Monday, March 2, 2015

Newbery Reviews: The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds (1942 Medal Winner) and Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry (1941 Medal Winner)

This week I will be reviewing two short consecutive Medal winners from the 40s. In some ways they are similar, and in others, not at all.

The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds (1942 Medal Winner)

In 1756 New York, the French and Indian War is raging, and ten-year-old Edward Alstyne feels the weight of responsibility when his father leaves with the militia. He and his young mother Gertrude must protect their homestead and his younger sister from "French" Indians, should they attack. Wary of smoke on the horizon, Gertrude constructs a homemade defense system with an old matchlock Palatine gun, propped on bits of firewood in front of the door. And together they wait in the night, as the ruthless Indians approach.

The Matchlock Gun is, according to the book's foreword, based on a true story. It's also very short, at about 80 pages, but within those 80 pages the narrative, though dated, sucks you into the terror of the times. It is one of many stories of do-what-you-have-to survival, and I soon appreciated the author's notice of Gertrude's bravery and ingenuity. In some ways, it is really her story, but then in other ways, it's the story of each individual family member.

Considering its short length, the book is good for all ages who don't mind fear in the dark and some brief, nondescript violence. On a side note, there are some slight references to the Indians that are not politically correct.

Rating: Four stars
Favorite character: Gertrude
Recommended age: 8+
Content level for parents: The Indians chase a character and throw a hatchet at her. Houses are burnt, and people are killed, but little description is given except that they are dead.

Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry (1941 Medal Winner)

At about 118 pages, Call It Courage is not much longer than The Matchlock Gun. A traditional folk story from the Polynesian Islands, Call It Courage is the story of a terrified boy named Mafatu. When he was a child, his mother sacrificed herself to save him from the ocean. In order to gain his place again in society, where bravery is the greatest virtue, he sets out alone to face his greatest fear: the sea.

I think it'd be better to call Call It Courage a fairy tale as opposed to a book, because it works better as a fairy tale and has all the elements of one. The author fully immerses you in the boy's superstitious mentality, which on one side is genius and another sometimes not relatable. However, some of the prose is fantastic, and brings the unusual setting to life.

Rating: Three stars
Favorite character: Uri
Recommended age: 10+
Content level for parents: Mafatu kills different animals, his mother's sacrificial rescue of her son is described, the cannibals are spotted with bones and and chase Mafatu around the island, Mafatu is bullied around by his peers.

For more Marvelous Middle Grade Reviews, view Shannon's post here

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