Michael's Musings

FridayReads: Newbery Winners of the 1940s & 50s

(FridayReads is a feature in which I discuss a book that I’m either currently reading or just have on my mind. It is inspired by @TheBookMaven and her #FridayReads hashtag.)

It’s been a while since I’ve last written. It’s been a difficult summer, without a ton of redeeming features. (One notable upshot is that I’ve gotten into bike riding, which has been a wonderful way to clear my head and see my city from a different vantage.)

Anyhow, I stopped reading Newbery books for a while, but now I’m ramping it back up and come to you with a report on the winners of the 1940s and 1950s. (Previously, I wrote about the first decade of Newbery winners and also the winners of the 1930s.)

Rather than go through all twenty books from the 40s & 50s, I’ll tell you that there wasn’t a lot that I *loved* in this stretch. I actually found the period more notable for what didn’t win than what did. If you didn’t know, the 1950s featured both Charlotte’s Web (1953) and Old Yeller (1957) being beaten by books that, if I wasn’t doing this project, I’d never have heard of. (And rightly so, in my opinion.)

But here is what I did enjoy.

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray

I had a good time with the medieval tale, Adam of the Road. This was the winner of the 1943 Newbery and had a lot of great period detail.

The Twenty-one Balloons

My favorite selection from the 1940s, though, was far and away the 1948 winner, The Twenty-one Balloons by William Pène du Bois. It was a wonderfully inventive and whimsical narrative, with just the right touch of dryness. I had a blast reading it.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

From the 1950s…there wasn’t a lot I particularly enjoyed reading. However, the rare non-fiction winner, Jean Lee Latham’s Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (1956), was a pleasant surprise. I grew quite fond of the character of Nat Bowditch and found much to enjoy in his adventures — not to mention the fact that I’m a sucker for a good “bootstraps” story.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The 1950s ended with my favorite book of this group — and perhaps of the whole Newbery run so far. The book is The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1959 winner) by Elizabeth George Speare, a title I knew of before but had never read. I enjoyed the narrative, but even more, I was intrigued by the context in which the book was released — at a time when once again witch-hunts were back en vogue. I found it a fascinating read from that perspective.

So there you have it — of the twenty books, there were four I would strongly recommend. I might also give a recommendation to …And Now Miguel for its quirky perspective, though I did find myself a little weary of the protagonist by the book’s end. The best I can say about the 1940s and 1950s is that they give way to the 1960s, which will feature at least three books that I already know to be wonderful. Pretty excited to discuss them!

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