And now we have a new tag on this blog: “Terrible Newberys.” Thanks to Journey Outside, when you’re searching around for new book ideas for your kids, you can also quickly figure out what books NOT to try.
Truly, I disliked Journey Outside from page 1, and it didn’t get any better after that. The main character — whose name completely escapes me, he was that forgettable — spends most of his early life underground, floating around on a raft in a circular passage of caves. Eventually, it occurs to him that… hmmm… perhaps that pile of rocks looks familiar…
How he managed to pass the exact same rock formations for years and years before he noticed is never really explained; although it’s painfully apparent that the reason his father and grandfather haven’t noticed is because they are trapped in their own narrow understanding of the world, and afraid to look beyond it. Among its other flaws, Journey was way too preachy.
I’ve also managed to forget most of the other characters the boy meets once he escapes from the cave. They were all uninteresting, annoying, or just plain bad. I wasn’t sure in the end if the “Outside” was really any better than the underground world of the raft people.
I read this book because I had the realization that, working my way backwards from the current Newberys, it would take AGES before I ever got to read (or re-read) some of the great books of my childhood, or to discover some of the great books I missed as a kid. I LOVE old books. Usually, the older the better (Okay, yes, there is a limit on that. I’m really not into Plato.) So I decided to start at 1970 and to work my way back from there and from the 2000s at the same time.
Happily, Journey Outside is not the only book I’ve read from the 70s (or I might have just given up the whole project). I’ve also fairly recently read Frog and Toad Together (lovely!), Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM (one of my childhood favorites!), Bridge to Terebithia (I cried. Yes, I did.), The Westing Game (plot too complicated for audiobook, but good and mysterious in paper form). So, I guess I won’t give up on the 70s. Not just yet.
Journey Outside, by Mary Q. Steele
Newbery Honor: 1970
A.R. Book Level: 5.7 (but really, don’t do this to your 5th grader)