What would you think if a book came out with marked similarities to a book that came out the year before?
Well, you’d think nothing of it, of course, because it happens all the time.
But what if that second book won the Newbery? (And the first one faded away into obscurity…)
I first noticed the similarities between Conrad Bryant’s “The Lost Kingdom”(1951) and “Secret of the Andes”(1952) on page 1 of “Kingdom.”
SPOILER ALERT: I’ll be discussing the basic plots of both books…
“Kingdom” opens with a seemingly simple Indian boy lying face down on a rock peering over the edge.
“Secret of the Andes,” of course, begins the same way except in South America.
Then there’s the identical plot outlines:
Poor native boy in a country colonized by Europeans is actually the heir to the now non-existent kingdom of his ancestors… he just doesn’t know it yet.
Now, I’m not suggesting that Ann Nolan Clark just replaced all of Bryant’s water buffaloes with llamas and called it a new book. There are, of course, many differences in the books — for one thing, “Kingdom’ has more action in the first chapter than “Secret” does in the whole book. The hero, Rodmika, jumps off his rock into a jungle pool to save a baby monkey from a crocodile. “Secret’s” hero, Cusi, just points at what lays below.
In many ways, “Kingdom” is a better book. It doesn’t rely on a magic llama plot device, for example. And the illustrations actually reflect what’s going on in the story,
At first I thought it was going to be a standard issue boys’ adventure book, but it was very well written and well-plotted.
Bryant’s years in India pay off as he describes animals, customs, people and terrain with an easy familiarity. His main character, Rodmika, is wonderful — resourceful, wise and always ready to learn be it from a book, an elder or from what he observes in the jungle.
“Kingdom” contains two scenes — which I won’t spoil — which I thought were exceptional. Certianly enough to make the book stand out from the herd of boy adventure books in the early 50s.
All-in-all, one might even go so far as to call the book “distinguished.”
(The ending, however, left me a little non-plussed.)
To draw a last comparison between the two books:
Despite all its flaws, “Secret of the Andes” gave me a “goosebumps” type feeling at the end (which Jungle did not) and I assume that is what it did to the Newbery committee, too.
I also assume the Newbery committee missed “The Lost Kingdom” altogether, otherwise it would have been hard to get excited about “Secret” as an original story.
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