Newbery Through the Decades: 1920s

newbery through the decades

Welcome to the first post for the 2016 Newbery Through the Decades challenge!  If you’re new to the challenge, please check out this post for more details.

I thought it might be interesting and helpful to share a bit of background information about the Newbery Medal, especially since January is the month for the 1920s decade, which is the decade in which the Newbery awards began.  This is from the ALA website:

The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. On June 22, 1921, Frederic G. Melcher proposed the award to the American Library Association meeting of the Children’s Librarians’ Section and suggested that it be named for the eighteenth-century English bookseller John Newbery. The idea was enthusiastically accepted by the children’s librarians, and Melcher’s official proposal was approved by the ALA Executive Board in 1922. In Melcher’s formal agreement with the board, the purpose of the Newbery Medal was stated as follows: “To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children’s reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field.”

The Newbery Award thus became the first children’s book award in the world. Its terms, as well as its long history, continue to make it the best known and most discussed children’s book award in this country.

From the beginning of the awarding of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, committees could, and usually did, cite other books as worthy of attention. Such books were referred to as Newbery or Caldecott “runners-up.” In 1971 the term “runners-up” was changed to “honor books.” The new terminology was made retroactive so that all former runners-up are now referred to as Newbery or Caldecott Honor Books.

January’s Newbery Through the Decades Challenge book list is as follows.  Title links are to my reviews here at Hope Is the Word.  Other links are to last year’s Newbery Through the Decades participants’ reviews.

1929 Medal Winner:

Honor Books:

1928 Medal Winner:

Honor Books:

1927 Medal Winner:

  • Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James

Honor Books:

  • [None recorded]

1926 Medal Winner:

  • Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman

Honor Book:

  • The Voyagers: Being Legends and Romances of Atlantic Discoveryby Padraic Colum

1925 Medal Winner:

  • Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger

Honor Books:

  • Nicholas: A Manhattan Christmas Story by Annie Carroll Moore
  • The Dream Coach by Anne Parrish

1924 Medal Winner:

  • The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes

Honor Books:

  • [None recorded]

1923 Medal Winner: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (Stokes) (review at Simple Things)

Honor Books:

  • [None recorded]

1922 Medal Winner: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon

Honor Books:

  • The Great Quest by Charles Hawes
  • Cedric the Forester by Bernard Marshall
  • The Old Tobacco Shop: A True Account of What Befell a Little Boy in Search of Adventure by William Bowen
  • The Golden Fleece and The Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles by Padraic Colum
  • The Windy Hill by Cornelia Meigs (review at Becky’s Book Reviews)

Because I have several other books I’m committed to reading this month, I am going to plan to read one Newbery title:  The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting.

Should I need another title, I will read Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James.I’d love to hear what your plans are.  If you’re reading along, leave a comment and share your title(s).  Let’s encourage one another!

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Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill

I have this memory of a book about a cat named Pickles–a fire cat, to be exact.  I was tickled when I found a copy of it, albeit a completely-falling-apart one.  Then, in all of my internet ramblings, I learned that Esther Averill, the author of The Fire Cat, was quite prolific, and that her stories had been reprinted as a part of The New York Review Children’s Collection.  I promptly ordered one of the books, Jenny and the Cat Club, for the DLM.  What a delightful collection of stories!  The main character (er, cat) in the story is the little red scarf-wearing, black cat Jenny Linsky.  Jenny lives with a human named Captain Tinker (who knitted her her scarf).  She wants to gain membership in the Cat Club that meets in her neighborhood.  The Cat Club is a select and diverse group of cats, and to gain membership, Jenny must prove herself worthy of the club.  She gains the attention of the club by ice skating.  Yes, she “cut figure eights and flowers and stars” across the ice.  Can you imagine?  Oh, my.  What fun!  That’s just the first story.  This book contains five stories, all of which are a little over thirty pages each.  Every two-page spread includes at least one illustration, and they are delightful!  The illustrations are black and white, with occasional splashes of red (Jenny’s signature scarf!) and yellow.  These are sophisticated and witty stories, and the DLM and I are both smitten with them.
These stories are just right for the DLM’s attention span, and the fact that each story stands alone but is related to the others is perfect for him right now.  I’m planning to order another The School for Cats for our next read-aloud.  Highly Recommended.  (1944)

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The Birds’ Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin

After finishing both Maggie Rose, Her Birthday Christmas and Little Women last week, I wanted something short and Christmas-y to read to my girls at night.  I’ve had Classics For Christmastime – Five Novels About the Spirit of the Holiday for years–decades, even–and have never actually read anything from it.  It contains

Of all these, I chose The Birds’ Christmas Carol because I’ve seen it recommended on various lists.  Also, I have a soft spot in my heart for Kate Douglas Wiggin, having enjoyed her Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm as a child (numerous times!) and also The Romance of a Christmas Card, which I re-read just a few years ago.  

Reading The Birds’ Christmas Carol on the heels of Maggie Rose, Her Birthday Christmas was perhaps a wee bit unfortunate, for I think Carol Bird might have suffered in comparison to Maggie Rose Bunker.  This short novella seemed a little on the saccharine side in comparison, with Carol Bird being the sickly youngest child and only daughter of doting parents.  Like Maggie Rose, Carol has a Christmas birthday.  However, unlike Maggie Rose, she’s perfect, as children go:  her one desire is to give a large neighboring family of many children a Christmas they’ll never forget.  She does this, as one might expect, in a completely selfless and moving way, and then she succumbs to her sad but expected end.  The book is pretty predictable and yes, cloying, but I did find a lot of humor in the neighbor family’s preparations for going to the Birds’ house for the Christmas festivities.   We enjoyed this story, and I would recommend it, but just be aware that it requires a certain tolerance for stories with sweet and saintly main characters who personify this definition by Mark Twain:

Heroine: Girl who is perfectly charming to live with, in a book.

It’s worth a few nights’ reading, and we’ll likely revisit it when the boys are old enough.  However, it is mostly a Christmas confection that leaves one’s literary palate in need of cleansing by characters who aren’t quite so perfect.  (1888)

Other Christmas chapter books we’ve read:


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Christmas with Maggie Rose, Maine coast, mid-twentieth century

From Maggie Rose, Her Birthday Christmas by Ruth Sawyer:

The room was full of warmth, of welcome, and of the soft tinkling of bells, as feet, many feet, sounded on the road outside.  Maggie Rose thought with a quick upsurge of gladness:  This year I’m not looking from outside into other people’s houses.  This year I’m looking from the inside!  It was all too big and wonderful to put into mere words.  Instead she listened to the feet coming nearer, coming to their house, the house of “those Bunkers”! (145-6)

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Maggie Rose, Her Birthday Christmas by Ruth Sawyer

It was with a contented sigh and tear-stained cheeks that I finished our Christmas read-aloud Wednesday morning. Maggie Rose, Her Birthday Christmas by Ruth Sawyer is truly about as perfect as a story can be.  It’s a short novel, only eleven chapters.  It’s the story of Maggie Rose Bunker, one of “those Bunkers,” a large family of friendly, incorrigible riff-raff that lives on the Maine coast.  Maggie Rose is different, though–she knows her family’s not quality, like the summer people who populate the shore houses, or even like Miss Myra Moon, her teacher and confidante.  However, even though she knows her family’s different, she loves them and even both accommodates and fills in the gaps for their inadequacies.  Maggie Rose is special, just like her Christmas Eve birthday.  This year, the year of her ninth birthday, she has decided to have her own birthday celebration.  She spends all summer raising money by picking berries to sell, and she collects as many friends as she does pails of berries.  About three chapters from the end of the story the unthinkable happens, but the resolution is just as wonderful as it can be.  (This whole climax-denouement situation presented my girls and me with a powerful opportunity to discuss these literary elements in a very casual and natural way.  Score! 🙂 )

I couldn’t help but compare this story in my mind to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and Maggie Rose to the Herdmans.  The whole idea of classes and “those ________” (Bunkers or Herdmans) and how they are treated by their neighbors is somewhat similar, but Maggie Rose is in a class by herself.  She is both winsome and smart, and I found the story sweet and poignant but not saccharine.  Here are a few snippets that show Maggie Rose’s character:

Friday afternoons were library days and rarely did Maggie Rose miss one.  Here was time and place for discovery and satisfaction.  Every shelf held such a load of expectation and promise that at times she was well-nigh staggered by it.  She devoured books as a hungry robin gulps down angleworms.  They fed her and she came back always hungry for more.  (48)

Sunday came–the first in July.  To Maggie Rose, Sunday was a special day.  Long ago she had heard one of the Chapel preachers read:  “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work; but the seventh is the sabbath of the Lord thy God. . . And the Lord blessed the sabbath and sactified it.”  Maggie Rose stowed away so many sayings from the Holy Book; she was thrifty and thorough about it as a chipmunk stowing away the seeds of a spruce cone.  Words and sentences stayed with her–to use again, or just to make happy remembering.  (72)

The end of this short novel is beautiful.  It’s about family and community and being able to give instead of always receiving.  It represents the true meaning of Christmas as well as any story I’ve read.  I love this book and give it a Highly, Highly Recommended.  (Harper & Row, 1952)

Other Christmas chapter books we’ve read:






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