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.
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.
Portland Public Library’s early literacy initiative Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library ® is a project of the Association for Library Service to Children and the Public Library Association (divisions of the American Library Association.) This parent education initiative stresses that early literacy begins with the primary adult in a child’s life. Developing early literacy skills has a long-term impact on children’s reading achievement and academic success.
Early literacy is what children understand about reading and writing before they can actually read and write. The building blocks of language and literacy form in the first three years of a child’s life. Early childhood experiences impact how a child’s brain will develop. Early literacy skills include:
Being interested in and enjoying books
Knowing the names of things, noticing letters and words, knowing how to handle a book, knowing how to follow words on a page
Being able to describe things and events and tell a story
Knowing that letters have names and sound different from each other
Hearing and playing with the smaller sounds in words
Reading, playing, talking, singing, and writing are the five practices that stimulate the growth of a child’s brain and make the connections that will become the foundation for reading.