Newbery Challenge – Boys Without Parenting

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.

May Newbery Challenge – Too Many Talking Animals

Two more Newbery’s down. After these two, I am ready for some that do not feature animals as their main characters.

Book: Gayneck: The Story of A Pigeon

Author: Dhan Gopal Mukerji

Something about the author: This is one where I find the story of the author much more compelling than the book itself. Mukerji, born in India in 1890, was destined to be a high caste priest. He took himself out of that tract, however, travelled to America, went to Stanford, and began lifelong relationships with freethinkers and radicals of the day. He became very involved in the movement to bring independence to India and was a friend of Gandhi. Mukerji became the first successful Indian author in the United States – a claim certainly boosted by the Newbery award. He was a harsh critic of what he saw as mindless cultural trends of the times. In a lecture in New York, Mukerji blasted the popular novel of the day, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by stating, “It is much better to take opium and put your brain to sleep than to put it to sleep with such nighmares as this. The curse of cleverness is a blight on the English language.” [NYT 2/6/28] Mukerji wrote several other works during his life, but sadly hanged himself in 1936 at the age of 46 after a prolonged bout of mental issues.

What it’s about:  This was a tough one for me. It was less than 200 pages, but it was incredibly slow paced. Gay-Neck (yeah, I know), is one of the pigeons raised by a young Indian boy. The book is the life trajectory of the bird as it loses it parents, recovers from various traumas to become one of the bravest and smartest pigeons around, and ultimately becomes a carrier pigeon in World War I. There is a lot in here about the connection between man and animal and the outrageous atrocities that are inflicted on both. It is a rather slow ride and I was particularly not into the long sections told in the pigeons voice.

Year it won: 1928

Somethings about that year:  The first television station started broadcasting daily programming in Schenectady, New York. In Chillicothe, Missouri, the first machine-sliced and wrapped loaves of bread came off the line and were sold. This was a long time ago, folks!

Favorite part:  There are some really cool woodblock type illustrations by Boris Artzybasheff. Isn’t that a great name for an artist?

Favorite character:  During periods when he is troubled and unsure, Gay-Neck falls in with a bunch of swifts. I really liked those swifts. They built cool nests and just seemed to want to hang out and stay out of trouble.

Book: Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of NIMH

Author: Robert C. O’Brien

Something about the author:  Robert C. O’Brien was the pen name of Robert Conly, a writer for magazines such as Newsweek and National Geographic. He started writing children’s books after he developed glaucoma and couldn’t drive anymore. He moved closer to his office and the time he saved in commuting, he used to write children’s books. Conly wrote under a pseudonym because National Geographic did not approve of its writers doing outside writing.

What it’s about:  Mrs. Frisby is a widow field mouse living with her children in a hole in a farmer’s field. Shortly before the spring plow, her son gets sick and despite being cured by the medicine provided by a local mouse MD, he cannot be moved to the summer house for fear of relapse. This all leads to Mrs. Frisby becoming acquainted with the rats of NIMH. This is a remarkable colony of rodents possessing human-like abilities such as reading, machine building, and all things logical. NIMH, it turns out, stands for the National Institute of Mental Health, where the founders of the colony were trained as lab rats, experimented upon, and ultimately escaped. The book is full of adventures and ahas!

Year it won: 1972

Somethings about that year:  In 1972 Richard Nixon was re-elected and the Watergate debacle came to light. People also started sporting awesome digital watches and taking photos with the Kodak 110 Pocket Instamatics.

Favorite part:  Of course, I very much liked the description of the lab at the NIMH and the experiments that the rats went through. The idea for the book came from the experiments conducted at the real NIMH by J.B. Calhoun, and seem very true to form.

Favorite character:   Justin, the plucky rat who rescues Mrs. Frisby after she was caught by the farmer’s child and put into a cage. There are a lot of close calls in this book!

Two Newbery’s Knocked Out on the Treadmill in April

Today’s Newbery rundown include my so far favorites. I believe that I want to be E.L. Konigsburg. Besides the two books that I am writing about today, she has written several more – three that feature her grandchildren. Goodness, gracious that gets me.

Books: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968)

           A View From Saturday (1997)

Author: E.L. Konigsburg (1930 – )

Something about the author: Elaine Konigsburg went to college to be a chemist, but she did not find life in the lab suited for her. Moving to Florida with her husband, she taught high school chemistry at a private girls’ school. In later interviews, she remembers that she went into the job thinking that she would find a bunch of privileged, spoiled girls, but what she found were girls just like she once was – wanting to please, wondering about the world; figuring out who they were. When Mrs. Konigsburg stayed home to raise her children, she used her own experiences, her students’ experiences, and her own children’s experiences to build her stories. Without ever having published anything, she sent her first book with her own illustrations to a publisher. It was published in 1967.  Her second book was accepted and published that same year. Those two books, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler became the Newbery Honorable Mention and the Newberry Medal winners in 1968. It was the first and only time for any author to accomplish this. Twenty-nine years later she was awarded her second medal with her book, A View From Saturday.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

What it’s about: Eleven year old Claudia needs to get away from her family to escape her plight of just being Claudia. She is not appreciated. There is sameness to every day that she must escape. Because she appreciates the creature comforts, she could not imagine pulling off a traditional runaway. Her plan involved heading into New York City and camping out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She recruits her nine-year-old brother – he has the most money and is the least obnoxious of her siblings. The two children make it to the city. They live in the museum for over a week. Best of all, while they are there they investigate the authenticity of a sculpture sold to the museum by a Mrs. Basil Frankweiler. The sculpture is drawing crowds to the museum, and it may or may not be a work of Michelangelo. Through their work and their eventual encounter with Mrs. Frankweiler, Claudia finds what will return her home with the difference that she was looking for.

Year it won: 1968

Somethings about that year: What do you say about 1968? It was the year of the My Lai massacre, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King’s assassination, and the emergence and expansion of the Civil Rights, Anti-war, and Feminist movements. In an essay, Konigsburg notes that the book did not include notes about the contentiousness of the times, because the children would have been unaffected by it. She wrote. “Theirs was a journey inside, and Claudia’s war was with herself.” 1968 was also the year that Laugh-In made its debut. It was needed.

The other thing about 1968 and the Newbery’s is that the awards dinner was held right here in Kansas City. The edition of the book that I read contained an afterwards written by Konigsburg for the 35th anniversary of the book. She also included a piece that was included in the Newbery program that year that featured a drawing of Claudia and Jamie and a script of their discussing the Newbery honor. Charming.

Favorite part:  Claudia has very definite thoughts of what they need to do to maintain a proper lifestyle – even as runaways. She changes her underwear daily. They go to the laundromat. My favorite is when they gather paper towels and powdered soap from the museum restroom and take their after hours bath in the huge fountain in the museum’s indoor courtyard. The two page illustration that goes along with this reminded me of a painting of Matisse. Joyful.

Favorite character: While I want to say Claudia, I think I need to say brother, Jamie. Jamie is the one who identifies the rings left by the sculpture as identical to the logo of Ballentine beer. He then takes time to start humming the theme song that he heard on a commercial – much to the annoyance of his sister.


Book: A View from Saturday

What it’s about: Epiphany Middle School needed to choose an Academic Bowl team with the hope of it advancing beyond the school competition. Mrs. Olinski’s choice of three sixth-graders didn’t really make sense to anyone. They weren’t the best students, and they were all a little quirky. But they kept winning. They beat the other sixth graders, the seventh graders, the eight graders, and it was on to the regionals and state. They were unstoppable, and the stories that brought each of them to a place where their position on the team made perfect sense, are charmers.

Year it won: 1997

Somethings about that year: 1997 gave us Radiohead’s OK Computer and The Spice Girls’ Spice. Yea, I know.

Favorite part:  Noah is told by his mom that he needs to write a thank you note to his grandparents in Florida. Noah’s story in the book, involves him dissecting why writing a thank you really doesn’t make sense since it was he who really provided the thanks-worthy services. He, after all, was a best man stand in for his grandparents’ friend, and he kind of made the wedding a success. Noah’s breakdown of the events is great.

Favorite character:  Noah. He learns how to do calligraphy and teaches his friends. Hero.

“There’s a lifetime of secrets in those files. But there’s also just a lot of newspaper clippings. Junk. It’s a hodgepodge. Like my art collection. Now, you’ll tell me all about your running away, and I’ll add that to my files.”   –  Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

My Newbery Challenge Update for March

I am continuing my march through Newbery winners during my treadmill time at the gym. One of the winners that I highlight today (A Year Down Yonder), made me cry during my workout. Now I am the odd lady who always is reading children’s books at the gym and who is known to weep on the machines.

Book: Ginger Pye

Author: Eleanor Estes

Something about the author: Eleanor Estes, born in 1906, grew up in West Haven, Connecticut. By all accounts, her childhood was as idyllic as the scenarios she created in her books. Her hometown’s website describes Eleanor’s view from her  bedroom window. She could see her school, trains going to places far and near, and fishing boats in the harbor. Eleanor grew up to become a children’s librarian at the beautiful New York Public Library and when she contracted tuberculosis, she began to write fictionalized accounts of what it was like growing up as she remembered.

What it’s about: Jerry Pye and his sister fall asleep each night telling each other stories and talking through the walls of their bedrooms. One night, he asks Rachel if she thinks it would be okay to bring a dog into their house, in that they already have a very entrenched family cat. They decide that their cat can take the change, and after some providential fund-raising, Jerry buys a cute little puppy they name Ginger. The story pursues the kidnapping of Ginger, the quest to find him, and his eventual reunion with the Pyes.

Year it won: 1952

Somethings about that year: The New York Times article reporting on the awards’ dinner where the Newberry was presented to Estes, recounted a talk given by the editor of The Saturday Review. The speaker had words of warning for the “youth of today, reared in the blare of radio and under the influence of television.” Amy Lovemann told the audience that books must not be cast aside for the “conglomeration of facts that (radio and television) provide.” Familiar.

Favorite part: At one point, Ginger is in the family yard and wondering where the kids go most days. He decides to use his dog skills and follow his master’s scent to find his boy. Ginger’s trailing of Jerry’s smell and the shenanigans that he manages to get into before triumphantly appearing in the window of Jerry’s classroom, were very sweet. I recently read The Art of Racing in the Rain, and this section made me think of that book quite a bit.

Favorite character: Sam Doody is the neighbor boy who seems to have it all. He has enough money to buy a purple suit, gives Jerry the opportunity to earn money to buy a puppy, takes photographs, and drives a swell jalopy. All that and his name is Sam Doody!

Book: A Year Down Yonder

Author: Richard Peck

Something about the author:  I think that Richard Peck must be kind of a superman. He was a marine, has written books, screenplays, plays, poetry and he has been the president of three universities. His website now lists his activities as “restrained meddling in the lives of his children and grandchildren, golfing at a level far below his aspirations, and writing.” I am charmed.

What it’s about: In 1937, because money is tight, Mary Alice needs to leave her parents in Chicago and go live with her Grandma in the country. Grandma is as independent, clever, mischievous, tough, gold-hearted character as you will come across. Mary Alice’s year at Grandma’s starts out shaky, but ends with connection and devotion – both to her Grandma and the town.

Year it won: 2001

Somethings about that year: The year that this book won, was the year that Wikipedia was launched on the web. What did we do before then?

Favorite part: It is hard to pick out my favorite prank of Grandma’s, but I am going to have to go with her wielding her way into hosting a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution in her parlor. She is able to do it because she is the best baker in town, but she is also the most willing to take hoity-toity people down a notch. She invites some non-DAR ladies to the gathering and the upset that ensues is quite funny.

Favorite character:  So easy! Grandma. She is fantastic.


Next up on the Treadmill: The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong, 1955 winner