Non-Newbery: Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine


VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 5/5

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is a delightful illustrated biography of Ada Lovelace. Lovelace is often considered the first computer programmer. This title focuses primarily on her early years. Ada’s mother was surprisingly supportive of her strong interest in math and science, obtaining some of the best tutors possible. It was also striking how Ada used the real world as inspiration, learning and making scientific leaps through observation and analysis. As Ada grew older, she was given the opportunity to interact with some of the leading mathematicians of her day, including Charles Babbage. She collaborated with Babbage, who had created the Analytical Engine, a very early multi-purpose computer. Ada wrote an algorithm for the Engine, which, when tested many years later, worked nearly flawlessly.

Besides being a beautiful book, this would be a great read-together book for young kids. Ada gets to play in the mud and do lots of other fun things, but learns a lot while doing it. She runs with what she is interested in and dives deeply into the subjects she cares about, even if they weren’t considered appropriate for a girl. I loved this title and would recommend it to just about anyone.



1940s Newbery Books: A Decade in Review

The 1940’s Newbery winners were not a particularly diverse group of books, mainly featuring fearless pioneers, hard-won battles and historical figures. Historical fiction really caught on this decade as the books covers a wide range of time periods – including the medieval age and the Revolutionary War era. The best of these books took time to focus on character growth while the worst showcased racism, stereotypes and painful dialects.

Both of our collective book rating averages were 2.45 for this decade, which is slightly down from the 1930’s but up from the 1920’s. Nevertheless, we both agreed that this decade was much more consistent in its quality, even if it didn’t have any standouts such as Caddie Woodlawn and The Cat Who Went to Heaven. I would still hesitate to recommend any of these books to modern day readers, but at least the dialogue and narratives were more bearable than previous decades.

Here are our 1940’s Newbery rankings:

Diamonds in the Rough
King of the Wind

Decent Reads
The Twenty-One Balloons
Adam of the Road
Johnny Tremain
Call It Courage

How Did These Win the Newbery Medal?
The Matchlock Gun
Rabbit Hill

Bottom of the Trash Heap
Miss Hickory
Strawberry Girl
Daniel Boone

1930’s Recap

1930's Newbery Medal Winners

While there were still some terrible books in this decade, the books were much better than the 1920’s selections. Laurinda’s average rating for the 1920’s was 2.19 vs. an average of 2.75 for the 1930’s. Sally’s was 1.9 for the 1920’s and 2.6 for the 1930’s. In general, there was far less racism as well. Interestingly, author diversity declines drastically: all the winning authors are American (white?) women, though some were born abroad. The settings of the stories don’t reflect this, however. Characters travel through China, Hungary, Bulgaria, the American Southwest, New York City, and frontier Wisconsin. The most successful narratives blended strong character development with interesting settings. The least instead mixed platitudes with poorly executed research.

1930’s Winners:
Caddie Woodlawn
The Cat Who Went to Heaven

Good books:
Hitty, Her First Hundred Years

Mediocre options:
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze
Thimble Summer
Roller Skates
The White Stag

Gnawing off a leg would be more enjoyable than reading:
Invincible Louisa
Waterless Mountain (though Sally and Laurinda differed in their intensity of loathing for this one).

1930s: It Can’t Get Any Worse, Right?

We are finally done with the 1920’s Newbery books. This week, we will begin reading the next ten winners. In an earlier post this week, Laurinda detailed the major trends of the past decade of Newbery winners.

The 1920’s were not the best decade for Newbery books. Most of the novels did not age well, and I’d be wary of recommending any of them to children nowadays. Our combined average rating was 2.03 out of 5 stars. None of the winners got a higher rating than a 3.

Hopefully, the Thirties will be a more exciting and enjoyable read than the last batch. Historically, the 1930’s are bookended with the tumultuous events of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the outbreak of World War II in Europe. We’ll see if any of the books we read are influenced by the surrounding events.

Here are a couple of things that could make the 1930’s better:

  1. Characterization. The 1920’s featured a cast of characters that were bland and forgettable. Characters did not grow throughout the novel; instead, they were static individuals who had no personality.
  2. Female protagonists. The first winners featured no female main characters, except for a few short stories. From looking at the next ten titles, it looks like this will not be an issue in the next decade.
  3. Modern language. The previous winners’ writing style was burdened down by dense language and a reliance on old dialects.

Looking forward to the 1930’s, here are the next books in our queue:

1930: Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field
1931: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth
1932: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams
1933: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis
1934: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs
1935: Dobry by Monica Shannon
1936: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
1937: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer
1938: The White Stag by Kate Seredy
1939: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright

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1920s Newbery Medal Winners

1920s Newbery Books

We survived the 1920s. And let me tell you, it was an accomplishment. I think Sally and I are both hoping that the ensuing decades will go considerably faster than this first one.

Overall characteristics:

1. Lots and lots and lots of description. Did I say lots of description? Nearly every story described things to the point of pain.

2. Racism. Some more blatant than others. Only Gay-Neck basically had none. Dr. Dolittle was probably the worst, though terming Mexicans “breeds” for half-breeds in Smoky the Cowhorse was right up there.

3. Author diversity. Of the 8 authors, only 3 were American. Sadly, this first Newbery decade, with 5 non-American authors, equals the entire rest of the Newbery list. There have only been 5 non-American authors since 1930.

4. Male authors. Every single one of the authors was male, the only decade for which this is true. Overall, female authors outnumber men something like 60/40.

What I would read again/recommend:

I’d only recommend two of these books, The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle and Shen of the Sea. While both have problematic parts, which should be discussed with kids if you let them read these, the pacing problems which plague most of the rest of the selections are absent for these. They’re both fast, amusing reads.


Welcome! I’m Laurinda. Along with Sally, a coworker and friend, I will be documenting my journey through all of the Newbery Medal Winners. The project was born from that often fateful phrase, “I wonder…”. In this case, the thought struck me that the library at which we work might have all the Newbery Medal winners, since it has a strong children’s collection. I shared the thought with Sally and that was the beginning. Soon I had a spreadsheet of all the Newbery winners, along with their call numbers (we did have them all, often in duplicate or triplicate). Then, I returned from a wander in the stacks with the first 9 books. So began our journey through the “best” children’s literature of the past 92 years.