(I need you to pretend this was published on Thursday; our power was out for 17 straight hours when I would usually be getting the post ready to publish, and I got set back too far to get it up in time!)
Here’s our about.com-based summary of events of the decade to find our place in history:
1920–women in the United States earn the right to vote
1921–Bessie Coleman becomes the first African-American female pilot (list of children’s books about Bessie Coleman–they look pretty neat!)
1922–King Tut’s tomb discovered (here’s a brand new article about some recent (potentially) exciting developments regarding the tomb!)
1923–Time magazine founded
1925–Balto the sled dog’s historic run (list of children’s books about Balto, including the Magic Tree House one)
1927–Babe Ruth sets the home run record
1929–the stock market crash sets off the Great Depression
The John Newbery Medal was first awarded in 1922. Here’s a list of this decade’s winners (some of which have made it into the post)!
1922–The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon
1923–The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
1924–The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes
1925–Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger
1926–Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman
1927–Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James
1928–Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji
1929–The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly
The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting (1922): The book has next to nothing to do with the Eddie Murphy movie version (which I actually liked, too!), and it has a lot of the absurdity of many of the fantasy works of that time. (Building a believable alternative world that was to be taken seriously, like many epic fantasies since that time, was clearly not the object.) Doctor Dolittle himself is a kind of impractical man, a human doctor by trade, who gets into the care of animals by the suggestion of the Cat’s-meat-Man and the animal-language tutelage of his parrot, Polynesia. The Voyages story takes place later in the series, and it is told in first person from the point of view of Tommy Stubbins, the 10-year-old son of a local cobbler, who apprentices himself to Dr. Dolittle in order to join him on his adventures. After helping Luke the Hermit beat a murder accusation in court by translating for his dog, the only other witness, Doctor Dolittle and Tommy set out on what is to be a random naturalist trip, and Tommy just so happens to select a moving island, Spidermonkey Island, as their destination, a destination which is also the last-known location of another respected naturalist, Long Arrow (who is referred to as a Red Indian, what I assume to be the British term of the era to distinguish between natives of India and Native Americans (the latter of which Long Arrow is, from South America)). Apart from this kind of distasteful or out-of-date terminology, there appears to be a general appreciation of the contributions and cultures of different humans as Doctor Dolittle seems to have a mind that appreciates the value of all people and animals. Still, I can understand why modern versions take the general idea of the book (a man who can talk to animals) and goes ahead with a completely different plot. Upper elementary and middle school readers could enjoy this episode in the Doctor Dolittle saga with the right presentation, but I encourage you to read through your edition and the story you pick to make sure that either you are okay with the early 19th century portrayal of different races (or if yours is edited and updated, which is possible) or your child is mature enough to separate the wheat from the chaff in an otherwise fun story. This story was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1923.
Bambi: A Life in the Woods, by Felix Salten (1923): This book kind of horrified me, actually. I mean, I think my mom read it to us when we were young, but I remember nothing of the completely frantic, hopeless feeling I get from it reading as an adult! The little tagline above the title on my copy–“The classic tale of a young deer and his animal friends”–does not even begin to actually describe the fullness of the contents. It starts out much like you’d expect it to (and I can only vaguely remember the Disney version, so I won’t reference it in comparison): young Bambi is born, and his mother leads and teaches him about the forest and about danger. He meets a few animal friends (mostly adult animals who, for some reason, he is somewhat disdainful of, and with whom he never has a close, mutual relationship), and he meets Faline and her twin brother, Gobo. So far, so good: a book for young children. From the moment He (a group of hunters, actually) surrounds the animals as winter takes its toll on them, things get pretty dark and despairing pretty fast. Bambi’s mother, of course, dies. Faline’s twin is assumed to have died, but he comes back in the spring, confident, healthy, and wearing a collar; he ends up being killed because he thinks He is no danger to them and takes no precautions. It starts feeling like a very fatalistic allegory. The characters display both what appears to be a very realistic anthropomorphism (the descriptions of the squirrel, especially, feel like what a squirrel would really be like if it could talk) and distinctly human emotions and philosophical questions (like Bambi’s disdain for the animals beneath him, his misunderstanding with the old stag, and the kind of morbid revelation (over the dead body of a human poacher, apparently) that He wasn’t really the all-powerful being in their world as they had assumed, that there was Another over them all). The shift from youthful cautionary tale to full-on life-and-death-and-despair comes pretty quickly, and the vocabulary actually seems to accelerate in complexity (propitiate, anyone?) as the book gets darker. While older readers would possibly be turned off by the childishness of the first few chapters, young readers might be easily confused and traumatized by the middle to end of the book. I did really like one chapter, though, and it wasn’t even about Bambi; it was chapter eight, a conversation between two leaves as autumn and its unpredictability have taken many of their companions, and they ponder and comfort one another in their uncertainty as winter comes and one of them is carried away suddenly in midsentence. The author was an Austrian Jew living in the aftermath of World War I (and beyond, after this book’s publication, with all that entailed), so I suppose he had every right to be despondent; I’m just not entirely sure how this came to be considered a classical work for children!
Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne, with decorations by Ernest H. Shepard (1926): I thought I wouldn’t like this book because I’m not much fond of the animated Pooh (perhaps it’s just his voice…I know I can’t be the only one!), but I was kind of wrong! It’s a little like a Toys Go Out or Raggedy Ann Stories for the 1920s, and I actually found the exposition, the part where the author sets up how the Pooh stories get started, pretty funny. As much as it was always torture sitting through one of the videos (and we had to ban Pooh’s Grand Adventure because Owl’s warnings were too scary for GirlChild), I think I would enjoy reading this aloud to my kids! (I recognized several of the stories from animated versions, though, and the written ones were much more clever, in my opinion.) Pooh is perennially popular, and even my children have quilts with images based on the original decorations, copies of a few videos (given to us, though, not purchased), and a stuffed Pooh, Piglet, and Tigger. There are Pooh toys, books, or accessories in almost every daycare or nursery setting I’ve visited, and I can’t help but think of one of my best friends from middle school to college who had all manner of Eeyore paraphernalia in her dorm room! (He even showed up in my Bookworm Gardens post!) If you’ve not read the original, give it a try with your early elementary listeners, or hand a copy to your Toys Go Out loving reader for independent reading!
The Hardy Boys: The Tower Treasure, by Franklin W. Dixon (1927): This copy of the book may not be completely faithful to the original text, but there is enough of the ’20s left (including their style of dress, speech, and blunt characterizations) to be a little unwieldy for modern readers. That said, my brother and sister read all of these books, one by one, from our local library growing up in the 1980s, so there’s enough there to continue to intrigue new readers. (I never got into them; Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew were more up my alley.) From what I can tell, there continue to be additions to the series and other media portrayals enough to keep people interested! While I think it would probably take a high schooler to have enough understanding of the era to really put the story in context, the maturity of the story line is suitable for younger readers, and high school readers might find the stories too basic and predictable. That said, however, I felt a distinct lack of ability to get into the mystery because I didn’t feel like there was enough information (or enough comprehension on my side, perhaps!) for me to begin guessing at the solution, and my personal preference is to be guided through believable steps without any deux ex machina from private investigator fathers who provide key clues derived from off-screen (so to speak) encounters. I imagine that the Hardy Boys (ages 17 and 18 in this book) get more independent as the series progresses, however, so the mysteries may not continue to be as choppy and dependent on fortuitous intervention from their dad for the plot to thicken, and they may improve as the series develops. Or you might like them as they are!
The Trumpeter of Krakow, by Eric P. Kelly, with decorations by Janina Domanska (1928): I’m actually kind of surprised that I hadn’t read this book yet because the title, with its reference to a trumpeter like myself, would have been a draw (and I know I have heard of it!), and I’ve always appreciated historical fiction. This is a little different than a lot of historical fiction I’ve read, and perhaps part of that is because the setting is a little different than most: Krakow, Poland, in 1462. The other part is the vast amount of historical information the author interrupts the story to provide (probably because his readers even in the 1920s weren’t particularly familiar with the setting). While that could be distracting, it was actually pretty helpful in my overall understanding of what was going on in the story! I feel like I could recommend this for upper elementary readers and above; it’s not too difficult to understand for younger readers because of the frequent historical reminders (including where the world was in terms of understanding alchemy and whatnot), but it’s not overly simplistic either, and it could definitely be used as a part of a European or Asian history class. The main character (who is actually not the official trumpeter!) is a fifteen-year-old Ukrainian boy with Polish roots who is coming to Krakow with his parents after a suspicious fire that destroys their home and farmlands. While the reader might originally think they are just refugees, eventually it is discovered that the boy’s father is hiding something valuable that his family has sworn to protect and to return to the king of Poland when its location is no longer able to be kept secret. Joseph, the boy, discovers this along with the reader, but we are privy to other information throughout the story that he still is not. The boy and his father both demonstrate the bravery, honor, and dependability that the villains in the book lack, and the story wraps up neatly with a simple “ever after” summary to follow the main story’s resolution. This story won the last Newbery Medal of the decade.
Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field (1929): I blogged about Hitty in my Dolls and Toyland post, so here’s the link instead of a re-review! She won the Newbery in 1930, too.
Besides these titles, check out the related list on What We Do All Day, where I discovered that the original publication of The Box-Car Children was in 1924, and the version we know today was edited and rewritten for publication in the 1940s! Here’s a link to the Project Gutenburg copy of the original.