It has been awhile since I have written about Newbery’s. It has partly been due to other things that I wanted to write about, and, unfortunately, also due to the fact that I have not been going to my favorite Newbery reading venue (the gym). But here are two more to add to my challenge list, both that involve children left on their own to make their own way:
Book: I, Juan de Pareja
Author: Elizabeth B. de Trevino
Something about the author: Elizabeth B. de Trevino was a California girl who ended up moving to Mexico as a young wife and living the rest of her life in a new homeland that she loved completely. She was born in Bakersfield, California and from the time she learned to read she began to write herself. When she was eight years old, she presented herself at her local newspaper with a poem that she had written and saw to it being published. She graduated from Stanford and moved to Boston where she reported for the Boston Herald. A subject of one of her interviews would become her husband.
What it’s about: Juan de Pareja was a real man. There is not much known about him, but the famous Spanish painter, Diego Velazquez painted Juan in the mid-1600s. When Elizabeth de Trevino’s son told her about the mysterious subject in the painting, she used the mystery to build her own version of Juan’s story. In de Tevino’s novel, we meet Juan as a young African slave in the home of a kind Spanish owner. His life changes drastically, however, when his mother dies of the Plague and then his owner also does. He is sent to live with his master’s nephew, Diego Velazquez. The story follows Juan as he secretly learns to read and paint. He earns the respect of the family he serves and the famous who come into the house. Juan’s is a story of achievement that ultimately ends in his being released from slavery and allowed to pursue art on his own.
Year it won: 1966
Somethings about that year: Back at Ms. de Trevino’s alma mater, the student anti-war movement was heating up, and young, freshman student Mitt Romney protested the protesters.
Favorite part: de Trevino captures the Spain and the times nicely. When Juan is out and about in the city, you can feel how busy it is and the activity all around him.
Favorite character: I really liked Diego Velasquez. He was kind and talented; a good husband and father.
Book: Adam of the Road
Author: Elizabeth Janet Gray
Something about the author: Three years after she won the Newbery, 44 year old Elizabeth Gray (Vining) was chosen to come to Japan to teach the future Japanese emperor. It is presumed that General Douglas MacArthur had a hand in choosing the Quaker widow to teach the young boy who would grow up to lead the new Japan – post World War II.
What it’s about: This time our boy hero is Adam. Adam is the son of a thirteenth century English minstrel. When we meet Adam, he and his trusty dog are in a monastery school. Then, his dad shows up. School is ditched and he and his dad start caravanning with the rich folk. Dad provides the patrons with whimsical entertainment, while Adam looks on and starts to hone his own craft on his little fiddle. Life seems to be going well until dad gets paid and loses it all in a gambling binge. He also manages to get Adam’s dog taken by the bad guy. All hell ensues when Adam goes chasing after the bad guy and ends up lost and on the road by himself. Everyone lives happily ever after – or as happily ever after as you could in thirteenth century England.
Year it won: 1943
Somethings about that year: In 1943, the world was entrenched in war. In the US, it was the year that food rationing began and income tax deductions on paychecks started.
Favorite part: I didn’t really like this book very much. Perhaps it is historically accurate, but this isn’t a time period or place that I enjoy a great deal, and I found the dad to be so terribly negligent that I couldn’t enjoy the people that much. I guess I liked the school part the best because that seemed a nice, safe place where a little boy and his dog should be.
Favorite character: When Adam was going to school, his good friend was a boy named, Perkin. Perkin was smart and wanted to be a lawyer, but his family was poor and it was hard to keep him in school. At one point in the book, Adam stands in for Perkin at his home, doing work on the family farm, in order to allow his friend to stay in school.