On the 1983 Newbery Book That Should Be Left by the Wayside
This Week on the NewberyTart Podcast
Each week on NewberyTart, Jennie and Marcy, two book-loving mamas (and a librarian and a bookseller, respectively), read and drink their way through the entire catalogue of Newbery books, and interview authors and illustrators along the way.
In this episode, Marcy and Jennie talk about the 1983 Newbery Honor book, Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz.
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From the episode:
Jennie: I’m very conflicted about this book, actually. As you said, most of the contemporary reviews were glowing. I can’t give an unqualified approval to this book. I did find it enjoyable to read in that it was very well written and interesting; it wasn’t dry at all. And I don’t doubt that it’s a true-to-life rendition of what was happening at the time. Maybe I should start by telling anybody who’s listening that this is an autobiographical book about Jean Fritz’s childhood in China with her missionary parents, and it’s fictionalized but truthful in that it’s to her best recollection. But she, of course, using her childhood memories, had to sort of make up the little interstitial events and conversations, which is similar to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books.
But in a similar way, it’s a product of its times. The story happens in the 20s and was written and published in the 80s, and there’s a lot, a lot, a lot of problematic stuff in there. In addition to the problematic stuff, I think that in the 70s and 80s, Jean Fritz as an author was really well known and sort of the preeminent history writer for kids, and I think that colored people’s perceptions of this book. What do you think?
Marcy: Oh, god. I think conflicted is not quite where I’m at because I think that it should never really be read by anybody in full in modern times. I think there are some useful descriptions of living in that era and being an ignorant child, I think she does that really well, but I don’t think that was the intent.