Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Children's Classics ::: A Gathering of Days, A Midwife's Apprentice & Lon Po Po

For this month's Children's Classics I picked up three new to me books - two were winners of the Newberry Award and one was a Caldecott Medal winner. All interesting in their own way and VERY different from one another as you will see below!

First up is the winner of the 1980 Newberry Award. A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-32 by Joan W. Blos was a quick and very interesting book and one that I was glad to try out.

A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-32Catherine Hall is a young girl that lived in the 1800's. A few months before her fourteenth birthday, she is given a journal and decides to chronicle her days. Some entries are brief and some are lengthly, but I definitely feel like I got a glimpse of what life would have been like for a young girl back then. (To put this is perspective, Catherine's teen years were almost 40 years before Laura Ingalls Wilder was born). These days have the beginnings of anti-slavery rumblings and it affects even Catherine's life in New Hampshire as she and her friends assist a runaway slave.

Life wasn't easy for Catherine, but it was good. She went to school with her best friend Cassie, helped take care of her father's house (her mother died when she was younger), and spent time with her little sister. They lived a simple life on a farm and I thought the descriptions of winter in New Hampshire during this era was very interesting. There was a lot of preparation to get through a winter and survive; and still they were busy all winter long preparing for spring.

I am definitely adding this book to our library. This will be a great read-along for my girls when we study this period in American History. I think it would be suitable for any reader, from about age 8 and up. (i.e., I think my almost 7 year old could read the words just fine, but she doesn't have the knowledge of slavery and that period of time for it to impact her as much as if we waited a bit.) Well worth getting your hands on a copy and checking it out for yourself. :

The Midwife's ApprenticeI also read The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman, which was the 1996 Newberry Medal Winner. This book was a little tougher to read but didn't make it any less interesting. This is the story of a young girl, abandoned and alone, and found sleeping in a dung pile by the local midwife. I wouldn't say it was out of pity, but the midwife takes her home and gives her odd jobs here and there to do in exchange for a small bit of food and a place to sleep. However, that doesn't mean her life gets any easier. The midwife is fairly abusive and, in fact, this girl doesn't even have a name (or is given one) until about halfway through the book. Apparently she's not deemed important enough to have one or to even find out what it is.

This book is the story of this young girl learning about herself and finding an identity for herself out of nothing. When asked what she wants she says, "A full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world." Thankfully, by the end of the story, she is headed down that path and has grown in self-confidence and can now stand up for herself a bit more.

I wouldn't recommend this book for anyone under twelve, I don't think. There are a couple bad words (nothing that would earn it more than a PG rating if it were a movie) but the girl is treated harshly by the midwife and others, and there are a few scenes that would be better for a middle school student.

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from ChinaLastly, I read my first Caldecott Medal Winner this month - Lon Po Po by Ed Young. Lon Po Po is the story of Red Riding Hood, told using Chinese children and using Chinese panel art to illustrate the story. In this version, instead of Red Riding Hood heading out to meet the wolf on her way to grandmother's house, the wolf comes to three sisters, Shang, Tao, and Paotze. Against the stern warning of their mother, they let the wolf into their house and eventually realize that it isn't their grandmother come to visit but a wolf! The children are able to escape the wolf's clutches and he meets an unfortuate end and all ends well.

However, what won this book it's medal was the artwork. The story is told through different panels (2-3 per page) in a blurry medium to my untrained eye. According to Amazon.com: "Like ancient Oriental paintings, the illustrations are frequently grouped in panels. When the girls meet the wolf, e.g., the left panel focuses on their wary faces peering out from the darkness, the middle enlarges the evil wolf's eye and teeth, and the third is a vivid swirl of the blue clothes in which the wolf is disguised. The juxtaposition of abstract and realistic representations, the complicated play of color and shadow, and the depth of the artist's vision all help transform this simple fairy tale into an extraordinary and powerful book." While I think I prefer my illustrations a little bit more straightforward, there is no question that the art isn't beautifully done and this was a great book to read alongside our China unit that we completed last week.

This post is linked up with Five Minutes for Books Children's Classics Award Winners Challenge.


  1. These titles are all new to me. Great reviews!

  2. I've read and liked both of the Newberys you read. I really like Cushman's books--I think I've read most of them. I agree that they're more appropriate for middle schoolers, though.

    I THINK I've read Lon Po Po, but I haven't read it to my girls. I need ot remedy that! :-)

  3. Ed Young is an absolutely amazing illustrator, that's for sure. I've heard of The Midwife's Apprentice, but I've never read it. I'm thinking it should go on my YA reading list. Thanks!
    -Dawn (5minutesforbooks.com)

  4. My kids are a bit young for both of the Caldecott books but Lon Po Po sounds wonderful, I'm so envious of those talented artists. Thanks for linking up!

    Nancy (5minutesforbooks.com)

  5. Out of town this past week so I missed the carnival this go around. I'm so glad you mentioned Midwife's Apprentice. I hadn't noticed that title until recently and it keeps popping up in front of me. I was growing curious. Still am, but it was good to hear your take on age appropriateness.



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