FREE Newbery Award Books Part 2: Fiction set in the Western United States

In Part 2 of our series on FREE Newbery Award winners, this week we bring you books set in the Western part of the United States.

Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James

Newbery Medal, 1927

Smoky the Cowhorse is set in the 1910’s, just long enough before the novel was written to document the shift from horses to cars as a primary means of transportation although the story is about the life of one horse, Smoky.

Free e-book version of Smoky the Cowhorse at Faded Page (public domain in Canada)

Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer

Newbery Medal, 1932

This novel is a quest novel as a young Navajo man seeks to become a Medicine man.

Armer was an artist before she also became an artist. Above is her illustration from her book Leaves of an Argonaut . Laura Adams Armer / Public domain

Armer was an artist before she also became an artist. Above is her illustration from her book Leaves of an Argonaut.

Laura Adams Armer / Public domain

Waterless Mountain at Faded Page (Canada)

More FREE Reads By and About Native Americans from The Lois Level

FREE Reads and Resources about First Nations in The United States and Canada: Folk Tales, Learning Materials, and Photos!

More About North American First Nations: FREE History, Crafts, and Stories

FREE Reads and Resources about First Nations in The United States and Canada: Folk Tales, Learning Materials, and Photos!

The Jumping-Off Place by Marian Hurd MacNeely

Newbery Honor Book, 1929

This book follows the adventures of four siblings who set out to “prove up” on a homestead in South Dakota, a feat that defeated many adults, which you know if you read the Little House books.

The Jumping-Off Place at University of Pennsylvania’s Award Book page with the original illustrations

The Heavenly Tenants by William Maxwell

Newbery Honor Book, 1947

The Heavenly Tenants is set in Wisconsin, where a farm family is visited by living signs of the Zodiac.

The Heavenly Tenants at University of Pennsylvania Digital Books

New Land by Sarah Lindsay Schmidt

New Land is twice a story of the west as it is about a family who moves from Chicago to Wyoming in the 1930’s.

The only place I have found New Land is at UPenn’s “Celebration of Women Writers”.

Guide to this post (republished from Part 1 in this series)

Scroll down for more books.

When the copyright on books or other media expires, it goes into what is called the “public domain”. That means that the book can be reproduced freely without getting permission or having to pay the author royalties.

Books enter the public domain in the United States 70 years after the death of the author, if no one has renewed it, and 50 years after the death of the author in Canada. If we have noted “Canada” in the post, be aware that the work may not be in public domain in the United States. Use your judgement.

The most prestigious award for American children’s literature, the Newbery Award, has been around since 1922, so some of the first books to get this award are in the public domain. Over the next few weeks, we are excited to guide you through what you can find and where. Most guides simply go chronologically, but we don’t find that arrangement very interesting or helpful, so instead, we have organized them by topic.

And just to add to the fun, we’ve added in some famous options to go along with them. While these books aren’t free, they are usually easy to find either used or through libraries, especially in the United States.

Part of the reason these books receive the award is because of their creative approach to storytelling. For that reason, some of them really defy easy categorization, but that’s what also makes them good. So it seems in the end, the most systematic way to do it is to sort the books by the rough geographical location in which they are set.

If you don’t have children in your life, don’t let that put you off these books. Good children’s literature is often good literature, and if you enjoy great stories, you will enjoy these.

Note: Sometimes the edition shown here from Amazon is not free. Be sure to search by author to find the free edition, which may have less elaborate formatting or illustrations that the paid version. If we have a link to an open-source version that does not require an account, we share that.

Never ask minors (including teens) to open any online accounts. There’s no way to tell what kind of data the site might pull from the user even if no identifying information is required.

If there is no open source version, it is perfectly legal to create a PDF yourself and share it electronically or print out hard copies.

Because there are no author royalties to pay, Print copies of public domain books are usually inexpensive and can sometimes be purchased for less than the cost of printing yourself. Look for Dover Thrift editions in particular.


Related Books

Famous and Free

Black Beauty is a famous early horse novel set in England. Smoky instantly made me think of this novel.

Black Beauty at Project Gutenberg

Free Audio versions of Black Beauty at Librivox

Famous and Easy to find Free or Inexpensively (used or in libraries)

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

This novel is about a young girl’s growing up in Wisconsin. Her life is unusual in that she is allowed to spend more time outside than usual for a girl of her time.

In recent years, this novel has come under fire for its stereotypical representation of Native Americans.

The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Five of the eight Little House books are Newbery Honor books; ironically, none of them ever won the medal, and none of the first three books, which I think are the most memorable, were even Honor Books.

I guess as far as the publishing world was concerned, Wilder came out of “right field”.

Little House in the Big Woods is set in Wisconsin, and Little House on the Prairie is set in what is present day Kansas. Many people, including Wilder herself, may believe that it was Oklahoma, but research has proven that the family lived on a small patch of “Indian Territory” 14 (not 40) miles from Independence, Kansas.

On the Banks of Plum Creek is set in Minnesota, and the rest of the books, including The Long Winter, are set in South Dakota.

Lois Lenski won a Newbery Medal for her book, Strawberry Girl, which is a part of her regional series. Prairie School is a less well known volume in the series that documents the year in the life of a one-room school in South Dakota just before school busses brought about the end of that era.

This book makes a nice counterpoint to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s descriptions of school life in South Dakota’s in the areas early years of settlement, in the late 1800’s.

Lenski spent extensive amounts of time visiting representative families for all of her regional books, so both the plots and her illustrations are authentic.

Other than Strawberry Girl and Indian Captive (a Newbery Honor Book), Lenski’s books are difficult to find in libraries at present, but the ones in print are available on Kindle FreeTime/Kindle Unlimited.

Read more about Lois Lenski and the exact settings of all of her books here: Lois Lenski’s exquisite portraits of 20th century America’s hidden children

Tex by S.E. Hinton

Hinton is probably one of the best selling and most appreciated authors to never get recognized by a Newbery, probably because she writes Young Adult novels…even though many Newbery books are difficult enough not to be readable by kids much younger.

Hinton is best known for The Outsiders. Although it’s not mentioned in the movie, most of the characters in The Outsiders have done a little rodeo riding. I suppose that’s what you do in Oklahoma. The only novel where horses feature as prominently as Tex is Taming the Star Runner. That novel isn’t quite as well known, but it’s also probably pretty easy to find.

Hinton seems to be popular with pretty much all young teenagers, male and female, but her novels are especially great for boys who don’t like to read.

Although she writes realistically about teens, mostly boys, from rough(ish) backgrounds, she keeps the situations and language relatively clean, which is appreciated by teachers everywhere, let me tell you. She tends to write things like, “He let out a stream of curse words” rather than sharing the curse words with us, which means fewer worries about censorship and also with middle school kids who might use cursing in a book as license to curse themselves during class. Who wants to deal with that?

That she is a woman who writes mostly about boys and the fact that she wrote The Outsiders when still a teenager herself both add to the fun.