This is hands down one of the best Newbery Medal winners. Charles Joseph Finger, son of a German father and Irish mother who grew up in England and immigrated to Texas and then Arkansas in middle age, was an adventurer who wrote many books based on his travels. Tales from Silver Lands is a collection of stories he heard in Latin America, retold for young people in his own rollicking style.
If you've read Kipling's Just So Stories, you'll recognize the same brand of storytelling here. In the first folktale, an old muchacha in Honduras tells the village youngsters how the rabbit, rat, and deer got their tails, and how the armadillo was made. Other stories involve mean giants who have to be killed, the adventures of a band of Four Hundred warriors, the invention of monkeys, and all kinds of crazy fantasies that only imaginative people in the jungle could come up with.
Overall these tales are more like South American versions of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen's fairy stories, with all the violence, fear, beauty, and hilarity that suggests. Finger manages to evoke Latin storytelling methods while writing as a European observer. His prose is reminiscent of Stevenson and Chesterton, with not one word too many or out of place, and with plenty of humor scattered throughout.
His attention to detail is exactly the kind kids want. We see animals, birds, flowers, and creatures whose names we can't pronounce, but that are colorful, noisy, and surprising in just the ways exotic things should be. Finger traveled extensively and saw what he writes, and heard the stories he recounts, and he writes with an immediacy and a childlike vivacity that few writers before or after him have been able to accomplish.
So many Newbery books are either excuses for propaganda or simply novels for adults about children. Tales from Silver Lands is neither. Finger writes for children, but he's never condescending. His prose is clipped and poetic, clear as the mountain streams he describes, and just as fast-paced. In a world where children's fiction is rapidly becoming another arm of the militant Left, Tales from Silver Lands is a breath of fresh air straight from places that only exist in legend.
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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