When Matilda first goes to school in the Roald Dahl book, her teacher asks her about books she enjoyed:
“‘Tell me one that you liked.’
‘I liked The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’ Matilda said. ‘I think Mr C. S. Lewis is a very good writer. But he has one failing. There are no funny bits in his books.’
‘You are right there,’ Miss Honey said.
‘There aren’t many funny bits in Mr Tolkien either,’ Matilda said.
‘Do you think that all children’s books ought to have funny bits in them?’ Miss Honey asked.
‘I do,’ Matilda said. ‘Children are not so serious as grown-ups and love to laugh.’”
The thing about Newbery books is, it seems like there often aren’t a lot of “funny bits” in them! Sometimes I think the award isn’t actually for the “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” but rather the most serious or contemplative book the librarians read that year.
So I started a project to hopefully prove myself wrong. I want to find lots of funny bits hidden among the more serious, but I also hope to find the touching and important philosophical ideas that I think the ALA also tries to reward.
I’m hoping to uncover some kind of ideas about what we were all like at different periods of children’s literature, or at least what we thought we were like or what we thought kids were like. Sure, it’s just one award, but it’s one I’ve always held in high regard and, well, part of me also kind of wants to figure out if I should keep it on its pedestal. I’ve definitely read a few Newbery winners that I think are total duds. What if that happens more than I expect?!
Of the 92 winners, I’ve only read 18 of them recently enough to be able to say anything remotely relevant about them. Another handful I read as a child but don’t remember well enough. The rest I’ve never touched.
The Ground Rules
I will try to read one Newbery winner a week and publish my review of it. That means it will take me nearly two years to do this. Actually, given how many weeks I’ll probably have to skip for one reason or another, let’s realistically say that this project won’t be done until New Year’s 2016.
Of the ones I’ve recently read, I plan to reread them when I get to that point if time allows. But I’ll admit that if it turns out I’m running a bit behind I might skip over the ones I’ve read several times (Holes, Westing Game, Wrinkle in Time might face this fate) and post a review based on my last reading of it.
Each review will include a breakdown of whether it fits the Newbery stereotype I have in my head or not, and if I agree with the ALA’s decision to slap it with the Newbery medal.
I’m not going to tackle the Honor books. There are just too many. If I really hate the winner from one year I like the idea of reading through the Honor books to find one I like better, but if I’m being realistic, I just won’t have the time.