The Newbery Book Club

Inspired by the thread on the All-Time Best Newbery Medal Book, In Your Opinion thread.

Several of us have set out to read all of the Newbery Medal winners on the list , and I expect others will be reading at least some more of them based on the discussion in that thread.

Let’s do recommendations for each other - directed specifically towards other adult readers who will be reading or re-reading a number of Newbery books at once.


  • General discussions of which you liked best including the ones you read as a kid go in the other thread
  • Recommendations must be based on a fresh read of the book (say just-read or within the last year or so)
  • Bonus points for consideration of how the book fits in to the overall set of Newbery winners and/or reflects the era in which it was written.

It would be helpful to share some basic things about yourself so we know where you’re coming from.

I’ll start in the next post,

**Me: **I’m 45, female, and live in New Jersey. I was a huge reader as a kid, and still am, with a particular interest in science fiction. My starting point was 14 Newbery winners that I’m certain I’ve read (though I know I’ve read more - just can’t swear to it). 10 I’d read or re-read as an adult.
Caddie Woodlawn - 1935
This book was charming, but definitely hearkens from another era. I think the more modern Newbery winners are often about Children Dealing With Serious Issues, and Caddie Woodlawn was more of a series of amusing anecdotes about the author’s grandmother’s pioneer childhood. It’s kind of like the Little House books, but without the preachiness and desperate crushing poverty. It also gives an interesting perspective on attitudes about gender, race, and class in 1935. Spoiler on that one issue alone:

The book was probably seen as really progressive in its day. It seems attitudes that were considered modern and inclusive in 1935 were applied to people in 1864, and from a 2017 perspective, it’s pretty ham-handed.

My Recommendation: This would be a good one to read when you’re thoroughly depressed from having read all those other ones about Children Dealing With Serious Issues.

Number The Stars - 1990
The Holocaust is certainly a Serious Issue, but overall, this book is less of a downer than I expected. It describes a fascinating chapter in WWII history, and honestly, one that I hadn’t known much about. I suspect that the picture it paints of Danish attitudes towards Jews is a little too uniformly rosy, however. Even a childrens’ book could have used a little more nuance in that regard, and to an adult reader, the simplistic good-guy/bad-guy dichotomy stands out as a major flaw. There’s also not much in the way of an interesting plot, either. I probably expected too much because it’s by the same author as The Giver.
My Recommendation: Certainly worth a read, and it’s short. Just don’t set your expectations too high.

Great idea. I’m 45 (I sense a theme), from Ohio and now living in Maryland. I was a HUGE reader as a child, especially anything involving horses and am still a huge reader, though not so much with the horse books! Now I read predominantly mysteries and fantasy, with a lasting fondness for good YA.

I read 18 Newbery winners before embarking on this quest.

I haven’t finished anything yet. So no recommendations yet.

Last night, I read a big chunk of The Story of Mankind (1922). It starts with human evolution and then goes into a skim of ancient history. It’s a little funnier than I expected, and not badly written, but I admit that I might not finish it. Maybe it’s because I was a history major and my focus was ancient Mesopotamia, but got irritated with the shallowness of it. It also appears to treat the Bible as a history book. Moses got his own short chapter (all of the chapters are short).

I’m the OP of the “Favorite Newbery Book”. I’ve read 88 of them, because years ago I decided to read them all. What stopped me cold was Avi’s Crispin: The Cross of Lead. When I saw this thread, I decided I’d read the ones I haven’t read yet. These are The Crossover, The One and Only Ivan, Dead End in Norvelt, Moon over Manifest, The Higher Power of Lucky, Criss Cross, Kira-Kira, and the aforementioned Crispin: The Cross of Lead, which is the one I’m starting with. (I read a few Newbery winners after Crispin, but only if they interested me.)

I’ve read and re-read several of the Newbery winners in the past year. Of those, The Midwife’s Apprentice and Holes really stand up. I just read the latest winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, in December, and it’s an excellent fantasy.

Thimble Summer (1939), by Elizabeth Enright

I read this last night. It’s cute, and quite quick. Pretty unchallenging and not a lot of growth. The author loves to describe half of the characters as “fat.” The characters have hints of characterization, but nothing really strong. Some of the scenes of daily life are good, especially the swimming and the kiln. I’m guessing this will end up as middle of the pack in my end accounting.

Criss Cross (2006), by Lynne Rae Perkins. My god, this was a perfect book. It’s laugh out loud funny, smart, touching but not weepy, and left me smiling. Some people would probably hate it, but I found it utterly perfect. Maybe it reminded me so much of my teen years that I had to love it.

I’m 50. I read The Midwife’s Apprentice as an adult, and thoroughly enjoyed it-- I read it when it first can out, so I didn’t read it as a 50 year old, I read it, IIRC, as a 20- or very young 30-something. I also re-read The Westing Game as an adult, which was a book I originally read shortly after it came out. I think it really holds up. It might not be so interesting to a child who will wonder why cell phones and computers weren’t used to solve certain problems, but an adult who remembers before those things existed-- or at least before the internet was very powerful-- will still enjoy it. Although maybe I’m misjudging. If kids could enjoy the Little House books when I was a kid, I suppose an 11 year old can enjoy The Westing Game.

Someone who is shy about starting this might start with one of those two.

Jacob Have I Loved (1981), by Katherine Paterson.

I can appreciate this book without ever wanting to read it again. Despite flashes of humor, it just made me feel sad and frustrated and uncomfortable about the way Sara Louise behaves. I want to shake her. That made it hard to invest in her as a character.

It’s Like This, Cat (1964), by Emily Cheney Neville.

This is one that I feel has more value for the target audience than an adult. The characterizations are good, and the book moves along at a nice clip, but I didn’t feel incredibly engaged. I liked the main character a lot, for statements like this: “My father is always talking about how a dog can be very educational for a boy. This is one reason I got a cat.”

I realize now that I was supposed to put actual recommendations in my comments. I fail at book club!


The Story of Mankind (1922): Only if you are a completist and/or really curious about old history books.

Thimble Summer (1939): If you want a light, comfortable read that won’t challenge you.

Criss Cross (2006): Maybe better suited for adults than YA. Some people might find this one really frustrating, so only recommended if you have decent tolerance for ambiguity and rumination.

Jacob Have I Loved (1981): Read if you love character studies and don’t mind being aggravated at the protagonist. Not for a down mood; I think it would push you farther under.

It’s Like This, Cat (1964): Read if you want something that doesn’t have to be read in one sitting. Each chapter is like a vignette. Good characterization, though not deep.

The Higher Power of Lucky (2007), by Susan Patron

This is pretty cute, and themes of abandonment and loneliness are pretty strong in it. It felt a little short, a little truncated.

Recommendation: It’s an easy, quick read, so there’s not much burden to reading it, but it doesn’t strike me as anything really special.
Dear Mr. Henshaw (2004), by Beverly Cleary

Eh, I don’t think this one would have made the slightest impression on me as a kid, especially compared to Henry Huggins trying to put Ribsy in a box to carry him on the bus. That image has stuck with me for 30+ years. This one just didn’t do anything. Certainly the least interesting Cleary book I’ve ever read.

Recommendation: This one doesn’t have much to offer an adult reader. It doesn’t demonstrate Cleary’s great charm and wit. I can’t see recommending it except to a completist, though it’s certainly a short read.

Just finished Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi. As I’ve written elsewhere, it reads like a mashup of two other Newbery winners, The Midwife’s Apprentice and Johnny Tremain, but it’s not as good as either. Not recommended unless you intend to read all of the Newbery books.

Have just put Moon Over Manifest on hold, so that’ll be next.

Soooo, not gonna read the sequel, huh? :slight_smile:

No, but I did read their (there are two) summaries on Wikipedia, just to confirm my suspicion that Crispin’s mentor Bear, the gruff father-figure who cares for him and makes him self-sufficient yet somehow escapes Dying by Newbery Award, dies in a later book, which yes, he does.

Three more down:

The Graveyard Book (2009)
I’m still thinking about what I think about this one, and it’s been a week since I’ve finished it.
Recommendation: Definitely worth reading.

Maniac Magee (1990)
This one was a giant “WTF.” The main character is supposed to be a near-mythical legend of a boy, and I think the characterization was successful. It’s the other stuff that made the book fall apart. The Wikpedia entry says that it “explore[s] themes of racism and homelessness,” but the main character barely seemed to suffer from being homeless, and the racism was so overblown that a white character was surprised that black people used the same sort of toothbrushes as white people. I could go on and on but I’ll leave it at this:
Receommendation: Only if you’re a completionist

Strawberry Girl (1946)
This was a surprise delight. It was another story of a girl growing up on the frontier, but it wasn’t the usual “frontier” - it was set in Florida. The story was based on real anecdotes and the author did a boatload of research, resulting in a story that did have a strong sense of realism.
Recommendation: Worth a read - it’s short and gives you a peek into a world you may not have read about before.

Isn’t Strawberry Girl the one where the kid (from a poor family of strawberry pickers/subsistence farmers) makes friends with the wife of the white-collar transplant who lives down the road?

I think there’s a scene where it turns out that they purchased furniture they couldn’t afford, correct? The girl concludes that the well off have problems too, or something like that. I remember it being heavy handed.

Of course, I read the book in my twenties, which was…a while back. Might have a different reaction today or might be misremembering…I do recall that scene as kind of preachy and unrealistic.

Nope. Different book.

Sorry to nitpick, but this book was actually published in 1984. I read it as a child, and I definitely was not a child in 2004. :slight_smile:

FWIW it didn’t make much impression on me as a kid. I remember the basic premise (boy writes series of letters to famous author), but that’s it.

I checked out Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown as well as The Blue Sword from the public library yesterday based on the praise they received in the other thread, so I’ll probably be back soon with an adult’s opinion on those.

Good catch! Definitely 1984. Not sure what gremlin was controlling my fingers!

Okay, thanks! Wonder what it was? Maybe it was another of the Lenski slice-of-life around America books, but I thought Strawberry Girl was the only one of them I’d actually read. A mystery.