New York Herald Tribune Spring Book Festival Awards

In 1937 two awards of $250 each were established by the New York Herald-Tribune for the best books for younger children and for older children published between January and June. In 1941 the system of awards was revised. Three awards, of $200.00 each, were given to the best books in the following three classes: young children, middle-age children, and other children. Each year a jury, composed of distinguished experts in the field of juvenile literature, was chosen to make the selections.

1937 Seven Simeons, by Boris Artzybasheff. For younger children. Illustrated by the author. (Viking.)

The Smuggler’s Sloop, by Robb White III. For older children. Illustrated by Andrew Wyeth. (Little.)

1938 The Hobbit, by J. R. Tolkien. For younger children. Illustrated by the author. (Houghton.)

The Iron Duke, by John R. Tunis. For older children. Illustrated by Johari Bull. (Harcourt)

1939 The Story of Horace, by Alice M. Coats. For younger children. Illustrated by the author. (Coward.)

The Hired Man’s Elephant, by Phil Stong. For older children. Illustrated by Doris Lee. (Dodd.)

1940 That Mario, by Lucy Herndon Crockett. For younger children. Illustrated by the author. (Holt)

Cap’n Ezra, Privateer, by James D. Adams. For older children. Illustrated by I. B. Hazelton. (Harcourt.)

1941 In My Mother’s House, by Ann Nolan Clark. For younger children. Illustrated by Velino Herrera. (Viking.)

Pete by Tom Robinson. For middle-age children. Illustrated by Morgan Dennis. (Viking.)

Clara Barton, by Mildren Mastin Pace. For older children. (Scribner.)

1942 Mr. Tootwhistle’s Invention, by Peter Wells. For younger children.
Illustrated by the author. (Winston.)

I Have Just Begun to Fight: The Story of John Paul Jones, by
Commander Edward Ellsberg. For middle-age children. Illustrated
by Gerald Foster. (Dodd.)

None But the Brave, by Rosamond Van der Zee Marshall. For
older children. Illustrated by Gregor Duncan. (Houghton.)

1943 Five Golden Wrens, by Hugh Troy. For younger children. Illus-
trated by the author. (Oxford.)

These Happy Golden Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. For middle-
age children. Illustrated by Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle.
(Harper-.)

Patterns on the Wall, by Elizabeth Yates. For older children.
(Knopf.)

1944 A Ring and a Riddle, by M. Ilm and E. Segal. For younger children.
Illustrated by Vera Bock. (Lippincott)

They Put Out to Sea, by Roger Duvoisln. For middle-age children.
Illustrated by the author. (Knopf.)

Storm Canvas, by Armstrong Sperry, For older children. Illustrated
by the author. (Winston.)

1945 Little People in a Big Country, by Norma Cohn. For younger children. Illustrated by Tashkent Children’s Art Training Center in Soviet Uzbekistan. (Oxford.)

Gulf Stream by Ruth Brindze. Illustrated by Helene Carter. For middle-age children., (Vanguard.)

Sandy, by Elizabeth Janet Gray. For older children. (Viking.)

1946 Farm Stories. Award divided between Gustaf Tenggren, illustrator, and Kathryn and Byron Jackson, authors. For younger children. (Simon & Schuster.)

The Thirteenth Stone, by Jean Bothwell, illustrated by Margaret Ayer. For middle-age children. (Harcourt)

The Quest of the Golden Condor, by Clayton Knight. Illustrated by the author. For older children. (Knopf.)

Other than The Hobbit and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years, has anyone read or reviewed any of these prize-winning books? I know of the authors Jean Bothwell, Elizabeth Janet Grey, Armstrong Sperry, Roger Duvoisin, Elizabeth Yates, John Tunis, and Ann Nolan Clark, but not these particular books of theirs.

The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway

The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway. “For readers of Unbroken and The Boys in the Boat comes the inspirational, untold story of impoverished children who transformed themselves into world-class swimmers.”

The author, Julie Checkoway, is a National Endowment for the Arts individual artist grant recipient and a journalist for the New York Times and other respected publications. She chose a really good and inspiring Olympic story, from poverty in the sugarcane fields of Hawaii to Olympic glory in the swimming pool. However, the execution and the storytelling just weren’t up to par.

I read the entire book, and I’m glad I know the story of these swimming champions from Hawaii and their eccentric Japanese-American coach. However, I feel that the same story in the hands of a Laura Hillenbrand or John Krakauer could have been so much better. I never really understood what motivated the non-swimming coach, Soichi Sakamoto, to spend so much time and energy teaching a bunch of kids to swim competitively. Although Sakamoto is the central character in the book, he remains an enigma throughout, with a shadowy and stereotypical Japanese inscrutability. And when Ms. Checkoway moves the focus to other characters, one of the kid swimmers in training or the famous Hawaiian veteran swimmer Duke Kahanamoku or Sakamoto’s wife, that focus is still soft and indistinct. I never felt I knew any of these people or what they lived for.

Another problem with the story is the lack of suspense or dramatic tension. Almost anyone reading would know that the Hawaiian swimmers’ dreams of going to the Olympics in 1940, and Japan’s dreams of hosting the 1940 Olympics, were doomed by World War II. The only suspense that remains for us is to watch and read about how the characters in the book find out that that there will be no Olympics in 1940 nor in 1944. And after the war, the focus changes again to a new generation of swimmers who didn’t have to train in a sugar ditch and who are more “normal” and middle class and therefore less compelling and interesting than the original group of come-from-behind swimmers who somehow managed to learn to swim and win national championships in spite of their poverty-stricken beginnings.

I think Ms. Checkoway tried to to flesh out her characters and make them more knowable and therefore more interesting, but unfortunately, probably because of a dearth of people to interview almost eighty years after the fact, she often speculates or imagines what the thoughts and feelings of her characters might have been. As I just did. I really don’t know why the author couldn’t or didn’t find out more about what her characters were thinking and feeling, but I assume it was a lack of access to interviews of the characters themselves. Ms. Checkoway makes these sort of assumptions throughout the book, and I didn’t always agree with her imaginary attribution of feelings and thoughts to the people she writes about.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown are still the gold standard for Olympic narrative nonfiction. This book, while it has its moments, doesn’t even medal. Do you have nominations for the bronze medal in this genre?

Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf

Alastair Roderick Craigellachie Dalhousie Gowan Donnybristle MacMac, aka Wee Gillis, doesn’t know which he wants to be: a Lowlander like his mother’s relations, calling cows, or a Highlander like his father’s relatives, stalking stags. He tries both out, but in the end he turns out to be something else entirely.

This picture book by Munro Leaf was published in 1938, two years after Leaf’s most famous picture book, The Story of Ferdinand. Both book share a common illustrator, Robert Lawson, and similar protagonists, seeking their identity. Ferdinand must decide what kind of bull he is, and Wee Gillis must choose how and where he will be a Scotsman. Lawson’s illustrations, black and white pen-and-ink, complement the story and its setting in Scotland with memorable, detailed facial features and clothing for Wee Gillis and all of his relatives.

Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson were in fact friends before Ferdinand was published in 1936, and Leaf actually wrote The Story of Ferdinand “on a whim in an afternoon in 1935, largely to provide his friend, illustrator Robert Lawson (then relatively unknown) a forum in which to showcase his talents.” Lawson went on to illustrate many more books, two others with Munro Leaf as author, The Story of Simpson and Sampson and an edition of Aesop’s Fables. Mr. Lawson also illustrated another book in 1938 that won a Newbery Honor in 1939, Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.

The details are what make this picture book stand the test of time: a picture of Wee Gillis yelling through the fog, Wee Gillis’s absurdly long name, the alliterative fun of “calling cows” and “stalking stags”, and the tempestuous tantrum that Wee Gillis’s uncles throw when trying to persuade him to choose either the Highlands or the Lowlands for his home. And of course the theme/plot of finding a way to reconcile both halves of your heritage and still become uniquely yourself is always timely.

Read to your primary and preschool age children and then, listen to some bagpipe music together:

FDR and the American Crisis by Albert Marrin

History professor Albert Marrin has been writing nonfiction narrative history for quite a while: his first book for young adults was Overlord: D Day and the Invasion of Europe, which was published in 1982. He has written more than thirty history narratives for children and young adults, including Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy, a National Book Award finalist.

In his latest book, Marrin returns to the World War II era and to the Great Depression and to the president who shepherded America through both of those crises, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR was a complicated character, and Mr. Marrin presents him—warts, strengths, and all—in the context of the events and attitudes of his time. FDR and The American Crisis is, above all, a comprehensive and balanced vision of Roosevelt, what he did for the United States and what he did to change the country, for better and for worse.

In addition to my appreciation for its even-handedness, I was most impressed with the personal tone of Mr. Marrin’s very detailed, yet broad, narrative. Mr. Marrin is 79 years old. Born in 1936, he actually remembers some of the events of Roosevelt’s presidency and of the second World War. And he’s not afraid to gently insert himself into the narrative with an “I remember” or a “we all wonder if” statement. In addition, Marrin isn’t reluctant to share his own informed opinion when it’s appropriate:

“Critics branded Hoover a ‘do-nothing’ president who let Americans suffer due to his commitment to old-fashioned ideas. It is untrue.”

“The media developed a teenager’s crush on the Red Army.”

“Convinced of his own virtue and wisdom, he (FDR) thought too highly of his personal charm and powers of persuasion. He misjudged the murderous Stalin.”

“Those who praised him (FDR) as a saintly miracle worker are as wrong as those who bitterly cursed him as a monster.”

Bottom line, I learned a lot from reading FDR and the American Crisis—and I learned it in a throughly pleasant and absorbing read. Mr. Marrin once said in an interview, “Kids are very bright. I’m not going to write down. If anything, I’ll have them read up to me.” This book is not dumbed down, nor is it a breezy hagiography of a famous president. Any high school, or even college, student looking for both an in-depth and readable introduction to FDR and his presidency could not do better than to read Mr. Marrin’s book first.

Arcady’s Goal by Eugene Yelchin

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote the essay “Live Not By Lies” in 1974, just before he was arrested by the Soviet police and exiled from his country. My Saturday Review friend Glynn led me to the essay in a review he wrote.

Arcady’s Goal is the story of a boy in Stalinist Russia who has been raised on lies. Arcady lives in an orphanage. The director of the orphanage lies about how the boys are treated and skims the provisions from the government, meant for the orphans, to feather his own nest. The inspectors of orphanages go along with the lies. Everyone is complicit, even the boys themselves, who show off their soccer skills to earn a bit of favored treatment. When Ivan Ivanych comes to the orphanage, disguised as an inspector, but really a bereft father looking for an orphan to adopt, Arcady makes an impression. But can Arcady and Ivan break through all the lies, the ones they have been told by the government, the ones they have told to survive, and even the lies they have told themselves, to make a real family built on trust?

Born and educated in Russia, author Eugene Yeltsin left the former Soviet Union when he was twenty-seven years old. His other children’s novel set in Communist Soviet Union, Breaking Stalin’s Nose, won a Newbery Honor. His writing style in this book is stark and unadorned, like the subject. The descriptions, like the illustrations, are gray and without much hope, although Arcady’s courage and tenacity shine through even in the soccer games he plays so well. And yet the book has an almost implausible happy ending as Arcady and his adoptive father do manage to form a connection.

Perhaps I am a pessimist, but I don’t know if I can believe that it so easy to change from believing and participating in The Lie to confronting lies with the truth. Easy or not, I do believe that I and especially my children are going to find out very soon what it is like to live in a culture permeated and ultimately ruled by lies and half-truths. In fact, we are already faced with the choice of whether to participate in the lies our society is telling or to stand up and declare the truth. There will be a cost for the latter decision, and there may not be a happy ending in this life.

“And the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me. . . . So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood—of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies—or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.”

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Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague

A best-selling author of adult women’s novels and a picture book author, who happen to be married to each other, team up to write a middle grade time travel adventure. It sounds as if it might be a good idea.

However, I just don’t think they pulled it off. The plot is fine: Margaret’s only hope to save her father from dying for a crime he didn’t commit is to go back in time and stop the chain of events that turned her father’s harsh judge into a merciless tyrant. Luckily for Margaret and for her dad, time travel runs in the family, even though the family members have all made a solemn vow not to use their time-travelling abilities.

It’s not the plot; it’s the characters themselves and their motivations that are clunky and unreal. Lucas, the unjust judge, becomes a minion of the very forces and people he wanted his father to fight against, and he loses faith in his father with very little warrant. Margaret’s father is sentenced to life imprisonment on the basis of little or no evidence, and the fact that the “company”, Victory Fuels, owns the town and is out to get him doesn’t really seem plausible. They’ve bought not only the whole town, but also the entire state of Arizona it seems.

The authors live in Delaware, and their concept of the backwardness of Arizona, both in 1938 and in 2014, just doesn’t ring true for me. Hove they been to Arizona? Of course, I’ve never been to Arizona myself, so I could be wrong. Maybe Arizona is just full of towns owned by energy companies who are evilly fracking away the environment and railroading whistle blowers into long prison sentences on trumped up charges. After all, it’s Arizona. Villainous energy companies. Anti-environmentalists. Corrupt justice system.

Then, to top it all off, Margaret and her friends Josh and Charlie are able to effect a complete turn around in the judge’s character and actions with an insignificant little historical artifact. Just as Lucas Biggs became a father-hating minion of evil on the basis of very little evidence, he also repents and does a 180 without much reason to do so.

I just couldn’t swallow this one. But the time travel aspect is handled well.

Setting: 1936-39, Just Before the War

A friend of ours is writing a book of stories set in a small English village just before World War II, and I’m reading The Last Lion, the second volume of a three volume biography of Winston CHurchill, about the years from 1932-1940. So I’m particularly interested in the time period right now, especially in Europe and Asia. (I didn’t include books set in the United States during the 1930’s.) Do you have any recommended additions to this list?

Spanish Civil War:
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Nonfiction.
Life and Death of a Spanish Town by Elliot Paul. Fiction.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Fiction.
Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansom. Fiction. Semicolon review here.

Sino-Japanese War and The Nanjing Massacre:
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Fiction. Semicolon review here.
When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro. Fiction. Semicolon review here.
Living Soldiers by Ishikawa Tatsuzo. Fiction.
Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin, reviewed at Semicolon. Fiction.
The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder. Fiction. Reviewed by Nicola at Back to Books.
The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang. Nonfiction.
Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck. Fiction.

The Kindertransport, 1938-39:
Sisterland by Linda Newbery. YA fiction.
Far to Go by Alison Pick. Fiction.

Stalinist Russia, Before the War:
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler.
Sashenka: A Novel by Simon Montefiore.

Britain, Before the War:
Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson. Fiction.
A Blunt Instrument and No Wind of Blame by Georgette Heyer. Fiction.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Fiction.
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson, reviewed at Semicolon.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 by William Manchester. Nonfiction.
Several Agatha Christie mysteries take place during this time period, titles too numerous to mention.

Continental Europe, Before the War
Pied Piper by Nevil Shute.

1938: Arts and Entertainment

In 1938 Kate Smith sings Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” and makes the song a classic expression of American patriotism.

Also in 1938, a young Mary Martin captivates theatergoers with her rendition of “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” in Cole Porter’s Leave It to Me. In the 1946 movie, Night and Day, Mary Martin reprised the song playing herself in the movie with Cary Grant as Cole Porter.

Top Hits of 1938:
“A Gypsy Told Me” by Ted Weems And His Orchestra With Perry Como
“A-Tisket, A-Tasket” by Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb
“Begin the Beguine” by Artie Shaw
“Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” by The Andrews Sisters
“Cry, Baby, Cry” by Larry Clinton
“Don’t Be That Way” by Benny Goodman
“I’ve Got a Pocketful of Dreams” by Bing Crosby
“Music, Maestro, Please” by Tommy Dorsey
“My Reverie” by Larry Clinton
“Roll ‘Em Pete’ by Big Joe Turner And Pete Johnson
“Thanks for the Memory” recorded by Bob Hope And Shirley Ross
“Ti-Pi-Tin” by Horace Heidt
“Walking In The Kings Highway” by The Carter Family

1938: Events and Inventions

February, 1938. U.S. chemical company, du Pont, produces the first nylon-product, toothbrush bristles.

March 14, 1938 The Anchluss. Germany and Austria unite as one country. Hitler makes a speech in Vienna and tells the Austrian people, “The German nation will never again be rent apart.” Not much of a prophet, was he? By the way this event is the climax of the movie, The Sound of Music, as the von Trapp family must decide what to about the Anchluss and the German army’s orders for Herr von Trapp to report for duty.

April, 1938. US. chemist Roy J. Plunkett accidentally discovers a new non-stick substance and calls it Teflon.

May, 1938. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini meet in Rome and pledge friendship and mutual cooperation.

Early June, 1938. Japanese bombers reduce the Chinese city of Canton to rubble. Nationalist leader General Chiang Kai-shek has no more troops available to defend the city.

July 14, 1938. Multimillionaire Howard Hughes flies around the world his in specially built Lockheed 14 Electra in a world’s record time, 3 days, 19 hours, and 8 minutes.

September 30, 1938. After threatening to invade the Czech territory of Sudetenland all year, Adolf Hitler invites Italian Duce Benito Mussolini, French Premier Edourd Deladier, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to one last conference in Munich. The Czechs themselves are not invited. At the end of the conference, Hitler is promised that the British and the French will not oppose his takeover of Sudetenland, and Hitler promises no more German aggression in Europe. Prime Minister Chamberlain says that his policy of appeasement has led to “peace for our time.”

October, 1938. U.S. physicist and lawyer Chester Carlson makes the first successful Xerox copy with his Xerox machine.

November 10, 1938. Kristallnacht or “The Night of Broken Glass”. More than 7000 Jewish-owned stores and businesses are vandalized and looted. Synagogues are burned to the ground, and Jewish people are beaten in the streets in riots organized by the Nazi party.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Published in 1938, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a book about grace and joy. Miss Pettigrew, a poverty-sticken, middle-aged, rather incompetent governess accidentally finds herself in the apartment of a promiscuous night-club singer, Delysia LaFosse. Even though Miss Pettigrew knows she should tell Miss LaFosse the truth, that she is there under false pretenses, and even though she knows the folly of Miss LaFosse’s way of life with men in and out of the apartment as if it had a revolving door, Guinevere Pettigrew can’t tear herself away from the first adventure that has ever presented itself in her entire life.

I found this one oddly delightful. Miss Pettigrew begins as the stereotypical repressed spinster, but she turns out to be surprisingly full of wisdom and intuition and zest for life. She just needs the right soil in which to grow and bloom, and Delysia LaFosse and her friends provide that avenue for growth. Delysia and her set are rather shocking in their behavior, but one gets the idea that they are more naive than calculating. And Miss Pettigrew is able, with her clear-sighted advice and her knack for saying the right thing at the right time, to straighten them out and make sure that the right man wins the hand of the fair lady and that the lady takes her chance when it is offered.

I’m rather skeptical about the movie based on this book. I think it would take a deft hand to keep the story from becoming a sexually titillating farce, and I see very little indication in the reviews that it didn’t become just that when Hollywood got hold of it. If I’m right, the book is much better.