Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Not-So-Random Shelf: Biography

Among Newbery fans, Invincible Louisa occasionally gets a bad rap. They consider it to be one of the weaker choices for the Newbery (when they’re not bashing Secret of the Andes for winning the Newbery Medal over Charlotte’s Web, which was named an Honor book). They claim it’s dull and plodding. Not having read it since elementary school, and seeing that it was on my next shelf for my next Biography not-so-random shelf, I decided that it was time to reread it.

Now, children’s biographies are simply not written in the old-fashioned and slightly condescending way that some used to be written (the book won the Newbery in 1934). I don’t object to that-it can’t help the era and fashion in which it was written. It’s important to remember that this is one of the very early examples of Newbery winners and is written in a style that many readers wouldn’t stand for anymore. The patronizing attitude toward African Americans may make modern readers wince, however. It’s not likely I will reread this or recommend this (perhaps time for a new biography of Alcott). It’s useful for those wanting a peek into children’s biographies from another era, or those winding their way through the Newbery canon.

What do you think about Invincible Louisa? I'd love to hear from defenders of the book.


Wendy said...

Oh, there are MANY duller Newberys than this one! But probably this is one of the more-commonly-read older Newberys, so maybe that's why the complaints. My feeling is that at the time it was written, this was a particularly entertaining biography. It goes much deeper than dates/names/places, and spends so much time on LMA's childhood. I haven't really researched this, but I think this book probably set the stage for the children's biography explosion that lasted the next twenty years or so.

Jennifer Schultz said...

Wendy, one of the things I was surprised to learn was that LMA raised her young niece.

I'm about to go back to the 1920s/30s Newbery books. I just finished The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle, which I enjoyed more than I thought I would (wouldn't reread it again, but it wasn't a chore to read, most of the time).