Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Newbery Challenge continues...

So the internet has been down at my house for the last week... but in that time I read three Newbery Winners that I would break into two categories: fun and edifying. While all three were well written, only one really caught my attention as the type of book that would be fun for kids. The other two I could see having more value for teachers, and would make the best kind of homework.

The first, the 1930 Newbery Winner,
The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth, is essentially an introduction to Buddhism for children. It's the story of an artist in Japan who is commissioned by a temple to paint the death of Buddha, a scene which includes a wide variety of animals. When his housekeeper picks up a stray cat, despite the fact that household can hardly afford another mouth to feed, the artist unwittingly begins his journey to a new understanding of the Buddha. As he paints each animal, he considers the various traits they each represent, and searches to see honor in them all. Meanwhile, he becomes closer to his cat. And though cats did not visit the Buddha when he died, he ultimately decides to include one in the painting, causing his pet to die of happiness. Beautifully written, and pleasantly concise, The Cat Who Went to Heaven is a great book for parents who want their younger children to learn about Buddhism, though may not be a good choice for reluctant readers, or readers looking for adventure in their stories.

The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene DuBois, on the other hand is a fantastically fun read with enough hot air-balloon travel and explosions for any reader. It won the Newbery in 1948, and is the story of a San Francisco math teacher who decides to escape his boring life in lieu of a hot air balloon adventure. When he crash lands on the Pacific Island of Krakatoa, a paradise laden with diamonds, he encounters a strange, utopian society of former San Francisco residents. And though Krakatoa is a volatile volcano, the residents have an escape plan. A clever tale with humor to spare, The Twenty-One Balloons was a pleasure to read, with fantastic illustrations by the author. It would be well suited for a family read aloud with younger kids, as it's an entirely wholesome tale and all the air travel a reader can handle.

The 1996 Newbery Winner, The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman is a story of self-realization, packed with wonderful historical details. The realities of childbrith in
middle ages are hardly sugar-coated, and while it is an incredibly
short book (128 pages) it is hardly suited for readers younger than maybe ten years old. (The book says ages 12 and up, but those ages always skew older than I necessarily think they need to.) While I found it an entirely edifying read, and was attached to the characters, I would still qualify this as the type of book best suited for classrooms, unless the child in question has a preexisting interest in historical fiction. Nonetheless, it is beautifully written, immaculately structured and fully deserving of its prize.

No comments:

Post a Comment