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Montgomery’s View: Balderdash!

posted: , by Mary Peverada
tags: Montgomery's View | Recommended Reads | Kids & Families

BALDERDASH!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books

written by Michelle Markel

illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

published by Chronicle Books

John Newbery was the pioneer of children’s books and this picture book biography revels in the birth of these books. The reader is told on page one that if they lived in 1726 there were books about adventure and travel and shipwrecks and pirates and monsters – but all of them were for adults.  Once John Newbery became a printer and a publisher, he saw a niche and aimed to fill it.  He felt that “Reading should be a treat for children” (as a philosopher had said.) Children should be offered more to read than moralistic, preachy tales and religious texts.

Businessman that he was, John Newbery created A LITTLE PRETTY POCKET-BOOK (and offered it for sale with a ball or a pincushion – a merchandising deal.)  These creations were illustrated and not as dry as the books forced upon children.  Thus began, in a very small way the creation of children’s literature.

But hopefully the reader will not be confused by the fact that these were not the children’s books of today – they were the first toe in the water.  By today’s standards they are dry and preachy – but by 1726 standards they were a treat.  Also, the reader might get the wrong impression from the illustrations – everyone was not literate nor could they all afford to purchase books.  Quibbles aside – this is a fine celebration of John Newbery and the small revolution he started.

The American Library Association established an annual award to honor “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” in 1922 and named it after John Newbery.  Next month, at the American Library Association’s annual conference in Chicago the 2017 Newbery Award will be presented to Kelly Regan Barnhill for THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON.  

There are brief notes and a bibiography at the end.


Montgomery’s View: Jean Fritz – a Tribute

posted: , by Mary Peverada
tags: Montgomery's View | Kids & Families

Jean Fritz, an award-winning writer whose books helped change children’s biographies from dry works of dates and facts to quirky stories that made the person seem real, died on Sunday, May 14, 2017 at her home in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. She was 101.

Mrs. Fritz was the author of nearly 50 books, many were biographies of characters in early American history – and were written as the buildup for America’s Bicentennial was seizing the country.  These included:  And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? (1973); Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? (1974); and Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? (1975)Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? (1976); Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George? (1977); and Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution (1987).

The reader of her biographies will find little known but interesting facts that Mrs. Fritz discovered  while researching: one small example, Paul Revere discovered he had forgotten his spurs and dispatched his dog to fetch them (something not mentioned in Longfellow’s poem about that famous ride.)

Mrs. Fritz was born in China to missionary parents, and she wrote a memoir of her childhood in China.  The book Homesick: My Own Story won a National Book Award and was named a Newbery Honor Book. She was the recipient of many other awards and honors including the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, awarded by the American Library Association for a distinguished body of work in children’s literature, and the National Humanities Medal, presented in 2003 by President George W. Bush.

Her books were illustrated by Ed Young, Trina Schart Hyman, and Tomie DePaola – to name a few of the illustrious illustrators of children’s books that graced her covers.

 In 1988, she was interviewed by The Christian Science Monitor and explained her interest in bringing history alive for children: “I got so frustrated with having to fix up fictional plots that I was glad to finally get away from all that, and just tell things the way they happened — which often is a lot stranger than anything anyone could make up!”

Jean Fritz made larger than life figures more human with wit and humor.  She made a great contribution to children’s literature.  She was a giant in the field.

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