It's that time again - time for my weekly, fascinating, Newbery Challenge update!
Smoky the CowHorse by Will James (Newbery 1927)
I started this book with high hopes. I mean, who could mess up a horse book, right? I have very fond memories of my third grade teacher (hello, Miss Sink) reading Misty of Chincoteague to us each day after recess while I ate sunflower seeds. It’s been a while, but I’m pretty sure I loved Black Stallion too.
I’ll be honest; I couldn’t get into the dialect. I don’t mind reading books that are written in dialect, or books that ignore a few conventions along the way. Jennifer Holm does a great job in her May Amelia books, even though she never uses quotation marks and uses unconventional capitalization. In her books, it helps me hear the breathless style of a child speaking. In this book, I just found it distracting.
Another complaint was that I never really connected to the “main character”. Smoky is supposed to be the main character, but I just didn’t care. The horse is born, captured and branded, and is “broken” by a cowboy who attaches to him in the first half of the book. Yet, I didn’t really care. It was halfway through before anything interesting happened. By then, it was just too late.
In its defense, it was a lot better than most of the other Newbery books of the twenties. I could actually see a child reading this book, especially if they were “horse kids”. I just don’t see it appealing much past that, and it didn’t capture my attention or my heart.
Gay Neck: A Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (Newbery 1928)
Okay - bird is born, trained, escapes a few times... this was ground breaking literature?
While the writing style wasn't as hard to read as some of the other early Newbery books, I still didn't find it appealing. There were times when the bird "told his own story". Now, I'm a huge fan of many of the animal character books out there. I loved Rats of NIMH, and I enjoyed Familiars. This? Not so much. I'm not sure why, but there just wasn't much of a voice to the pigeon.
There were scenes from World War 1 - but not enough that it made me feel like I was interested in the story. There were a few beautiful scenes in the Himalayas, but not enough to really draw me in. Then there were the times when he spent several pages just explaining birds to me.
Most "entertaining" part? When the author wrapped up the book by stating that he wasn't going to "spin out a sermon at the end of this story" and then proceeded to write a paragraph telling us not to hate or be fearful, but instead to live a life of courage.
Seriously, if I don't get the lesson from the story, it's not worth explaining it to me at the end.
If you are Bert - you'll love this book. If you aren't enthralled by birds, you may want to pass.