Print Friendly and PDF With Strings Attached: Newbery Reviews (with quilts!)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Newbery Reviews (with quilts!)

I read this Dover reprint edition
Previous Newberys have been set in other countries. This week the first is sort of in another country (Navajo territory); the others are firmly grounded in New England.

By Laura Adams Armer

Younger Brother is a Navajo boy who lives in the shadow of Waterless Mountain with his father, a silversmith, his mother, a weaver, Elder Brother, and Baby Sister. He knows from an early age that he will be a medicine man. His mentors and tutors are Uncle, himself a medicine man, and the Big Man,   the Anglo proprietor of the trading post who dispenses remedies on occasion. 

At times the story is rooted in the early 20th-century southwest:  YB helps a white teenager whose roadster has broken down. The boy is the son of archaeologists and he discovers a significant piece of pottery. YB and his parents journey by train (“fire horse”) to southern California and meet a filmmaker. Not all Indians are good – the horse thief Cut Finger tries to steal YB’s pony.

All the while the reader is aware of YB’s special status as an aspiring medicine man. He is in his world but he is not of that world.  (There is no mention of any playmates or friends.)  There is a dreamlike quality to parts of the story. 

My mental image of the territory in the story was influenced by many National Geographic articles and by the Santa Fe calendar art, reinforced by our visit to Goulding's Trading Post in Monument Valley back in 2009.

By Caroline Sherwin Bailey

I remember that I read this charming fantasy. In all likelihood I read it several times. That was many years ago and I had forgotten many (most) of the details.

Miss Hickory is a “country woman” with a hickory-nut head and and apple-wood-twig body. She lives in a tidy corncob house under a bush next to the Old Place, a farmhouse in New Hampshire. One day Crow informs her that Great-granny Brown is closing the house and the entire family will spend the winter in Boston. Miss Hickory won’t be able to spend the winter inside.   She is resourceful! She finds shelter in Robin’s  nest (abandoned for the season).  Besides the rascally Crow she has a wonderful group of friends: T. Willard-Brown the housecat; the scatterbrained Squirrel; Mrs. Hen Pheasant. There is a Christmas miracle when all the animals gather in the stable.   In March she takes to the air, riding on Crow’s back.  When the family returns in May Miss Hickory begins a new chapter in her life.

Miss Hickory is also an organizer!  Hen-Pheasant and the other hens complain about being deserted by the cock pheasants, who “live together in their club on the other side of the brush pile until spring.” “Then,” Miss Hickory told her, “you must do the same…. You must form a Ladies’ Aid Society.”
She explained, “The first thing that the Ladies’ Aid Society of Hillsborough does every autumn is to start making a bed quilt. They sew together pretty pieces of cloth that they have gathered and saved, flower pieces, plain pieces, but all colored. They meet at the Town Hall once a week to make their patched squares into one large quilt of many colors. Then they line it, stuff it, and quilt it on a frame. They sell their quilt in the spring at a church fair.”
                Hen-Pheasant’s slow-working mind reeled. Not a word of Miss Hickory’s good idea had she understood. “Sew! Patches! Ladies’ Aid!” she mumbled.
                Miss Hickory hurried over to the edge of the woods and was gone for a few minutes. She returned with some sharp green pine needles, and four straight and slender branches for a quilting frame. She then gathered four beautiful fallen leaves. A russet oak leaf, a yellow beach leaf, a red maple leaf, and a golden maple leaf. She laid them together in a pattern of patchwork before Hen-Pheasant and showed her how to sew them together with a pine needle and a thread of dried grass. It pleased Hen-Pheasant. She took a pine needle in one claw and began stitching the patch of leaves. Sewing seemed to come to her naturally.
                “Look up at the mountain,” Miss Hickory said, “for your pattern and colors, and your quilt will be the only one of its kind.”
                Hen-Pheasant looked up at Temple Mountain, glowing with its autumn leaves….She had never looked at it before, having always felt sorry for herself when the leaves began to turn. Even to glance at that beauty brightened her.
                Miss Hickory went on working briskly.  She tied the four branches together with strong grasses to make a square frame. “When you finish the patches and sew them together, tie it on this frame and sew it up and down, back and forth; that is called quilting. And oh, I forgot to tell you, the other thing that the Ladies’ Aid Society does is to eat. They have a big dinner on the days when they meet in the Town Hall to work on their quilt—“
                But Hen-Pheasant scarcely heard her. She had gathered herself a pile of corn over which she was clucking, singing a little tune of happiness, stitching a patch of leaves, pecking a kernel or two now and then. Hen-Pheasant did not see Miss Hickory go.
I can imagine a grandmother making up stories about a little girl’s twig doll.  Ruth Gannett’s lithograph illustrations with their soft graining are perfect for the story.   

By Jean Lee Latham

Nathaniel Bowditch grew up in a seafaring family in the seafaring town of Salem, Massachusetts in the last years of the 18th century. At age 12 he was indentured to a ship’s chandler. He proved to be a fast learner and a mathematical prodigy.  After fulfilling the 9-year apprenticeship he went to sea as a supercargo (the cargo manager who bought and sold good to carry on the return voyage) and the navigator.  He corrected the British maritime navigation books and when he was still in his 20’s he wrote The American Practical Navigator to teach all seamen how to reckon. It is still a standard text for sailors.

I’d been aware of Bowditch (in no small part from knowing the title of this book for all these years), but I hadn’t known about his significance in maritime history.  I learned a lot about navigation, too.  This is a briskly-written historical novel (plucky hero, plucky new nation; American wunderkind finds errors in British calculations; hopes raised, hopes dashed, hearts broken, hearts mended).

Illustrator John O’Hara Cosgrave II is a long-time favorite.  Here is more about him.


  1. I may have to unearth a copy of Mr. Bowditch and read it as it sounds fascinating. Not so sure of Miss Hickory. Thanks for sharing these.

  2. Oh, yes. Mr. Bowditch and I have spent many hours together. Was one of the required book(s) to buy when I was at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy. I loved navigation but the detail and many pages of reading for the next test could be tedious and very dry at times. I still have them though, nearly 40 years later and look at them from time to time.


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