Estes (1944 Honor Book) – I just read this for the first time last week on my commute and I fell head over heels in love with it. It’s a fast read (I did it on one leg of my morning commute) and is very approachable and accessible for younger readers. There is a wide swath of reading levels that show up in the Newbery awards and I would put this one as one of the lower, faster, easier levels. It is still a rich narrative that has a lot to sink your teeth into and the illustrations by Louis Slobodkin are delightful and really add to the book.
This book gets at bullying more effectively than any other book that I have read and it did it before bullying even became a “thing”. For most of the book the girls in an elementary classroom tease a classmate mercilessly. I love how quickly you begin to dread the phrase “the fun” as in “that’s when the fun started” or “we started up the fun again”. In no time at all the phrase “fun” gives you a sinking and sick feeling in your stomach.
It’s a very wise look at bullying too. The narrator is well aware that what they are doing is wrong but she is desperately afraid of the pack turning on her. She is friends with the popular important girl but she knows that can change and she is afraid that doing the right thing will make her a target for the same abuse. There is a lovely moment when the bullying has run its sad course when she has to determine just what kind of a person her best friend is. I think that the phrase: Peggy was really all right, just as she always thought. Peg was really all right. She was okay. Is a wonderful commentary on the difficulties of friendship. Please be the person I thought you were, please, please, please.
I’m very interested in seeing how the Newbery books are reflective of their time in history. There is one section which places this one securely in a historical context.
She had stood by silently, and that was just as bad as what Peggy had done. Worse. She was a coward. At least Peggy hadn’t considered that they were being mean, but she, Maddie, had thought they were doing wrong. She had thought, supposing she was the one being made fun of. She could put herself in Wanda’s shoes. But she had done just as much as Peggy to make life miserable for Wanda by simply standing by and saying nothing.
This paragraph speaks to me of children whose fathers and brothers were off fighting a war that did not touch their shores. Why is your daddy far away? Why did your brother die? They did it because they are not cowards, they did it because it was the right thing, they did it because there are thousands of little Polish girls who need someone to stand up for them far away.