Monday, February 12, 2018

Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children's Books by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

What better day to look at a book about John Newbery than today, the day when the 2018 Newbery Award is announced, along with all the other ALA Youth Media Awards. And while most people know about the Newbery Award, few know about the man it is named for. No need to wonder any more - Balderdash! tells the story of John Newbery and his novel idea of publishing books for young readers that they would want to read.

Way back when, that is, before 1726, children had only preachy poems and fables or religious books to read, while adults had all kinds of exciting, adventure stories available to them. Then John Newbery, who had been a boy who loved reading more than working on the family farm, decided that children should have good books to read as well. Newbery was a follower of philosopher John Locke who thought that children should have books that were 'easy and pleasant.'

Putting his ideas into practice, Newbery first learned the printing business and then, as soon as he could, he set off for London, opening his own print shop in the heart of St. Paul's Churchyard. It was here that Newbery begin publishing books for young readers, enticing them to want to read books like The History of Little Goody Two-ShoesTom Thumb and Giles Gingerbread by selling them with an accompanying ball or pincushion.

Of course, there were also ABC books, science books, history books and geography books, but the kids loved the books that Newbery published and sold so much, they fell apart from use. Pretty soon, other publishers followed Newbery's example and began to publish children's books as well.

Markel has written a wonderful, engaging book that really captures all the enthusiasm that Newbery must have felt when he began his career in children's book publishing. The text is fun and lighthearted, but provides readers with a clear picture of what life was like in the early 1700s, particularly for children. One thing does need to be taken into consideration when reading this book - books were only bought by people with money and not everyone went to school and learned to read. Also, the books Newbery published back then probably wouldn't appeal to today's readers very much.

Carpenter's mixed-media illustrations only add to the enjoyment of the text, extending and enhancing it with the same lighthearted attitude, and at the same time, both reflect the passion John Newbery felt about his work. Without a doubt, this is my favorite illustration, and I can almost guarantee that once your young readers learn the meaning of Balderdash! you will be hearing it frequently - I know I did (hint - look on the front jacket flap):

Markel has also included lots of useful back matter for further exploration about the life of John Newbery, and children's book publishing.

Balderdash! is a book that should be on the shelf of every children's home and/or school library. It's just that good.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Chronicle Books

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful thing that this book has been written! You know, I hate to admit it, but I have never thought about where the award name came from. I did occasionally wonder about the spelling, but that's it. When my grandkids get older and begin reading Newbury Award books, I will get them this book.


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