SpReAd the Love Children’s Book Challenge: “Death by Newbery”

Last year, when I was trying to convince my oldest to write up something for the children’s book challenge, I threw out a couple of titles…one of them being The Bridge to Terabithia, at which point he threw up his hands muttered something about it being a complete mind f#$k and then said clearly…”No way.  I’m not promoting ‘Death by Newbery‘”

OK…so I bit.

Me:  “Death by Newbery?  What is that?”

Him:  “The marked regularity that either a sibling, a virtuous best friend, a wise advisor or a beloved pet will meet an untimely death – for which the book wins a prestigious literary prize.”  (Yes, he actually talks like that.)

End of conversation – he refused to participate, I posted Everyone Poops on his behalf.

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Fast forward one year, and here I am again, hovering around a familiar theme.  First, a bit of background excerpted from Wikipedia:

The John Newbery Medal is a literary award given by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of theAmerican Library Association (ALA). The award is given to the author of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”[1] Named for John Newbery, an 18th-century English publisher of juvenile books, the Newbery was proposed by Frederic G. Melcher in 1921, making it the first children’s book award in the world.[2]:1 The medal was designed by Rene Paul Chambellan and depicts an author giving his work (a book) to a boy and a girl to read.

(The British Carnegie Medal is similar and has a similar death toll evidently)

Dating back to 1922, the list of Newbery winners and honorees is a veritible Who’s Who in American juvenile literature, so I thought I’d scan through it and pick out some winners that I’d read and see how the “Death by Newbery” trope held up.

Spoiler alert…if you haven’t read these books…well, you know…

1953 – Charlotte’s Webb by E.B. White:   I was absolutely gutted when you know who died…and then was gutted again when I read this book to each of my children.  Wise advisor dies – reader gutted.  Check.

1970 – Sounder by William H. Armstrong.  Summed up beautifully by Wallace Wallace in No More Dead Dogs:

“The dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.”

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1978 – Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson:  C’mon!  Is this really a kid’s book?!

I was somewhat surprised to find that another of my childhood favorites…the book that started this whole conversation last year, Where the Red Fern Grows by Winston Rawls is not on the Newbery winner list…it certainly fits the bill.   It’s a coming of age story about a boy and his two beloved Redbone Coonhounds that culminates in one dog dying protecting the boy from a mountain lion and the other pining away and laying down to die on the grave of her dead companion. The boy buries his dogs and returns later to find a sacred red fern growing on their graves.  Reflecting back on it as an adult he says,

“I’m sure the red fern has grown and has completely covered the two little mounds. I know it is still there, hiding its secret beneath those long, red leaves, but it wouldn’t be hidden from me for part of my life is buried there too. Yes, I know it is still there, for in my heart I believe the legend of the sacred red fern.”

                                                                           Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows

One book from read by 12 year old yours truly takes the cake though…The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – Newbery Medal winner in 1961.

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Based on a true story, this book tells the tale of a young Native American girl living on an island off the coast of northern California…she suffers crisis after crisis, loss after loss but remains resilient.  She endures the death of companions and is forced to live in complete isolation on an otherwise deserted island for over a decade.  Looking back on it now, I realize why the only thing I really remembered was the description of the special garment she made out of the shiny black feathers of the cormorants which were native to the island – it is JUST.  SO. GRIM.

So in sum…Where the Red Fern Grows, The Island of the Blue Dolphins and Steinbeck’s The Red Pony?  Sixth grade was a real literary horror show! (Is it any wonder I don’t find myself particularly bothered by Hannibal?)

All I can say now is:

Thank you Kate DiCamillo!

Read on Armitageworld

(a copy of each of these deadly Newbery Medal winners will be donated to an unsuspecting child 😉  )

It got me again! SpReAd the Love Book Challenge

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Last year, when my daughter was in second grade, she brought home a book from the school library that she was insistent I read to her.  I resisted initially since the book was within her reading level.  Her reply?  “I’ve already read it Mom.  I want *you* to read it too.”   And so I discovered the wonderful book that is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.

Beautifully illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Beautifully illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

For the next week at bedtime, I read a chapter…sometimes two, of the story about a china rabbit as he is lost and found and lost and found again.   When it was time to return the book to the library, we were only about halfway through it. Ordinarily, MiniMe can renew library books, but there was a waiting list for this one, so she needed to bring it back.  That night at bedtime, she asked if we could go to the bookstore over the weekend and buy the book, but by this point, I was hooked and could do one better…”Why don’t I just buy it from ibooks?” I asked.  I love to hold a book in my hands, but in this case, the instant gratification of the ebook was a wonderful compromise.  Minutes later, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane was happily resting on a “shelf” in my ibooks library.

This is a story of the transformative power of love.  When he is introduced to the reader, Edward Tulane is a child’s toy – a three foot tall china rabbit whose owner, ten year old Abilene Tulane loves him deeply.  Each day after she dressed Edward in his beautiful clothes,  she would set him up on a chair in the dining room so he could look out the window and watch for her to return from school.  Despite the loving care of Abilene, Edward’s inner monologue betrays his vanity and self absorption:

from Chapter 1

from Chapter 1

One night at bedtime, shortly before the Tulane’s are set to embark on a sea voyage to Europe, Abilene’s grandmother tells Abilene and Edward a rather ominous story about how a failure to love those who loved her resulted in a beautiful princess being turned into a warthog.  The point of the story is lost on Edward Tulane…for now.   The next chapters tell how Edward is separated from Abilene and passes through the lives of all sorts of different people, learning to love and be loved along the way.

I was initially put off by Edward…such a vain, preening character, but with each chapter and each new experience, the story of Edward’s journey to love drew me further and further in.  I remember the night we reached the final four or five chapters of the story.  Mini Me and I were cozied up in her small bed as I read.  She must have been unusually tired, because she dropped off to sleep as I was reading – ordinarily, she is a challenging child to put to bed (some days I think the book Go the F**k to Sleep was written with her in mind.)  and I am more than ready to be about my business before she is ready to let me go.  That night though, as she rolled over, zonked out, I could not stop reading…I had to find out how the story ended.  By the end of Chapter 19, I was sniffling, and when the story closed in Chapter 27 I was gulping back sobs.  In the morning I told Mini Me that I’d finished the book…she nodded sagely and asked, “Did you cry?”

A colleague of mine who teaches literature was telling me about a conversation she’d had in an adult ed course.  One student was describing how a particular book had moved her to tears and another, who had previously admitted to never having finished a book, interjected perplexedly, “How can a book make you cry?”  I think this is one of the most profoundly sad things I have ever heard.  “How can a book make you cry?”  I think that I would have to respond in Socratic fashion and ask, “How can you not be moved emotionally by certain stories?”  The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is that kind of story for me…a book that never fails to move me.  A book that I will never forget.  A book that I am so excited to pass on to a new audience.

Frontispiece

Frontispiece