "The Giver". "Holes". "The High King". "The Witch of Blackbird Pond". "Sarah, Plain and Tall". The best books are ones you can read again and again, whether you are a 10 year old child or a thirty-something year old grown-up.
Still others were books I had disliked when I read them as a child and I wondered if I would feel different reading them as an adult. Some of the books that fell into this category were "Dicey's Song", "Walk Two Moons", "The Grey King" and "Bud, Not Buddy".
Some of the books I read recently were "Dear Mr. Henshaw", "Bud, Not Buddy", "Walk Two Moons" and "Crispin: The Cross of Lead".
"Dear Mr. Henshaw" is the 1984 Newbery winner. It was written by Beverly Cleary. I grew up reading the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary and really enjoyed them. I still enjoy reading them to this day. Last summer I also read Beverly Cleary's two autobiographies where she describes her life up until she became a children's author, "A Girl from Yamhill" and "My Own Two Feet". I am surprised that I never read "Dear Mr. Henshaw". It takes the form of a series of letters and journal entries a boy named Leigh Botts addresses to his favorite author, Boyd Henshaw. I enjoyed this short and easy read but then again I've never met a Beverly Cleary book I didn't like.
Leigh Botts makes a mature decision to accept that his father can't love him the way Leigh needs him to. He decides to love his father the way he is: immature and unreliable. I found this both touching and sad. It made me wonder if there are people in my life that I need to be more patient with. And I also reflected on how I can encourage the dads in my life to do their best in their role.
I've found that one characteristic of good books is they ask questions to reflect on without necessarily providing answers.
I had to smile when I finished reading the book. You get so curious about the mysterious Mr. Henshaw but you never get to meet him in the book. It was like Beverly Cleary said "Ha, fooled you. This wasn't about Mr. Henshaw. This is a story about Leigh."
Bonus fact: According to Wikipedia, Beverly Cleary passed away recently in March of this year. She was 104!
"Walk Two Moons" was one of those books I read as a child but didn't enjoy.It is the 1995 winner, written by Sharon Creech. I hated the kissing, to be honest. It was so awkward. And it wasn't any better as an adult. Ugh. Why do middle schoolers need to be kissing each other?
The rest of the book I enjoyed much more from an adult's perspective. I was impressed by the kind and gentle way Sal's grandparents help her to work through the grief of her mother's abandonment. (Sal is the main character.) They don't force her to talk about how she is feeling. Or pretend everything is okay. They just stick with her. In Chapter 2 Sal, the narrator, describes leaving on a road trip with her grandparents:
Gramps had said, "We'll see the whole ding-dong country!"
Gram squeezed my cheeks and said, "This trip will give me a chance to be with my favorite chickabiddy again." I am, by the way, their only chickabiddy.
You get the image of a girl whose belief in her mother's love was severely shaken when her mother left her behind. Yet she is completely confident in her grandparents' warm, loyal love. What a beautiful picture. The affection between the two grandparents is also endearing.
I have to mention that I was not convinced Sal is a realistic 13 year old. Would a 13 year old be mature enough to remember that her mother constantly felt inadequate? Or to observe that a housewife feels unappreciated by her family? Maybe. Maybe not.
Overall I can't say I loved "Walk Two Moons". But I was interested enough to keep reading it eagerly till the end, unlike when I read it as a young teen. I think I appreciated it more as an adult because it is partly about the deep emotional struggles of adults and as a young teen I didn't think much about adults having struggles. Aren't adults supposed to have their lives together? Haha.
I'll only briefly mention "Bud, Not Buddy" (2000 winner by Christopher Paul Curtis) and "Crispin: The Cross of Lead" (2003 winner by Avi). In contrast to Sal in "Walk Two Moons" I did think Bud from "Bud, Not Buddy" was a realistic portrayal of a young person. I liked his mixture of making shrewd observations on how life works and also naivete due to having no trustworthy adults in his life to guide him. Probably because I am now the mother of 3 boys, I enjoyed reading this story about a funny and lovable little boy trying to survive in the world much more than when I read it as a child.
What put me off of reading "Crispin" when I was younger was the title. I saw it in the library all the time but I couldn't take someone seriously who had the word "crisp" in their name. What is he, a potato chip? A piece of toast? That's a dumb reason not to read a book, I know. When I read "Crispin" last week I found it to be an easy read, and an interesting look into peasant life in medieval England. I liked how Bear becomes a father figure to Crispin and teaches him self-respect.
Silas was interested in the cover art of "Crispin". A scared looking boy in the foreground with dark figures holding burning torches in the background. I found the art to be a little cheesy and I wonder if they have updated it to something more stylish in recent years. I guess I can't complain too much if it sparks a little boy's imagination.
Since there are at least 50 Newbery Medal books I haven't read yet I'm hoping to discover some new treasures in the months to come. One nice thing is this is pretty much a free reading challenge since most, if not all of these books are readily available at the library. My mom also has quite a few of the titles in her large personal library and she lets me borrow them.