Kelly (1929 Winner) – Fun historical fiction dominates much of the Newbery Awards and this is a great example of what the genre can do. This book does that great thing that good historical fiction books do of illuminating the mysteries of the past, taking a thing that is foreign and remote, and then weaving a story around these mysterious and different things that you (and especially a kid) can get a hook on.
The scene is Poland in the late middle ages and it is a space of magic and discord. There is alchemy and political discord, there’s a treasure, and a family secret and a hidden message in the music of a trumpet. If you want to hear the actual call of the trumpet just click here.
These early Newbery winners from the 20s are just great to me. They are straight up inspiring stories for boys and girls. There are no narrative tricks or frills, just clean accessible storytelling. The good characters are very good, the bad characters are evil incarnate, and everyone in the book pretty much falls into one camp or the other.
It is interesting to hear the author speak of a Krackow of long ago when his view itself is, in many ways, from long ago. Written in 1926 this Poland has seen nothing of WW II, the holocaust, the Iron curtain, or Solidarnosc. This is a Poland which still seems innocent like so many of the characters in this book.
I love the gentleness of this era of the Newbery Award winners. They are not tricky, there are lessons in them but they speak to basic behavior and good values without being preachy or saccharine. They are books that respect the kids who read them and value them for the adults that they will be, not the adults that they think that they are when they are still very young. Sometimes it seems like kids in the 21st century are adults in miniature. These early winners speak to when kids were still allowed to be children and discover the world at a gentler pace.