Title: Songs for Sixpence
Author: Josephine Blackstock
Illustrator: Maurice Bower
Pages: 158
Recommended Ages: 9-14
Star Rating: ★★★★

A story about the man after whom the John Newbery medal is named!

The Story.

John Newbery loves to read. And he does it all the time – even when he should be doing his chores. He longs to write and publish books; his favorite dream is to have a book shop in London where the great authors will come to purchase books. So he steadily reads and hopes and dreams…

And then comes the day that his teacher, Dame Dorcas, tells him that she knows a printer in London who might be willing to accept John as an apprentice. John is thrilled. It seems that his dream will come true after all!

But will John be able to learn his trade? And even once he is able to print, will he ever own his own store?


Of course the answer is ‘yes’, John does eventually come to own his own printing shop. He also became the first true publisher of children’s literature and today the Newbery Medal is awarded every year to the author who has made “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”.

John’s father is a man of the I’m-a-farmer-you’re-going-to-be-a-farmer-so-what’s-the-use-of-reading style. He and John initially disagree over the amount of time that John should spend studying (John is entirely respectful in this disagreement), but he eventually recognizes that John has brains and should develop them.

Although John initially publishes only more serious books and stories, he decides to print a book of ‘nonsense’ poems after he meets several young children who are bearing the full responsibility of adults either through social position or lack thereof.

John’s Grandmother recites the following prayer over his bed.

“Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that thee lies on.”

She also quips, “If that poker hasn’t slipped down and formed a cross against the bars! ‘Tis a good sign, John. It means no witch durst come night the house for a twelvemonth.” [pg. 48]

John and his family celebrate a traditional-style Christmas in one chapter.

‘Lord’ and ‘gad’ are each used once as exclamations.

Conclusion. A sweet, biographical story.

Review © 2013 Laura Verret

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