If you're looking for proof that the John Newbery Medal is a tool of liberal propagandists, you need look no further than The Story of Mankind by Dutch-American Hendrik Willem Van Loon.
"But wait!" some will protest. "That was the first Newbery Medal winner! It won the prize in 1922!"
Indeed it did. And while not every book chosen by the award's judges has lived up to the same level of blatant Leftist ideology as this one, it certainly set the stage for allowing the powers-that-be to foist indoctrination on American children in the form of well-written literature.
The Story of Mankind is engaging and fun, there's no doubt about that. Van Loon doesn't write boring history—he writes narrative history for kids that is both engaging and whimsical. Unfortunately, it isn't altogether factual. Even Van Loon's liberal friends have criticized his lack of scholarly carefulness, a lack which he in fact celebrated and bragged about, saying that if he believed in the strength of his manuscript that was all that mattered.
Born and baptized into the Lutheran church, Van Loon eventually identified as a Unitarian. He begins this book with a fairly lengthy discussion of evolution and the emergence of life by accident, and proceeds for the duration of the book on these materialist, non-supernatural premises. His description of the life of Christ (whom he calls simply "Joshua of Nazareth"), therefore, disregards any religious aspect of our Lord's biography and focuses exclusively on the supposed political element.
Again, Van Loon isn't a bad writer, and his black-and-white illustrations are funny and interesting (especially the maps). He is an expert inventor, however, constantly putting in details which aren't historically attested simply to make the story more interesting, or to make his point. Like H. G. Wells's The Outline of History, Van Loon's The Story of Mankind is intended to provide a coherent understanding of world history from a non-supernatural, humanistic perspective, and neither of them had any problem putting their own spin on things to serve their purpose.
This version has been updated for the 21st century to include events after World War I. The updater is John Merriman, a self-avowed anti-establishmentarian and a proponent of Vietnam War era hippie ideology and politics. Both Van Loon and Merriman were Ivy League-educated and taught in Ivy League schools, and both are pretty typical of their milieu.
Is there anything to be got from this children's world history? Not all the facts are wrong, certainly, and many readers will likely be attracted to the study of history on account of the engaging narrative format, but we don't think this is the best book for Christian parents to use to introduce world history to their kids. Too much propaganda, not enough accuracy, and an aura of confirmed materialism and antagonism to doctrinally pure Christianity put this near the bottom of our list.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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