Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Newbery Winners: Smoky the Cow Horse and Gay-Neck, the Story of a Pigeon

Hi, Eric here, writing again one of my rare posts on this blog. My quest to read all of the books that have won the Newbery Medal continues with not one, but two books.

First is Smoky the Cow Horse by Will James, the 1927 winner. It's, well, the story of a horse. He's born somewhere out in the west on a large ranch, shows some spirit and is taken in and broken by a sympathetic cowboy, eventually is stolen and has many other adventures, including as a rodeo bronco, until he and the cowboy, his one true human friend, are reunited in Smoky's waning years. This one was hard to read, just because there is so much going on at every stage of Smoky's life, and James chronicles it all. He's very good at presenting things from a horse's point of view, however, especially one as spirited as Smoky. It turns out there's a good reason Smoky was such a challenge to read: James didn't write it or intend it as a children's book! Will James was a Western writer, not a children's writer, but somehow some librarian somewhere probably thought this was kjust the kind of book children need to read, and thus it got the Newbery.

The 1928 winner, Gay-Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji, is similar, in that it tells the life and adventures of an animal. But this is the story of a pigeon (as you may be able to guess from the title) living in India. Gay-Neck may be the character around whom the story revolves, but unlike Smoky this one is just as much about the unnamed Indian boy who hatches Gay-Neck and trains him to be a messenger bird. Like Smoky, a lot happens to Gay-Neck, and more than once (including a stint in the French trenches during World War I), he becomes so traumatized that he stops flying. But a visit to a lamasery in the Himalayas seems to put Gay-Neck, and his human friends, to right each time. This is a little slice-of-life look at turn-of-the-century India and what it takes to train a pigeon. And it is clearly aimed at a younger audience. I enjoyed this one, although towards the end Gay-Neck disappears from the story, which seems an odd way to end it.