Saturday, January 7, 2012

First Pair of Nerdberries Collected


(Not sure if this post will end up in the right spot - but I'm transferring over old posts from my original blog. This one originally posted January 7, 2012.)


I’ve completed the first two Newbery award books on my list, so it’s time to sit down and document my thoughts before they are lost for all time.
First, let me say that with the sheer number of books and comics that I want to read, it’s hard to devote a lot of time to sitting down and actually writing about them. I know I need to do it – that reflecting on what I read is a big part of what will make me a better reader and teacher of reading – but all I want to do is grab the next read off my shelf!
When I began this challenge – a scant week ago – I had no real understanding of just how much children’s books have changed over the years. “Kids these days” have no idea how lucky they are to be able to walk through a bookstore and have so many wonderful choices. While I enjoyed both of these early Newbery winners, they are a far cry from what is currently jumping off the shelves in my classroom.

1922’s winner – The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem Van Loon

This is not a novel. It’s really, honestly, what the title suggests – a history book. Lest you think that means I didn’t enjoy it, I’ll mention that I do enjoy the study of history. I was a history minor in college and delighted in many of my history courses, especially those taught by Professor Callahan. His ability to inject humor and make me think about the “big picture” of history made me always love going to his class. It was Callahan’s voice I heard throughout this book, helping me make it through the enormous volume of little details. Van Loon was able to humanize the events in history, pointing out how even those we “modern” people view as evil or misguided were simply acting as people have acted since time began.
Was it easy to read? No, many parts were very challenging for me. I fell back on my college habits of highlighting and “marking up” the text. Thankfully, I had it on my Kindle app so I could do that to my heart’s content. I found the parts of history that I knew well were entertaining and flowed. Parts that I didn’t know as well were much more difficult to read. I have trouble seeing a modern child sitting through this whole book – but I found gems a ’plenty that I could use in my classroom to help kids understand about writing from a bias (Van Loon frequently pointed out his own viewpoint and how it would impact what he was writing), learn about patterns in history, and giving “voice” to nonfiction text.
Did I cheer a little when I finished it? Yes, I’ll admit it. I was very proud of myself when I could mark this one “done” on Goodreads.

1923 – The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle – by Hugh Lofting
This book was a lot more like what I expected from a children’s book. The story of Doctor Dolittle and his travels with a cobbler’s son named Tommy. Unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed it that much more than Story of Mankind. I think because I expected it to be adventurous – filled with great story telling – it fell short of my expectations.
Parts were truly entertaining. I loved the sections where they were on the mysterious Spidermonkey island. Other parts were a bit dull. Maybe it’s just the style of writing I’ve gotten used to with modern style stories, but I’m having trouble pinpointing exactly why the book felt flat to me.  
I do think kids would like this book. Who wouldn’t enjoy characters that can talk to animals, after all? It just didn’t feel “marvelous”.

With that, I wrap up my first pair. As I type, my copy of 1924’s The Dark Frigate is sailing its way to me from Alibris. The next pair – Tales from Silver Lands and Shen of the Sea - eagerly await my gaze at my local library. I may go slightly out of order and start with one of those so I don’t get behind on my pace.

Fun fact for all you fantasy geeks out there – I should complete my Newbery journey around the same time that Bilbo completes his quest in the theater (part two of The Hobbit will be in theaters in December of 2013). 

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