1938 Honor: Pecos Bill – The Greatest Cowboy of All Time (a roundup of tall tales)

VERDICT: Trash!!!

Sally’s Rating: 2/5

In Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time, folklorist James Cloyd Bowman retraces the legendary figure’s wild adventures throughout his time growing up with coyotes to becoming a leader of cowboys and inventing the art of cowpunching.

A collection of tall tales, this book glorifies the frontier lifestyle, with characters that are bigger than life and every tall tale leading to an even taller tale. If you’ve enjoyed the stories of Paul Bunyan, Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, you’ll most likely find merit in this one.

Because of the time it was written, there is some derogatory language towards Native American tribes sprinkled throughout the narrative that is eye-roll inducing. The style of language is a bit outdated for children today, and the sheer length and density of the novel (300 pages) makes me hesitant to recommend it to younger readers. If looking to learn more about Pecos Bill, reading a chapter or two of this book will give you the flavor of the era and a look into the broad American humor of the frontier, but finishing the whole book becomes a lesson in repetition as there is little variance in the stories.

Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time will definitely not be gracing my Top Books of All Time list despite being the Newbery Honor book of 1938, but there is some cultural worth to knowing your American legends, I guess.

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2009 Honor: The Surrender Tree – Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5

The Surrender Tree tells the story of Cuba’s struggles for freedom using poetry as a medium.

Rosa grows up a slave, trained in healing using plant-based folk remedies. She gains a reputation for her skills; she is even called upon to work on the white slave catcher’s son. Eventually, Rosa chooses to run away and join one of the runaway slave communities hidden deep in the forest.

There, she and her husband participate in several struggles for freedom. Rosa establishes hospitals and trains numerous assistants. Despite the cruelty visited upon the Cuban revolutionaries by the Spanish army, including imprisonment of all non-combatants in internment camps, Rosa steadfastly treats whoever shows up at her doorstep. Her compassion results in numerous Spanish troops switching sides in the conflict.

Throughout all of this, the slave catcher who Rosa once saved, now known by the moniker Lieutenant Death, has made catching her his  mission. Their strangely intertwined lives intersect several times, but he never succeeds in his mission.

Margarita Engle, the author, wrote an eloquent, moving story, which captures several important points in Cuban history. Rosa, her husband, and a girl who escapes the internment camps after her entire family dies there are sympathetic narrators. Despite being “rebels”, Rosa’s realism, humanity, and war-weariness shine through the narrative, creating a more complex picture of conflict than merely “must get the bad guys/accomplish our goals”. The Surrender Tree also examines U.S. involvement in the conflict, basically betraying the Cubans who thought they had come to help.

I highly recommend this selection to those who enjoy narratives written in verse, as well as those who are interested in history. The reading goes quickly and the language usage is impeccable. It is probably of most interest to middle and high schoolers. It’s within the capable of younger readers, but should be read with an adult to help contextualize slavery and war.

 

1941 Honor: Blue Willow

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3/5

Blue Willow by Doris Gates, the 1941 Newbery Medal Honor book, is a realistic children’s tale about a young girl in the Great Depression who faces problems fitting in after moving to a new town, the tough task of making and keeping friends, and a life of poverty. Despite all of her difficulties, she has a family that loves her, as well as her most prized possession – a Blue Willow plate that had once belonged to her great-great-grandmother. But when Janey’s stepmother falls sick, her family begins having problems keeping up with the rent, and Janey may have to give up the one thing she values most to save them.

Janey is an admirable heroine with a loyal heart. Her growing friendship with Lupe is well written, as there are a couple instances of misunderstandings in the beginning, but they end up finding common ground regardless. Janey’s adventurous inclinations lead her to a day at the county fair, learning to read at the local school, and rooting for her family in the county cotton picking contest. For children interested in learning about rural life in the early decades, this book paints a pretty enough picture of the best and worst aspects of the migrant lifestyle.

Blue Willow is an enjoyable enough read for the realistic fiction genre, especially for those interested in the Great Depression era in California.

1968 Honor: The Egypt Game

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3/5

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder is an entertaining read that plays to a child’s overactive imagination and taps into an adult reader’s nostalgia for simpler times.

If you obsessed over Egyptian mythology as a child, this is the book for you. When April comes to live with her grandmother, she makes an unlikely friendship with her neighbor Melanie, and they begin to bond over their love of ancient Egypt. They  unintentionally recruit a group of kids to play in the backyard of an antique shop where they create their own Egyptian names, construct altars to gods for sacred ceremonies, and play around with hieroglyphics. But things begin to get mysterious when a murder happens nearby and the make-believe oracle they ask questions to begins to answer them back.

I found this to be a decent read. Children with active imaginations can easily relate to the main characters in this book and their adventures while adult readers will be nostalgic for their younger days when they could easily play pretend games all day.

Despite the fun plot, the book has an older style of language that may put off younger readers. The main characters converse in a more sophisticated way than how modern children their age would speak now. But, I will say that the book did a good job with having a very diverse cast of characters.

With an amusing story line and a varied cast of characters, The Egypt Game is for readers who enjoy Egyptian mythology and its ancient pantheon of captivating gods, but more likely the ones who will love it are those who once upon a time played make-believe games with the other kids in their neighborhoods who are looking for a way to reminisce.