Ok, just the kids books part.
First, I finished the 1959 Newbery Winner, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare. It's historical fiction, set in a little
Puritan settlement. The protagonist, Kit, who was raised in Barbados, moves there when her grandfather/guardian dies. A strong-willed girl with a rebellious streak, Kit attracts more attention than she bargained for in her new home. But it is not until she befriends a little old Quaker woman named Hannah, who many in the town think is a witch, that she begins to feel at home. Unlike some historical children's fiction, The Witch of Blackbird Pond avoids dullness and dryness with plenty of romance, namely between Kit and the dashing sailor boy, Nat. However, I did have two qualms with this book: firstly, that several of the minor characters were a bit flat, namely Kit's cousins, Mercy, who is such a Polyanna I could barely stand it, and Judith, who is so self-centered and vain that it's impossible to relate to her on ay level. Secondly, the plot wraps up with a happily ever after that I found too good to be true. I know it doesn't take place in Salem, but I'm pretty sure accused witches didn't typically end up with their lover of choice. And I wondered, what good does it do to sanitize history for kids' sake? Everything is so peac
hy in the end, all the girls get the boys they want, slanderers go punished, and little old Quakers go safe and free... So, while it was an enjoyable read, (with nice historical details, of course) it was not my favorite Newbery Winner so far.
Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Clearly, won the Newbery in 1984, which also happens to be the year I was born. And I'm pretty sure the book is aging more gracefully than I am. When I
started this whole Newbery Challenge, this is exactly the kind of book I was hoping to
find. Dear Mr. Henshaw is a book of letters and diary entries
that a little boy named Leigh Botts writes to his favorite author, who ultimately gives him the advice to try writing himself. It is a suggestion that Leigh takes very seriously, and his voyage as a writer begins in his diary. Cleary expertly maneuvers through a very difficult constraint to create a book that is at times funny, sad and always, always honest. She doesn't let the narrative voice get in her way of telling a very true feeling story wrought with realistic emotional travails, and yet still infused with humor. It's the perfect book for reading aloud together for kids who are starting to read more substantial chapter books on their own, but could also be the perfect book for any kid who may look to writing as an outlet. I wish that I had read this book when I was eight or nine. Maybe I would have started writing earlier.