Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Newbery Medal Winners: Waterless Mountain and Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze

I have been remiss in blogging about the Newbery Medal winners as I've read them. I read Waterless Mountain, the 1932 winner, some time ago, but life got in the way of writing about it until after I recently finished Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, the 1933 winner. So now I get to write about them at the same time. But this is not so bad, as both books have similar stories and themes, about young men growing up in what would be a much different culture from their own for many readers in 1930s America. Younger Brother, the main viewpoint character of Waterless Mountain, is a Navajo youth in contemporary Arizona who wants to be a medicine man. Young Fu is a Chinese youth who becomes an apprentice to a coppersmith in 1920s China. We see both of them grow up, learn about their trades, have encounters with many characters, deal with events and changes in their lives, and come into their own as young men. This says a lot about what librarians in the 1930s considered to be good literature for children, but at least they saw merit in diversity. Both books do suffer from being filtered through white eyes (both authors were European-descended American women who spent some time in the areas the books take place in). They do stand up well today, at least, even if some of the attitudes feel old-fashioned.

One interesting motif in both books is the protagonists' encounters with white people. Younger Brother has several encounters with the man who runs the local trading post, and later befriends a young man who gives him a ride in his car. Young Fu comes to the aid of a nurse from the local Christian hospital, and they end up helping each other out several times over the years. There are mentions or allusions to other less-than-friendly white people, but they don't take part in the action.

Okay, I'm not sure what else I can say about these two books without extensive research and rereading. I think you've got the gist, though. Since the next book is a biography of Louisa May Alcott, I suspect it's not going to be so similar to these!