A few years ago, I wrote about how poor reading skills eventually landed me in a special reading program in 4th and 5th grades. (Here’s the entry on SF Novelists.) I ended up skipping the official “reading” class and heading to the library, where I was allowed to read any Newbery book in their collection.
And my universe expanded in the best possible way. This was shortly after I’d seen Star Wars, and I craved adventure and faraway places. I longed for heroes and horses and happy endings. The Newbery books gave me all that, and more. I lost myself in the those books. In each and every one. But when I came back from whatever adventure I’d been on, I knew myself just a little bit more.
Some of the books I read and loved and still remember:
- The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1979)
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1978)
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1977)
- Abel’s Island by William Steig (1977)
- My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier (1975)
- Philip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe by Bette Greene (1975)
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1972)
- Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (1971)
- Sounder by William H. Armstrong (1970)
- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (1968)
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1961)
- The Cricket In Times Square by George Selden, pseud. (George Thompson) (1961)
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1959)
- King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (1949)
- The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois (1948)
- Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (1948)
- Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (1947)
- Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (1946)
- Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (1944)
- Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (1939)
- Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (1937)
- The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (1931)
- The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (1923)
I’ve read many more Newberys since then, but I remember these from my childhood. Some of them have stayed with me, forever woven into my memory. I reread The Westing Game every other year. The Twenty-One Balloons sent me sketching my own balloon creations and designing utopian houses on my own private island. For a school project, a friend and I storyboarded Abel’s Island on a huge mural. I still draw tesseracts from A Wrinkle in Time, and I even visited Chincoteague to see the wild ponies.
Why do I love middle grade fiction? Because as a kid, it saved me. Saved me in almost every way. It gave me hope when most days, I had none. It told me that it wasn’t enough to sit back and take what life gave me. That I had to fight for what I believed in; that I had to fight for myself.
Those books taught me that anyone can be a hero. Anyone can have an adventure. And I still believe that to this day.
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