Thursday, August 13, 2009

Book Preview

It may seem as if I've gone on a Newbery Medal book reviewing kick, or as if I've suddenly switched allegiances from YA fantasy to YA historical fiction. But actually, I had my Newbery kick several years ago. I got it in my head to review as many Newbery Medal & Newbery Honor books as I could get hold of, as a special service to readers of the Book Trolley. I lined a whole shelf on my bookcase with books of that type. Then I stopped reading them. Because, satisfactory as most of the books were on the whole, I was more interested in things that compared more readily to Harry Potter.

Years passed. That shelf full of Newbery books remains. It's starting to get irritating. I need the space for other things. I also, from time to time, need the money I can get from selling a boxful of books to a used book dealer. These would be ideal books to sell. My only reason for keeping them is that I haven't read them. And it does seem a waste to acquire a book, only to sell it again without opening it.

So, I'm making a concerted effort these days. An effort to dispose of the books on my Newbery shelf. By reading them, I can clear space for other books. And I can sell them off with a clear conscience.

That is why you can expect my reviews in the near future to emphasize children's books of historical and literary consequence. You'll find, as I have found, that Newbery books tend to fall into three main categories. First there are the variations on the "what it was like to grow up on a farm in X" category, where X is usually a state of the union. For example, in ...and now Miguel, X=New Mexico; in Thimble Summer and Caddie Woodlawn, X=Wisconsin; in Strawberry Girl X=Florida; etc., etc. Next, there are the historical novels told from a child's point of view, ranging from medieval England (Adam of the Road) to the ninteenth-century America (Rifles for Watie), sometimes even going back to the ancient world (The Bronze Bow). Finally, there are the "what it's like to grow up in X" type of stories, where X is a foreign culture. So we have A Single Shard (X=medieval Korea), Shadow of a Bull (X=Spain), The Secret of the Andes (X=Peru), and The Trumpeter of Krakow (X=medieval Poland), to name a few.

To be sure, there are Newbery books that don't fall into these categories. Some of the hero kids grow up in towns and cities. Some of the books are non-fiction. There are collections of poems and short stories. There is one kiddie picture book of historical note. There are fantasies with talking animals, and with people who talk to them; tales of magic, futuristic tales, tales of the macabre and the just plain weird.

Fantasy could possibly qualify as a fourth "bunch" of Newbery books. But it isn't what comes to mind when one thinks of the Newbery Medal. Such offbeat winners are comparatively rare. And they illustrate a problem with the Newbery Medal, shared by the Guardian Award and the Carnegie Medal: that a list of books picked as "best for young readers," by a panel of adults, will always be quite different from a list of "kids' choice" books. Another reason, perhaps, that my resolve to review them faltered. I'm a kid at heart, and after a while I tend to lose interest in the type of books that adults reckon are best for kids.

But it also remains true that these books deserve, and need, to be recommended. They deserve and need to be preserved and remembered. And lest I forget the original mission of my "book recommendations" column, it is to promote the books that aren't flying off the shelves, but that deserve to be championed. Series like "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" and "Pendragon: An Adventure in Time and Space" are doing all right without my help. It is for the love of E. Nesbit, Joan Aiken, Edward Eager, Tove Jansson, and Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Country that the Book Trolley came into being. My mission is to share their love, and the love of other too-good-to-miss books and authors, with another generation of avid readers.

So here are some titles you can expect to see me review in the upcoming weeks and months. Most of them are Newbery Medal or Newbery Honor books; some are merely by the authors of such books.
  • Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech
  • Witness and Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
  • The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles by Padraic Colum
  • Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
  • The Avion My Uncle Flew by Cyrus Fisher
  • Amos Fortune: Free Man by Elizabeth Yates
  • The Eyes of the Amaryllis by Natalie Babbitt
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Bright Shadow by Avi
  • The Smugglers and The Wreckers by Iain Lawrence
  • Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James
  • Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge
  • One-Eyed Cat by Paula Cox
  • Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field
  • M.C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton
  • The Wheel on the School and Along Came a Dog by Meindert DeJong
  • The Gypsy Game and The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  • Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards
  • Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
  • King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
  • Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
  • Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis
  • My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier
IMAGES: The Newbery Medal; the Newbery Honor Seal; The Carnegie Medal; the National Book Award; the Michael L. Printz Award; the Coretta Scott King Award; and the Scott O'Dell Award. These awards are given annually to the authors of a children's or young adults' book of high merit. Similar awards include the Mildred L. Batchelder Award; the Pura Belpré Award; the Alex Awards; the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award; the William C. Morris YA Debut Award; and the Sibert Medal. Still others, such as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, the Margaret Edwards Award, the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, are presented to children's authors in recognition of their body of work, rather than for a particular book.

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