January is a good time to do some catch-up reading. There's only a trickle of new books with which to get acquainted; with that in mind, I tore through a Newbery contender and made some strides in my perpetual Newbery challenge.
The Mighty Miss Malone
Christopher Paul Curtis is a champ. Whether it's his captivating historical fiction or his witty Mr. Chickee mystery books, you can count on his stories to be rich with unforgettable characters. The Mighty Miss Malone is no exception. Deza Malone is a remarkable narrator; smart, funny, lovable, and determined. Life during the Depression is quite difficult on her family, epecially when her father goes missing. Not only does Curtis create outstanding characters, but he brilliantly incorporates historic details into the story seamlessly and efficiently. Inexperienced historical fiction authors incorporate historic details (fashion, important events, famous people of the time, etc) in shallow and half-hearted matters; Curtis, on the other hand, brings to life the transient camps, itenerant life of an promising performer, blatant prejudice, and the fanaticism over the boxer Joe Louis and the Negro Baseball League that were ways of life during the Depression. It is not necessary to have read Bud, Not Buddy before reading The Mighty Miss Malone (you'll want to read it, though!).
Adam of the Road
I meant to read the Newbery canon in order, but Adam of the Road (1943 Medal winner) got picked up before I finished the 1930s list. Happily so, because after trudging through the 1920s books, this is the first Newbery that I've thoroughly enjoyed, rather than endured, since I started this project (please know that there are many Newbery books that I love; they just weren't published before 1930). This is a classic quest novel; Adam, the son of a minstrel, is on a journey to find his stolen spaniel and his missing father. Although it takes place in 13th century England, Adam's love and heartbreak over his missing dog and his worry over his father are undeniably accessible to modern young readers.
The Matchlock Gun
Oh, dear. What can I say about The Matchlock Gun? Well, it's short. There's that. Based on a true story (according to the author), this is the story of a family fighting off the local Native Americans during the French and Indian War. It contains characterizations and illustrations of Native Americans and African-Americans that would probably make many modern readers uncomfortable (especially the ending).
Call it Courage
This is another "noble savage"adventure book beloved by early Newbery committees. This is also one of the shortest Newbery novels (1941 winner); just under 100 pages.
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze
Set in 1920s China, Young Fu is centered around a young apprentice experiencing the fast-paced life of a big city. Foot binding is discussed in this 1933 winner, which may require some explanation to young readers.
Next up in the Newbery parade is Calico Bush (1932 Honor book), written by the same author as Hitty: Her First Hundred Years.