(This is my column for the June 4 Zion-Benton News. I hope to blog about the Newbery medal books as I read them.)
Summer, 1975: I was enjoying a slice of heaven. I was finished with college (no more assignments!). I had moved to Brenham, a small city in central Texas. I was the head librarian at the public library. I had a key to the building and I could go in early and I could stay late. Best of all, the library had 45,000 books on the shelves, most of which I had never read, and I got to buy all the new books, too. At first I checked out a dozen books at a time. I even took some books home before they’d been processed. I reacquainted myself with favorite chapter books that I remembered from grade school.
Within a few months the euphoria had dissipated. I realized that I didn’t need to check out everything that caught my eye. Those mysteries and biographies would be available when I finished the current batch. I could wait until the latest novels by Mary Stewart or Victoria Holt were stamped and labeled before I took them back to my apartment. Soon I was caught up in community life, with civic and church added to my professional library involvement. Once again my reading time was limited.
Still, I equate summer vacation with time to read. I have signed up for the Zion-Benton Public Library’s reading competition so I will keep track of the minutes I read and support a local school. (Which school? That’s my secret, until you tell me which school you have signed up to read for.)
This year I have decided to read with a purpose. I am going to read the Newbery Medal books. All 94 of them.
You’ve seen Newbery Medal books – they’re the ones with the gold seals on the covers. The Newbery Medal has been awarded annually since 1922 to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. It is named for the eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. He was the first publisher of books expressly written for children.
I’ve printed out the Newbery list. I’ve read 35 out of the 94. I read many of those 35 multiple times, but that was long ago. It’s time to discover those I haven’t read, like The One and Only Ivan, about the transforming power of friendship (2013), and Holes, featuring Stanley Yelnats (1999), or Smoky, the Cowhorse (1927), about a cowboy and the horse he tamed.
It’s time to rediscover favorites, like Caddie Woodlawn (1936), about a pioneer Wisconsin family in the 1860’s, and A Wrinkle in Time (1963), a dizzying ride through physics and fantasy with Meg Murry and her brother Charles Wallace, and Rabbit Hill (1946) whose first line I remember so well: “New folks comin’! New folks comin’!”
I’ve begun with The Story of Mankind, published in 1922. With 600 pages it is the longest Newbery winner. The title is straightforward; it really is about Western civilization. I’m 100 pages into it and I admit that it is interesting. I will follow with The Crossover, the 2015 winner. When I attend the Newbery Awards Banquet at the American Library Association Annual Conference this month I will appreciate author Kwame Alexander’s acceptance speech.
Whether your summer reading plans are serendipitous or focused, I hope you’ll have enjoyable discoveries. And don’t forget to keep track of your reading time so that your school can be a winner!