...And Now Miguel, by Joseph Krumgold, was not the most exciting Newbery winner I've read this year. It reminded me a lot of Shadow of a Bull - most of the story is about a boy becoming a man - and the rest is ethnographic detail on a way of life that is foreign to most readers.
I'd rather read about sheep herding in New Mexico than bullfighting in Spain, though, so despite becoming bored (and mentally re-naming the book Not Now, Miguel, for how many times I put it down and picked up another book - almost any book - that was more appealing), I did enjoy ...And Now, Miguel more than Shadow of a Bull.
Miguel, the twelve year old protagonist, yearns to go to the Sangre de Cristo mountains with the other adult men in his family, who take the sheep to graze in the high mountain valleys during the summer months. The mountains are beautiful and mystical, and it would be interesting to compare Miguel's ideas about the mountains with the unnamed narrator's view of the Himalayas in Gay-Neck. I'll spare you the compare and contrast essay, though.
I came to appreciate Miguel's story a bit more when it came to the last 40 or so pages (but what a long haul that was, considering the whole book is 245 pages), when Krumgold examines Miguel's growing maturity and how he questions his religion and how and why prayers to San Ysidro (pictured on the cover with his oxen) are answered. The questions are big ones, and the lessons learned are important, even if I don't always personally agree with the way his big questions are answered.
I did appreciate the fact that the moralizing isn't too heavy-handed, as it is in several other Newbery winners from the 50's, like The Door in the Wall, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, and Amos Fortune (wow, they just didn't go in for subtlety then, did they), and I thought that this was the most interesting part of the book. It's too bad that a lot of kids (and adults) will probably give up on the story before they get to this part.
It's interesting how cover designs and illustrations influence my view of the Newbery winners - something I did not anticipate before starting this project. Anyway, there have been quite a few books that I didn't really like that I felt were at least somewhat redeemed by beautiful artwork (by the author, even, as in The White Stag and The Door in the Wall). And then there are others where the artwork just leaves me cold. Unfortunately, Jean Charlot's drawings in Miguel fell into this latter category. The "About the Illustrator" blurb at the back of the book says says Charlot's work was influenced by the Olmec statues in southern Mexico, and I can definitely see that. Sadly, I didn't think that the drawings particularly fit the tone of the story, and they made the whole thing even more ponderous than Miguel's thoughts and descriptions alone did.
I do think kids and adults that are particularly interested in New Mexico, sheep, or a quiet coming-of-age story might appreciate Miguel's story if they persevere with it. In retrospect, I like the story more now than I did while I was slogging through it, and a few of the beautiful and meaningful scenes from the book that are stuck in my head made it worth the effort.