1939: Thimble Summer – (Not so) Idyllic Farm Life

Cover of Thimble Summer


Laurinda’s Rating: 2.5

Thimble Summer, the 1939 Newbery Medal Winner, is set in the present (mid-1930’s) on a Wisconsin farm. As elsewhere, Garnet’s dad is smothered in bills and drought is baking the crops. Garnet is a spunky girl who likes to explore, leading her into a number of misadventures. While playing with her brother onĀ some sand flats revealed by low water levels, Garnet finds a silver thimble, which she believes is magic. That night, the drought breaks. The family’s financial situation also starts to turn around, as they got a loan to replace their rickety barn. Most of the book focuses on the quotidian life on a farm – Garnet takes dairy down to the spring house to keep it cool, she raises a piglet, etc. However, she does have a few adventures.

In the first, Garnet and her best friend Citronella go into town and spend a nice afternoon at the library. The librarian completely forgets that they’re there, and the girls are wrapped up in the worlds of their books. They get locked in. After raiding the librarian’s desk for food, they start wishing that they were “safe, happy pig[s] asleep in its own pen with its own family!…One that had never seen a library and couldn’t even spell pork”. Eventually, a neighbour locates them and they are returned to their families.

At another juncture, Garnet’s temper gets the best of her. After a hay pile falls on her when she’s helping with threshing, she runs away to the “big” city, getting a ride from a singer, then taking the bus the rest of the way. She buys presents for everyone before realizing that she left no money for bus fare home. Garnet rides back with a man transporting chickens, helping him capture them when some escape. Mr. Freebody, her neighbour/guardian angel (’cause Garnet really does get herself into some good scrapes), noticed her leaving and has surreptitiously searched for her all day. Of course, he is overjoyed that she’s back and tells her to save the presents for a holiday so that her parents won’t know where she’s been.

Like some of the lower rated Newbery Medal Books, Thimble Summer is very episodic, almost disjointed in places. It’s writing style is rather simplistic, making it slower to read than it should have been. I’m fairly neutral about this book – I didn’t hate it but wouldn’t actually recommend that you read it. Because the setting was the “present” when it was published, a lot is implied that modern children are unlikely to understand. The full-color illustrations and line art save the book somewhat. The color pictures are lovely. I’ll be adding some to the Tumblr in the next day or so. The illustrations, well, some are good, some less so. I’ll just say “disembodied heads” and leave it at that.


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