Saturday, March 7, 2009

Newbery Winner #1: The Story of Mankind

The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem Van Loom

They say that all beginnings are hard. Based on my experience reading the first book to win the Newbery award, it must be true. It took me weeks to get through this book and digest the epic story within it. This is not to say that I did not enjoy it or that it was not well written, but part of me wonders if people in the 1920s had longer attention spans and were, well, nicer. Throughout the book it is clear that van Loom has retained his faith in humanity and our good intentions. This surprised me the most since he had just witnessed one of the darkest times for Mankind, the first World War, and yet he still saw the good in people. He employed none of the cynicism prevalent in modern histories, but tried to give unbiased views of politics, religion, and society. He seamlessly injects himself into the narrative and talks about the difficulties in writing an objective history, remaining humble and apologetic until the end. Try finding one historian or politician that does that today! Towards the end of the book, he clearly explains that his view is shaped by his life in Protestant Holland for the purpose of the readers “know{ing} the personal bias of the man who wrote this history and may understand his point of view” (477). In an imperfect world, van Loom attempted to show children the world as it was and what it could be. And in a time like ours, when we are fraught with uncertainty and angst, it is refreshing to remember the fundamental goodness of mankind and how much we have overcome over the centuries.

Grade: A-
Well-written with engaging style and dialogue
Too long
Modern version updates history until Internet (not written by van Loom)
Excellent illustrations

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