Posts Tagged ‘Newbery’

The Trumpeter of Krakow
by Eric P. Kelly
Simon & Schuster, 1928
Source: public library
1929 Newbery Award winner

I don’t usually review books I feel so-so about, but I need one more book for the What’s in a Name? challenge, so here I go . . . 

Three things jumped out at me as I read The Trumpeter of Krakow: 1) I enjoyed it significantly more than most of the Newbery winners from the ‘20s (which isn’t saying much, I’m afraid); 2) it reads like a love letter to Poland; and 3) you could tell if a character was good or bad by merely looking at them.

In regards to #1: In spite of this, it took me a long time to read this book.  Even though I’m still behind in my group’s Newbery reads, and could have put it off a little longer, I absolutely did not want to leave this for 2011.  I want the ‘20s behind me.

#2: The author very clearly loved Poland.  This was great and all, but the lavish descriptions bogged down the book a little.  I also found myself longing for a more objective narrator, one who could tell me, straight up, about life in fifteenth century Poland.  The book felt like an excuse to wax poetic about Poland.  This probably wouldn’t have bugged me as much if I had really loved the story.

#3: I know this is fairly common in fairy tales and Disney movies, but I got very tired of the main character taking one look at someone and just knowing that they were a Very Good Person or a Very Bad Person.  Really, dude?  You’re trusting this complete stranger with your family secrets just because he looks like a fine, upstanding man?  You know who else looks trustworthy and kind?  Polar bears.  And they wouldn’t think twice about eating you.

Hurray, I’m done with the 1920s!  On to the ‘30s.

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The 2011 reading challenges are already hitting the book blogosphere and man, they’re more tempting than stuffing and sweet potato pie.  I’m already caving in and 2011 is still 48 days away!  At this rate I’ll be buried in challenges by New Year’s.  Gee, how horrible 🙂

On Friday Ana and Amy announced the new reading challenge they’re hosting with Emily Jane and Iris: A Year of Feminist Classics.  They’re tackling a book a month (like A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen and The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir) and participants are welcome to join in the discussion, post their own reviews, or just sit back and soak up the brilliance.  I can’t wait!!

S. Krishna announced the details for her 2011 South Asian Challenge.  I didn’t participate this year, but reading her great reviews has inspired me to join the challenge next year.

Okay, so it’s just two challenges so far, but knowing me, I’ll be signed up for more before the year is out.

As far as my current challenges go, I’ve completed . . . one: RIP V.  I’m still working on the Newbery Book Club project and the What’s in a Name? Challenge.  The Newbery Book Club is ongoing reading project hosted over at Goodreads.  A group of us are working our way through all the Newbery Award winners and Honor books since the award’s inception in 1922.  We started this in February 2009 and will finish sometime next century.  (I’m kidding.  Sort of).  When we started I gave myself permission to skip the Honor books if I didn’t feel like reading them, but I really want to read at least all the award winners.  I’ve managed to fall behind (again), but only by two books (not counting all the Honor books I’ve skipped).  My goal is to get caught up by the end of the year.

To help with that, I’m going to read the 1929 winner The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly (instead of A Song Flung Up to Heaven by Maya Angelou) for the “music” category of the challenge.  It’s nothing against Angelou; I’m just running out of time and this way I can knock out two challenge reads at the same time. 

When I picked the six books I wanted to read for What’s in a Name? they all sounded like great ideas at the time.  I have since become less than inspired to read two of them, however.  Well, I tried to read Mrs. Dalloway back in June, but I made the mistake of reading it on an airplane, which isn’t the best place (for me, at least) to read a book that requires a lot of concentration.  I made it almost halfway through before abandoning it for more plane-conducive reading.  I do want to read it someday, but I honestly don’t see myself getting to it before the year is out.  So I’m counting my review of Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel for the “title” category of the challenge, and sticking Mrs. Dalloway back on the shelf.  Sorry, Clarissa.

I’m also sticking Garrison Keillor back on the shelf.  I love listening to Lake Wobegon stories, but for some reason I’ve lost interest in reading Lake Wobegon Days.  Not sure why.  I’m going to reread A River Runs Through It instead, which is what I really wanted to read in the first place but didn’t because I thought I should choose a book I’ve never read.

And that’s the riveting news from me!  What about you?  How are you challenge reads going?  Any more challenges I should know about??

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by Jacqueline Kelly
Henry Colt & Co, 2009
Source: public library
2010 Newbery Honor Book 
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate was a delight to read. I confess that when I first read the list of this year’s Newbery winners I was not at all inclined to read this book; it went on my “maybe someday” mental list of future reads. I stumbled across it last week at the library when I was looking for a completely different book and was drawn to its striking and intricate cover (yes, I broke the “don’t judge a book by its cover” rule, but can you blame me? Look at it!). I am so glad I picked it up. This is the best impulse read I’ve had in a while.
I tend to shy away from historical fiction in children’s literature namely because, in my limited experience, many children’s historical fiction books are just thinly (very thinly) disguised history lessons. To be clear: I have nothing against history or the valiant attempts of history buffs to make the subject interesting for kids. I’m just not a big fan of overtly didactic books that try to pretend they’re not. (I don’t read a lot of historical fiction for adults, so maybe someone who does can help me out: do authors of adult historical fiction do that – sacrifice their art for didacticism?) I just want a good story. If I learn something in the process, great.
Calpurnia Tate was nothing like that. The story is set in 1899, and while Jacqueline Kelly paints a pretty clear picture of life in small-town Texas during this time period she doesn’t bog the book down with too many details or lectures. The story flows. And while the feisty Calpurnia Tate is a bit of a tomboy, she isn’t just another Jo March. She has a personality all her own. (I also think she’s a total riot, but I believe I already mentioned that!)
Kelly manages to avoid another stereotype with Calpurnia’s relationship with her grandfather: it’s not just one of the wise elder bestowing wisdom on the impressionable youth. Her grandfather is full of quirks and flaws and spends far more time instructing (well, ordering) Calpurnia to seek out the answers for her questions herself than telling moralistic “when I was your age . . .” stories. He also treats her more like an equal than a child (although that isn’t always the best idea, such as when he offers her a test taste of his pecan whiskey; I was rolling on the floor when I read that chapter!).
The book ends at the perfect time, too. While we have to watch Jo March, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Anne of Green Gables and countless others compromise their individuality and personality for the sake of cultural expectations, when we leave Calpurnia she is still twelve and still (mostly) free to pursue her passion for science and knowledge. The story closes on a positive, if faintly ambiguous, note: we are free to believe that Calpurnia will travel the world, attend a university and become a scientist. I’m sure there are people out there who will read the ending and squawk that’s not realistic for the time period, but me? I’m okay with a hopeful ending.

Other reviews:

My Life in Books
write meg!

Did I miss your review? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

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Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon
by Dhan Gopal Mukerji
E. P. Dutton, 1927
Source: public library
1928 Newbery Award winner

I cannot believe I just read a book about a pigeon named Gay-Neck.

This is such a peculiar book. I like birds, but I’ve never been terribly impressed with pigeons. Maybe it’s because their tiny heads seem out of proportion with their large, round bodies, or because I associate them with filthy city streets. I’m not really sure. But with the exception of Mo Willems’ pigeon, (who is fictional), I’ve never met a pigeon I liked. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone who does like them.

It was very difficult, then, to relate to a narrator who adores pigeons the way some people adore their dogs. (He actually asserts that no creature possesses more love and loyalty to their owners than pigeons and elephants, an argument which, I imagine, might annoy some dog lovers.) I tried to be open-minded about his pigeon-love, but I was still continually amazed by the devotion this unnamed narrator has for Gay-Neck. For example, he undertakes a great journey to search for Gay-Neck when he is lost and then later goes completely out his way to help Gay-Neck heal his emotional wounds from the war. (In case you’re curious, he takes him to a lamasery to be healed by prayer and meditation. They live in India, by the way.)

This isn’t just a tale about Gay-Neck, however. Somehow, in the midst of this story, Dhan Gopal Mukerji tries to deliver a message of peace. Snippets of this message are sprinkled throughout the book, but it is during Gay-Neck’s visit to the lamasery that Mukerji really drives his point home:

. . . the holy man said: “Here in the monastery we have prayed to Infinite Compassion twice every day for the healing of the nations of the earth. Yet the war goes on, infecting even birds and beasts with fear and hate. Diseases of the emotions spread faster than the ills of the body. Mankind is going to be so loaded with fear, hate, suspicion and malice that it will take a whole generation before a new set of people can be reared completely free from them.”

Infinite sadness furrowed the lama’s hitherto unwrinkled brow, and the corners of his mouth drooped from sheer fatigue. Though he lived above the battle in his eagle’s eyrie, he felt the burden of men’s sins more grievously than those who had plunged the world into war. (171-172)

Up until this point, I hadn’t felt anything except detached amusement. But while reading this passage I felt profoundly sad. It seems that nothing has changed in eighty-three years.

Other reviews:

My Life in Books
The Newbery Project
Goodreads Newbery discussion

Did I miss your review?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

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Ahhh, a new year. That optimistic feeling that is so prevalent this time of year is so contagious that it has even drowned out my sarcastic, cynical side. All I can see before me is a year filled with piles of books I’ll positively love and the time to read every single one of them. 2010 sounds good already!

There are just some books that beg to be read in winter, so my January plans thus far are to curl up with books such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (I’m not usually much of a mystery reader, but I decided to take The Bibliophile’s Devotional‘s advice and read some more Sherlock Holmes; apparently this one is really good) and re-reading Jane Eyre. I also have another Newbery book to read: the 1928 award winner, Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji. (I’m really, really hoping the book is better than the title.) A group of us in the Children’s Books group on Goodreads are working our way through all the Newbery books (both the award winners and the honor books). We started last year with the first winner, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem Van Loon (and yes, reading that was exhilarating). So far I’m less than impressed with the Newbery selections; of the six I’ve read I’ve only enjoyed one (The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting). I’ve vowed to stick with it, though. I figure if I can survive The Story of Mankind I can survive anything. So . . . bring on Gay Neck!

Also on January’s reading agenda is some thesis reading. The next book on my stack of Dr. Seuss biographies is Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography by Judith Morgan. Before I read it I may go back and review Dr Seuss by Ruth K. MacDonald to refresh my memory and get myself back into a thesis frame of mind. I’ve been a bit of a slacker lately . . .

Coming soon: my selections for the What’s in a Name? reading challenge!

Happy reading,

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