Newbery Reviews: 1967

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Medal Winner: Up a Road Slowly

After her mother’s death, Julie goes to live with Aunt Cordelia, a spinster schoolteacher, where she experiences many emotions and changes as she grows from seven to eighteen.

I remember basically nothing about this book, and the description doesn’t make me feel like rereading it. I liked it as a kid but it didn’t make an impression.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The King’s Fifth

In this deeply affecting novel Scott O’Dell envelops the reader in the heroic world of the conquistadors—a world that is at once somber and many-colored. Though they may have been ruthless, these steel-helmeted young men of Spain lived their lives on the very edge of eternity with style and uncommon courage.

Scott O’Dell is a great writer; he’s the author of a better-known Newbery book (a childhood favorite of my sister), Island of the Blue Dolphins. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that I found this book fairly interesting as a kid. However, I’m not sure that a book with conquistadores as protagonists will have aged well.

Rating: Good but Problematic

The Jazz Man

When the Jazz Man played, Zeke thought about nothing else but the wonderful music that drifted from the bright yellow room scross the courtyard. He did not think about how his mother crept up and down five long flights of stairs every day to go to work. He did not think about the jobs he knew his father must work. He thought about just of the dreamy blues adding color to his drab world. How long will Zeke’s dreams last when the Jazz Man leaves?

Extremely short but cute. I enjoyed this one.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1966

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I’ve read all of the 1966 books too, and this time that’s a little more impressive. [All summaries via]

Medal Winner: I, Juan de Pareja

Told through the eyes of Velazquez’s slave and assistant, this vibrant novel depicts both the beauty and the cruelty of 17th century Spain and tells the story of Juan, who was born a slave and died a respected artist.

Fairly good. Not the most memorable book, even though the description sounds fascinating.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Black Cauldron

Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper, and his friends are led into a mortal struggle with Arawn and his deathless warriors. Taran must wrest the black cauldron from them, for it is the cauldron that gives them their evil strength. But can he withstand the three enchantresses, who are determined to turn him and his companions into toads? Taran has not foreseen the awful price he will have to pay in his defence of Prydain…

Really good, with a great ending. I loved this book as a child, and I’d love to reread it as an adult.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Animal Family

This is the story of how, one by one, a man found himself a family. Almost nowhere in fiction is there a stranger, dearer, or funnier family — and the life that the members of The Animal Family live together, there in the wilderness beside the sea, is as extraordinary and as enchanting as the family itself.

Cute, fun, and interesting. (It’s not at all related to Orwell’s Animal Farm, like I always thought as a kid!)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Noonday Friends

Eleven-year-old Franny Davis and her best friend share school and family problems in this realistic, often humorous story set in New York’s Greenwich Village.

I originally read this book just because I was in Noonday 4-H Club as a kid. The book is okay, not great.

Rating: Meh

Newbery Reviews: 1965

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Medal Winner: Shadow of a Bull

Manolo Olivar was the son of his father. Which may not seem like a necessary thing to say. But in Manolo’s case it is. For his father had been Juan Olivar, the greatest bullfighter in all Spain. And Manolo was his son in two special ways: one, he looked just like his father; and two, everyone expected that he, Manolo Olivar, would repeat the success of his father, would be just what his father had been – a fighter of bulls and a killer of death.

I enjoyed this book all right when I was a child; however, I don’t think I could in good conscience read about bullfighting as an adult, even if Manolo’s choices about bullfighting look different from those of his father.

Rating: Meh

Across Five Aprils

The Newbery Award winning author of Up a Road Slowly presents the unforgettable story of Jethro Creighton—a brave boy who comes of age during the turbulent years of the Civil War.

I really liked this book as a child. This is the kind of historical fiction that led me to believe I would love historical fiction for adults as well (that has not proven to be the case). I’d love to reread it one day and see how it holds up, because I’ve forgotten almost everything about this book.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1964

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Medal Winner: It’s Like This, Cat

Dave Mitchell and his father disagree on almost everything—and every time their fighting sets off his mother’s asthma, Dave ends up storming out of the house. But when Dave meets a big, handsome tomcat, he decides to bring him home, no matter what his father has to say about it.

With adventure-loving Cat around, Dave meets lots of new people—like Tom, a young dropout on his own in the city, and Mary, the first girl he can talk to like a real person.

And as his eyes open to those around him, Dave starts to understand his father a little better. They still don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, but there is one thing they can both agree on: Having a cat can be very educational—especially when it’s one like Cat.

“Fairly good and mostly interesting” is the note I made to myself when I read this book many years ago. This is one of those books that I know I read but have practically no memory of. Though it sounds pretty decent from the summary, I’m not sure either the description or my own past review are strong enough to merit a reread.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era

Nothing’s surprising in the North household, not even Sterling’s new pet raccoon. Rascal is only a baby when Sterling brings him home, but soon the two are best friends, doing everything together–until the spring day when everything suddenly changes.

Rascal is a heartwarming boyhood memoir that continues to find its way into the hearts of readers fifty years later. This special anniversary edition includes the book’s classic illustrations restored to their original splendor, as well as a letter from the author’s daughter, and material from the illustrator’s personal collection.

Pretty cute, usually interesting. It’s fun to see a memoir make it onto the Newbery list; in previous decades of this award, historical fiction and biography reigned, so it’s good to see some variety creeping in.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Review: 1963

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Medal Winner: A Wrinkle in Time

It was a dark and stormy night.

Out of this wild night, a strange visitor comes to the Murry house and beckons Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe on a most dangerous and extraordinary adventure – one that will threaten their lives and our universe. [Summary via]

This is one of those Newbery books that is extremely famous, and for good reason. L’Engle draws you in to her science fiction world, a fantastical world populated with unimaginable creatures as well as totally relatable children and their parents. The relationships amongst the characters are perhaps the most wonderful part of A Wrinkle in Time, as they are so sweet and supportive of each other, even as the characters face harrowing situations. As a child, I found it a little scary (I was, and still am, easily freaked out) but very good. If you haven’t read this classic, or if you have the chance to introduce it to your child, I highly recommend trying it out.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Newbery Reviews: 1962

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Medal Winner: The Bronze Bow

This gripping, action-packed novel tells the story of eighteen-year-old Daniel bar Jamin—a fierce, hotheaded young man bent on revenging his father’s death by forcing the Romans from his land of Israel. Daniel’s palpable hatred for Romans wanes only when he starts to hear the gentle lessons of the traveling carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth. A fast-paced, suspenseful, vividly wrought tale of friendship, loyalty, the idea of home, community . . . and ultimately, as Jesus says to Daniel on page 224: “Can’t you see, Daniel, it is hate that is the enemy? Not men. Hate does not die with killing. It only springs up a hundredfold. The only thing stronger than hate is love.”

An interesting, moving story based on the scripture which reads, “With your strength I can bend a bow of bronze.” I starred this book as a child, meaning it was one of my all-time favorites. I would love to reread it as an adult.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Golden Goblet

Ranofer struggles to thwart the plottings of his evil brother, Gebu, so he can become master goldsmith like their father in this exciting tale of ancient Egyptian mystery and intrigue.

I found this very interesting as a child. This is another that I don’t remember well but would love to reread someday. Just reading the description is exciting!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 1961

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Medal Winner: Island of the Blue Dolphins

In the Pacific there is an island that looks like a big fish sunning itself in the sea. Around it, blue dolphins swim, otters play, and sea elephants and sea birds abound. Once, Indians also lived on the island. And when they left and sailed to the east, one young girl was left behind.

This is the story of Karana, the Indian girl who lived alone for years on the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Year after year, she watched one season pass into another and waited for a ship to take her away. But while she waited, she kept herself alive by building shelter, making weapons, finding food, and fighting her enemies, the wild dogs. It is not only an unusual adventure of survival, but also a tale of natural beauty and personal discovery.

I remember this being one of my sister’s favorite books growing up. It’s a really good survival story for kids, though the depictions of Native Americans may not have aged well (I haven’t read the book in several years). With that caveat, I would definitely recommend this book for middle grades readers.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Old Ramon

Jack Schaefer, author of the classic Shane, has written a timeless story about the friendship of a wise old shepherd and a young boy set in the Mojave Desert.

“Pretty good, but a little boring” is how I viewed this book when I read it as a child. The trope of the wise older person and a young impressionable child has never done much for me. It seems fitting that even Goodreads doesn’t have much to say about it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Cricket in Times Square

One night, the sounds of New York City–the rumbling of subway trains, thrumming of automobile tires, hooting of horns, howling of brakes, and the babbling of voices–is interrupted by a sound that even Tucker Mouse, a jaded inhabitant of Times Square, has never heard before. Mario, the son of Mama and Papa Bellini, proprietors of the subway-station newsstand, had only heard the sound once. What was this new, strangely musical chirping? None other than the mellifluous leg-rubbing of the somewhat disoriented Chester Cricket from Connecticut. Attracted by the irresistible smell of liverwurst, Chester had foolishly jumped into the picnic basket of some unsuspecting New Yorkers on a junket to the country. Despite the insect’s wurst intentions, he ends up in a pile of dirt in Times Square.

This is such a cute story. Filled with the flavor of New York City, seen through the eyes of its smallest inhabitants, children today will find joy in this book, just like I did as a kid.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 1960

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Medal Winner: Onion John

The story of a friendship between a 12-year-old boy and an immigrant handyman, almost wrecked by the good intentions of the townspeople.

“Interesting but frustrating at times” is the note I wrote for myself many years ago when I read this. I wish I could remember exactly what I meant by that! I could take a guess from the description–I get so frustrated by interfering characters that disrupt relationships–but I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this one to find out for sure.

Rating: Meh

My Side of the Mountain

Every kid thinks about running away at one point or another; few get farther than the end of the block. Young Sam Gribley gets to the end of the block and keeps going–all the way to the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. There he sets up house in a huge hollowed-out tree, with a falcon and a weasel for companions and his wits as his tool for survival. In a spellbinding, touching, funny account, Sam learns to live off the land, and grows up a little in the process. Blizzards, hunters, loneliness, and fear all battle to drive Sam back to city life. But his desire for freedom, independence, and adventure is stronger. No reader will be immune to the compulsion to go right out and start whittling fishhooks and befriending raccoons.

This was a fairly good survival story. It’s no Hatchet (my all time favorite survival story!), but it was enjoyable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Gammage Cup

The Minnipins have lost their past. Long ago, the hero Gammage led them in war against the horrible Hairless Ones. But now — Bravery? Forgotten. Courage? No more. Heroes? The stuff of storybooks. Yet sometimes heroes turn up when they are least expected….

Muggles, Gummy the poet, and Walter the Earl are not like the other Minnipins. They dress differently, speak their minds, and — when Walter the Earl finds a package of old scrolls and swords — dare to disagree with the Minnipin leaders. For their troubles, they are banished from their village.

But Walter the Earl found the weapons for a reason: The Hairless Ones have returned. And this time there is no Gammage to protect the Minnipins. This time there are only Muggles and her friends, outlaws who must rescue the very people who have cast them out.

Unusual, cute, fun. I starred this one as one of my favorite Newbery books of all time. Definitely worth a reread.

Rating: Reread Worthy

Newbery Reviews: 1959

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Medal Winner: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Orphaned Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean island she left behind. In her relatives’ stern Puritan community, she feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely. The only place where Kit feels completely free is in the meadows, where she enjoys the company of the old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, and on occasion, her young sailor friend Nat. But when Kit’s friendship with the “witch” is discovered, Kit is faced with suspicion, fear, and anger. She herself is accused of witchcraft! [Summary via]

This is another of the Newbery historical fiction books that made me love historical fiction. This classic offers an interesting look at the Salem witch trials. I’d love to revisit this book someday.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 1958

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Medal Winner: Rifles for Watie

He was probably the only soldier in the West to see the Civil War from both sides and live to tell about it. Amid the roar of cannon and the swish of flying grape, Jeff learned what it meant to fight in battle. He learned how it felt never to have enough to eat, to forage for his food or starve. He saw the green fields of Kansas and Okla-homa laid waste by Watie’s raiding parties, homes gutted, precious corn deliberately uprooted. He marched endlessly across parched, hot land, through mud and slashing rain, always hungry, always dirty and dog-tired.

And, Jeff, plain-spoken and honest, made friends and enemies. The friends were strong men like Noah Babbitt, the itinerant printer who once walked from Topeka to Galveston to see the magnolias in bloom; boys like Jimmy Lear, too young to carry a gun but old enough to give up his life at Cane Hill; ugly, big-eared Heifer, who made the best sourdough biscuits in the Choctaw country; and beautiful Lucy Washbourne, rebel to the marrow and proud of it. The enemies were men of another breed – hard-bitten Captain Clardy for one, a cruel officer with hatred for Jeff in his eyes and a dark secret on his soul.

This provides readers with an interesting, lesser-known story from the Civil War. I enjoyed it as a child, but I’m not sure I would ever go back and reread it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Gone-Away Lake

When Portia sets out for a visit with her cousin Julian, she expects fun and adventure, but of the usual kind: exploring in the woods near Julian’s house, collecting stones and bugs, playing games throughout the long, lazy days. But this summer is different.

On their first day exploring, Portia and Julian discover an enormous boulder with a mysterious message, a swamp choked with reeds and quicksand, and on the far side of the swamp…a ghost town.

Once upon a time the swamp was a splendid lake, and the fallen houses along its shore an elegant resort community. But though the lake is long gone and the resort faded away, the houses still hold a secret life: two people who have never left Gone-Away…and who can tell the story of what happened there.

This book and its follow-up, Return to Gone-Away, are both so wonderful. They’re fun, old fashioned stories (my beloved Penderwicks series reminds me of a modern version of these novels). Lazy summer days? An abandoned house? Cousins having adventures together? Yes please!

Rating: Re-read Worthy