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1933

Editor's Note: Many of the books are out of print. The header information will be as complete as I can make it.

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis (Henry Holt, $15.16, fifth-grade level). ISBN: 0805005498.

The Medalist

A boy from a poor family uses honesty and hard work to improve his life in China, circa 1910.

Horatio Alger-type story but it has its exciting moments. Interesting historical and cultural information about China, including snippets on Imperialism and the Opium Wars.

Swift Rivers by Cornelia Meigs (Troll paperback edition 1964, fifth-grade level).

Out of print

Honor Book

An earnest young man floats logs he chopped down from his property in the upper reaches of the Mississippi River basin to a lumber mill in St. Louis so that he can earn money for his education and provide for his grandfather's golden years.

Young Chris overcomes many hardships, including the death of his parents, the machinations of a cruel uncle and the hardships of pioneer life, circa 1830. He meets many kind people on his journey and a few rascals.

The tone will please fans of Horatio Alger because everyone in this book who is earnest and honest overcomes hardship. History buffs will get a small glimpse of life along the Mississippi in our nation's early years.

The Railroad to Freedom: A Story of the Civil War by Hildegard Hoyt Swift (Harcourt Brace, sixth-grade level).

Out of print

Honor Book

The remarkable story of Harriet Tubman is told with verve.

The author takes us from Harriet's humble birth on a Southern plantation to her glory days as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Swift communicates the bravery and hope expressed by the desperate blacks seeking freedom. What comes across even more clearly is the courage of the whites who risked their all to assist the blacks en route to freedom.

Readers will be surprised to find that in Swift's hands Tubman experiences several cathartic moments in which she directly feels the presence of God, a la Paul in the Old Testament.

Modern readers will be slowed down by the slave dialect used by Swift in dialogue. At times it's difficult to even understand what Tubman or her friends are saying. One can't, however, doubt Swift's scholarship. Although the dialogue is invented and several incidents spruced up for dramatic purposes, Swift completed a remarkable amount of research for her time.

This book would pair well with To Be a Slave by Julius Lester.

Children of the Soil: A Story of Scandanavia by Nora Burglon (Doubleday, fourth-grade level).

Out of print

Honor Book

A fatherless family of dirt-poor tenant farmers in turn of the century Sweden gains a small measure of success because of hard work, talent and a modest outlook.

At first glance, this book would appeal to virtually no modern reader. However, it has an immense charm that's hard to describe. I became such a fan of the kids and their hard-working mother that I literally raced to finish the novel. Burglon aims a mild criticism at the class prejudice that existed between the gentry and the poor folk. Virtually every modern kid can identify with that sentiment. Also, everyone loves an underdog that does well. I wish this book were still in print.

Note: There are a handful of other Scandinavian themed Newbery books that work well as companion pieces: The Golden Name Day, Song of the Pines, Our Only May Amelia, and The Winter Room.

Copyright David Ross 2003