This past year I tried to start reading the Newberry Honor or Winners and work my through ALL of them. The goal was to get an idea of the ones worthwhile. I had a lot of “great kids books” on the shelves, but hadn’t really read a lot of them. My eyes were kind of opened when I first read, Johnny Tremain and Witch of Blackbird pond within a short period of time. I wondered how many other gems were out there, and also, were all of them this good? I read a lot of books that I just ended up donating without even giving to my children. They may not have necessarily had bad content, but they didn’t always have the best either. My goal isn’t to sugar coat a perfect world for my children, but the older I get, the more I realize how precious time is. There is time enough for the “real world,” we need more opportunities to refill our child innocence. Not head in the sand, but the faith of believing in goodness, justice, and moral excellence. These books aren’t ones that have perfect children, or filled with scripture every other sentence. Instead these are children that have to make a decision to stand up for what they believe in, or face the consequences. I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy these as we did.
Since we discussed Johnny Tremain and Witch of Blackbird Pond, I’ll go on but I really like those because of the excellent lessons of choosing what is right over what is easy.
Another Newberry Medal book that was a winner in our home was I, Juan De Pereja.
This book was so much better than any of us could have guessed. It began with the story of a slave that is very happy in his master’s house, but after his master dies, he is sent to another owner who ends up being a slave to the great Velázquez artist. This historical fiction is vivid of the culture of Spain, the Catholic church, and the artist way of painting and living. It is a treasure. Pereja and Velázquez strike up a friendship that will warm your heart and will help you see why this book is a timeless classic and treasure.
Caddie Woodlawn! I read this for the first time, that I can remember anyway, this past year. I enjoyed it so much that I began to read to my children almost immediately afterwards. It is a good feeling to hear, “oh please, one more chapter?” from the children. That is a complete win in my book. Caddie is similar to Little House on the Prairie, however, Caddie is allowed to run more free with the boys then her other sisters are. With a large family, the Woodlawns are always have adventures and tales to tell that is a delight to all.
Voyages of Doctor Dolittle BY Hugh Lofting
SO this is a unique “review” because in my opinion, so many people overrate this book. It wasn’t a bad read, and as I was reading it, the children were really engaged and enjoying it. It just wasn’t awesome. Doctor Dolittle loves animals to the point he scares his clients away. The animals then come up with an idea to keep the doctor fed and some kind of living. He ends up getting called away to the island where he is going to try and save these monkeys that are really sick. He runs into pirates, a bad King, and other adventures as well. What I found to be the most interesting thing about this book is that this was the only winner for the Newberry for the year 1923. There were no Newberry Honors, just this book, that won the medal.
Smokey the Cowhorse by Will James. This book is a bit unusual for me to recommend because I haven’t actually read it for myself, but my better half did. Why am I still listing it? Because, my husband is much more picky than I am. I tend to let some things slide with prayer and conversation with my child, and he is more strict and conservative. As I said, my better half. However, before I could get 2 chapters into reading this book, my husband had a nostalgic moment of him reading this as a boy and through that memory, my 9 year old son devoured it. I believe D— is used in here and maybe Hades with another four-letter-name. But that is all I remember my son saying and my husband didn’t even remember that from his youth… and for the record, my husband has a clean mouth. 🙂 I feel safe to recommend this book and it still sits nearby waiting for me to pick it up and read it again. I’ve kind of recognized it with being like a Black Beauty for westerners.
Hitty and Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field, won the medal in 1930 and is a delightful tale about a doll that goes through 100 years of seeing the world change and get to experience some of the different cultures throughout the book. It is a living book for sure! I read this as a kid and recently re-read it as an adult, and I cannot wait to read it again with my children. Superb! I know this would seem more geared towards girls, but I really think you can pull it off because of the descriptions that Hitty gives you of being on a whaling ship, and some of the places they stopped in. I’ll let you know soon if my boys held their attention or not, but I cannot foresee them not enjoying this.
Time for a book I did not like.
I wanted to like this book. I wanted there to be redemption and a historical retelling of some of the lesser known Civil Rights movement activities. I was in for a huge let down. I actually made a video on this book and you can check it out here. Basically, my biggest issue with this book is the mother. The girl has an attitude thing going on, but given the circumstances, I allowed for some leeway. But this mother, I just wanted to slap her silly and then at the end of the book, the mom tells Delphine (the heroine of our story) that she is just wanting to raise her up strong… One line that made me furious was when this mom said, “You can be selfish, you don’t have to be self-giving, you can be selfish.” So, I encourage you to check that video I posted above, I go into more details with my frustration, but in the end, I just couldn’t recommend this book.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins By Richard and Florence Atwater Since its publication in 1938, this book has delighted young readers for decades! We read this book when we were trying to get back into our read aloud groove and the children fell in love with the Popper family. Mr. Popper has a fascination with the Antarctic world and famous explorers that have gone the mysterious land. He is an expert, but he is also a family man. So when a penguin shows up on their doorstep, Mr. Popper is in for a delightful surprise. From one penguin comes an entire family as mate s found and offspring is born. The family is in for an adventures beyond their wildest dreams. I will say, it is more of a silly story that I, the adult, found to be on my lower end of recommendations, but it is not a book I would avoid. Especially in the younger years as you get into the habit of reading aloud. Need more suggestions to start your family read aloud habit? Check out my suggestions here! Everyone loves my reenactment.
The Matchlock Gun BY Walter D. Edmonds. This book has become my boys favorite. Dad has read it to them several times and my son, Stephen, has read it multiple as well. This tells the tale of a young boy who must protect the family with a matchlock gun (one of the first gun inventions) during the French and Indian war time period. I think this book works really well with The Courage of Sarah Noble, as more of a foundation to reading well, but not getting overwhelmed by book size.
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. We read this for the first time in 2018 and I cannot believe it took me so long to read this book! We inhaled it as a homeschool group and did not want to put it down. It started off with Johnny being a little full of himself to the point, I really wasnt sure where this was going to go. At the same time, I struggled because the family that Johnny is apprenticing at, almost builds Johnny up and then talks about how prideful he is. It was really sad. But as a whole, we got to watch Johnny mature and go through some unbelievable hardships but also get a huge honor of being part of the Sons of Liberty and all that went behind the Revolutionary War. This book delighted all of us: Hubby and I and the 13 year old all the way down to the 5 year old.
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes All the books that I am sharing have fabulous content. This book deals wonderfully with bullying others. This Newberry honor should be in every personal library. While it touches on the topic through the eyes of a Polish girl who claims to have 100 dresses at home, while she wears a shabby dress to school every day, this story really helps the child relate to any circumstance where bullying about any kind of appearance can happen. It may seem old fashion and out of date, but I can assure you, the bare bones, the whole crux of the story, that will never fade away.
Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia McLachlan enjoyed by both young and old. There is actually 5 books in this series and its so much more enjoyable to read all 5 books. This is also a great transitioning book for read alouds or on your own reading. This book has delighted hearts for many decades and I do not see that changing anytime soon. Sarah is the step-mother all children love and Anna and Caleb are adoring children that yearn for the love of a mother. Delightful read!
Book Number 2 that I didn’t really enjoy.
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. This book drew me in and I really thought I was going to love it. The name alone is endearing, Salamanca Tree Hiddle. The story is told while she and her grandparents are heading to Utah to be reunited with her missing mother. Her grandparents are very eccentric, her Dad is about to get married again, and Salamanca has so many questions. To entertain her grandparents in this long drive they are one, she tells them about her weird friend, Phoebe and the mysterious story that her friends encountered. Doesn’t it sound fascinating? Well, Salamanca is going through a transition from girl to teen, she is writing in her diary for a class project that ends up being read in front of everyone, there is a boy in the picture, both girls are dealing with something mysterious with their family, and sometimes it is borderline comfortableness. I just didn’t find it worth keeping on my shelf or anything that we would enjoy reading. I picked up a couple other books by Sharon Creech and learned that this author just may not be my cup of tea.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. This is your Robinson Crusoe for the modern age. This deals with a time when sea creatures were hunted for their skin and oil. A young girl ends up living alone for 18 years after she gets separated from her tribe that leaves the island. I think the survival skills in this book is what intrigues kids so much.
Cricket in Times Square by George Selden. There is actually 7 books in this series, but I have only read the first one to the children, so far. I don’t know what it is, but put Garth Williams as your illustrator and I will fall madly in love with the book. This is a sweet story about a country cricket that ended up in the heart of New York City. He ends up making friends with a wise street rat, Tucker, and a clever cat Harry. Chester Cricket ends up at a stand of a young Italian newsboy, who takes the cricket for a pet and discovers the hidden talent that could change their family’s circumstance. This has been read multiple times because they really enjoy the whimsical of animals and hardworking ethics of Mario and his family.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. Avi tends to be a hit or miss with me. Sometimes the content is not my favorite. I don’t really know what it is to put my finger on it. There is some language in his books. In this one, Charlotte is telling her story with funny little annotations scattered throughout the book. She starts off as a prim and proper lady of the 1800s– nuff said. In her journey to get back home, she learns that the Capt. is cruel and a mutiny is being planned. Who side will she be on? She ends up making some very difficult decisions, alienating herself from much of the crew, and ultimately standing trial for murder. This was a great read for me. I really enjoyed it. I did decide to wait until my children were a bit older before reading, not so much because of objectionable content but because it did seem more mature in reading. I hope that makes sense. Still recommend, probably more in the upper years.
Seabird by Holling C. Holling. I think the rise of homeschooling has made this book more well known and popular, however I decided to still share this. We have read almost all of Holling C. Holling’s book and they do not disappoint. I will say that I do think it needs to be a consistent reading because sometimes the information can be a bit dry, however the illustrations really capture the children and they do retain a lot more than I thought they would and we just keep enjoying these more and more. Seabird was one of our favorites because it talked so much about the way American sea travel changed so much over the centuries. Paddle to the Sea I think will always be our most favorite just because we found a paddle the next street over and it was our first read, but I did want to give credit to this book that received the Newberry Honor along with My Father’s Dragon, and winner, King of the Wind.
Amos Fortune, Free man by Elizabeth Yates. I assigned this book after reading through it in one night. If that wasn’t impressive enough, my daughter read through it in one night as well. It is the endearing story of a man, who was a prince of his tribe, is captured as a slave in the early days of America being built, and his story over the course of 45 years until he gains his independence. I thought it was so well done with handing the ugliness of slavery but not making it too heavy for young readers. As a read-aloud, it can spark some really good conversations.
Alright, lets talk about the next 2 Newbery books that I didn’t like.
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. This seems to be a beloved book by so many and I honestly do not understand. It is because it is a well-represented picture of our modern life? So many can relate to it? This deals with different prejudices, wrong vs the right side of the tracks, color, and Jeffery Magee is dealing with it all. Running seems to be a theme in this book but there is a lot of almost disconnection as to what is going on. I talked more about my issues with this book in this video at 10:55. Honestly, I just didn’t find it worth my time.
The idea behind this book is, “it takes a villiage, or a graveyard, to raise a child.” Through the souls of dead people, a young boy who lost his parents is raised. He ended up running away as a child when his parents were murdered and now he lives in life in a graveyard. I tried. I didn’t even finish the book. To be honest, I only picked it up because of the medal. I didn’t know anything by the author, and I didn’t know what the story would be about. It was my stupidity. I have heard the argument that it teaches great family values and love. My question is, is this the only book in the world that does this? It is dark and goes beyond a Dickens dark.
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare. This book was one of our first read alouds and we all enjoyed it so much. Matthew and his father set up house on the new homestead and then his father heads back for the family while Matthew is in charge. After being robbed from his only weapon, Matt must learn to survive in this wilderness land with Indians. A chief takes Matt under his wing in exchange for Matt to teach his son how to read White Man language. Through Robinson Crusoe story Matt strikes an unlikely friendship and learns about the Indian way of life. Definitely one that we will pick up again and again and enjoy for generations.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher P. Curtis. If I have read this book once, I have read it a hundred times, or so it seams. Buddy is an orphan growing up during the Great Depression and Jazz era. He is sent as a foster kid to a family that I am sure is related to the Harry Potter Dursely’s in some way or another. After escaping and deciding to try and find the man he believes to be his father, we get to see Bud experience life from a hobo villiage, to standing in line at a soup kitchen, to riding in a car with a potential vampire (hint: not really, just a kid with a very active imagination.) My children and I LOVED the Bud Caldwell’s Rules to Live By and Make a Better Liar Outta Yourself. Very clever way to show what kind of life Bud has known. Excellent book. Christopher Curtis has written many books and we have read a lot of them. Elijah of Buxton should be read with some pre-reading on the parent to make sure your child can handle it. It is about the free blacks of Canada and how it came to be. There is a sinister Preacher, and just some stuff that I think is better to be prepared on. The Watsons Go to Birmingham is considered one of the best books of all times. I would recommend previewing it first. It deals with child depression, some language and disrespect of parents, and some of the civil right horrors. I wish I had previewed it before letting the children read it.
Y’all, 1953 was a great year for Newberry winners. We have read and loved all of these they are recommended in Sonlight Christian curriculum as well as Bookshark which is a secular version of Sonlight. So, I thought I would share them with you because we have enjoyed and I don’t think you can go wrong. They are shorter books and so that works really well for younger readers and transitioning into read aloud family. If you click each book, it will take you to Amazon to get more information about this book.
Old Yeller by Fred Gibson tells the delightful tale about a boy and his dog during the homesteading years. We read this book a couple years ago and it is still talked about today. I am actually going to share a funny story about this book with you, just so you are prepared. They talk about a female dog in here. Today that word has a completely different meaning. I used the word in the proper context and did read it aloud. Several months later, our family had the unfortunate incident of stumbling upon a fight on our nightly walk, and the children head one man call another person this female dog term. The children were confused as to why someone would call another person a dog in such an angry way. It was brilliant. Moments like this really bring good memories into stories we read and tidbits that I tuck away to smile on. Old Yeller deals with some difficult life choices and if you have sensitive readers, just be aware. At some point, Travis (main character) has to put down the dog. I thought my sensitive children would have a rough time with this but they did not. I appreciate good stories like this that have hard moments but still end on a note of hope.
Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright. Maybe I am being presumptuous in sharing this since we are still finishing up reading it, but honestly, this was a childhood favorite and the children are asking me again and again to read another chapter, I think it is safe to say it’s a favorite. This is the story of two cousins that spend time every summer exploring their surroundings. This summer they find a whole abandoned lakeside resort from years ago. And in two houses of this resort, live two eccentric siblings that share all about their swamp life, and stories, with our main characters. Now the first story is awesome, but my favorite is actually it’s sequel, Return to Gone Away. It channeled my inner Chip and Johanna Gaines before they were ever popular.
And now, my last book that won a Newbery Honor or Medal is,
Jacob I have Love by Katherine Peterson. Maybe I shouldn’t even post this one because honestly, I didn’t finish it. It was depressing and seemed only to encourage sibling rivalry. There was so much self-pity that I knew I did not want to feed that kind of attitude that is so easy within ourselves. It was the redundant, one sister pretty and talented and the other plain and sickly, and I just decided to set it aside and focus on more family building rather than what this book seemed to be heading. According to some of the reviews, it is a very disconnected story and at one point she falls in love with a 70 year old man. Now, again, I did not finish this book and sometimes the negative reviews are completely made up, so I cannot vouch how accurate that is. I just did not like the story plot, I did not like how it was written, and I didn’t know how it won the medal.
Finally, I am sure it is no surprise to share with you the book series that has won Newberry medals and honors throughout the years and that is the beloved Little House Series
This series continues to delight new readers every year. Sometimes we have to be selective on what we can keep on our shelves due to a number of circumstances. The family dynamics of the Little House, the cultural descriptions, the hardships, and more importantly the world through the eyes of a young observant prairie girl, will carry for decades to come.
I hope this post was helpful. If nothing else it will give you some ideas if you are just starting out being a read aloud family. I want to help families find good reading literature and memories that will carry them forever.
I am sure that a lot of these many of you have read already, I hope the negative reviews will help you make a decision if it will work for your family or not, and hopefully you will find some new books that will become family favorites.