Newbery Project – Belling the Tiger

Belling the Tiger coverThis Newbery Honor Book from 1962 was a sweet tale of two timid mice on a quest. I enjoyed it and will recommend it to second and third graders.

Thinking of this book in terms of the Newbery Honor that it was awarded (or technically retroactively awarded, since before 1971 they were “runners up”) forces me to remind myself that being distinguished can be viewed in multiple ways, and that I need to examine my biases. One of which, apparently, is that, like many people, I tend to assign more weight to longer books which have the time and space to flesh things out that an early chapter book does not. This is a short book accompanied by illustrations, and if it does not have the depth or complexity of a book intended for an older audience, that’s actually a good thing. Books for younger children have just as much need for recognition of quality.

But back to the criteria! The characters of the two mice were well drawn, particularly considering how short the book is. They had a clear character arc, both as a pair, and as individuals, with Asa becoming more proactive over the course of the story. Self-important Portman, while a one-note character, was nevertheless vividly drawn. I particularly liked the section where the mice decide to continue on their quest because while all other fears are theoretical the fear of Portman, whom they see every day, is tangible and real to them.

Of the Newbery books and Honor books that I have read so far, this one most resembles My Father’s Dragon, both in its relatively light-hearted tone as well as its reading level and episodic adventure quest nature.


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