What Is the Newbery Medal?

Children’s literature is an important curriculum for a child as it informs, educates, and entertains. The more a child reads, the more their reading skills improve. There is a wide and diverse amount of literature out there that is suitable for children and one of the top awards for such literature is the Newbery Medal. The Newbery Medal is given out every year by the Association of Library Services for Children (or ALSC) which is a division of the American Library Association. The Newbery Medal is awarded to authors as recognition for their contributions to children’s literature. The Newbery Medal is reserved for novels, not illustrated picture books (that is another award entirely). When considering which books are eligible for the Newbery Medal, there is a list of criteria that the books must meet.

History of the Newbery Medal

The Newbery Medal is named after John Newbery, a publisher of juvenile literature during the 1700’s. The first award was actually given out in 1922. The medal itself was designed by Rene Paul Chambellan and was sculpted by Frederic G. Melcher the year before the first award was handed out. Melcher went before the American Library Association’s meeting of their children’s division on June 22, 1921 and proposed the award. The proposal met with all-around approval by the division’s librarians and was finally accepted by the ALA in 1922. The original proposal for the medal stated that the purpose was “To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children’s reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field.” Thus the Newbery Medal became the first children’s literature award in the world.

One side of the bronze medal depicts an author giving or showing his book to a boy and girl while the opposite side has an open book with the words “For The Most Distinguished Contribution To American Literature For Children” engraved on it. The winner’s name and the date the award was given are also engraved on it.

Criteria For The Newbery Medal

newbery-medal

There are some specific requirements for books to be considered for the Newbery Medal. To begin with, the book in question should have been published in the United States the previous year and in English. The book’s author must also be a U.S. citizen.  Committee members must consider the book’s theme, plot, characters, and overall presentation. The style and subject matter must be appropriate for children. Also, it must be agreed that the book makes a contribution to literature and it must be able to stand on its own and not as part of a multi-media project (such as audio or video accompaniment). Many of these qualities are subject to a book’s content or specific idea and may vary. Thus, not every quality that is considered is going to be viewed at the same level. Instead, the Newberry Medal committee looks for overall excellence in a book’s material.

Newbery Medal nominees can be in works of fiction, non-fiction, or poetry. To submit a work, the author or publisher sends two copies; one to the ALSC office and the other copy to the award committee chairman. All nominees are judged by the ALA.

Past Winners of The Newbery Medal

Here is a list of all of the Newbery Medal winners since the awards first started in 1922.

2009: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

2008: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz

2007: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

2006: Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

2005: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

2004: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo

2003: Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

2002: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

2001: A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

2000: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

1999: Holes by Louis Sachar

1998: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

1997: The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

1996: The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman

1995: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

1994: The Giver by Lois Lowry

1993: Missing May by Cynthia Rylant

1992: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

1991: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

1990: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

1989: Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman

1988: Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman

1987: The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

1986: Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

1985: The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

1984: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

1983: Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt

1982: A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard

1981: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

1980: A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos

1979: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

1978: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

1977: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

1976: The Grey King by Susan Cooper

1975: M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton

1974: The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox

1973: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

1972: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

1971: Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars

1970: Sounder by William H. Armstrong

1969: The High King by Lloyd Alexander

1968: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

1967: Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt

1966: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino

1965: Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska

1964: It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Neville

1963: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

1962: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

1960: Onion John by Joseph Krumgold

1959: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

1958: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith

1957: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen

1956: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

1955: The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong

1954: …And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold

1953: Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark

1952: Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes

1951: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates

1950: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

1949: King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry

1948: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois

1947: Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

1946: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

1945: Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson

1944: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

1943: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray

1942: The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds

1941: Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry

1940: Daniel Boone by James Daugherty

1939: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright

1938: The White Stag by Kate Seredy

1937: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer

1936: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

1935: Dobry by Monica Shannon

1934: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs

1933: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis

1932: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer

1931: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth

1930: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field

1929: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

1928: Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji

1927: Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James

1926: Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman

1925: Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger

1924: The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes

1923: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

1922: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon

There have been a total of five children’s book authors that have won the Newbery Medal more than once. The authors E.L. Konigsburg, Joseph Krumgold, Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, and Elizabeth George Speare have all won two Newbery Medals each.

Besides the annual winner, there are also Honorary Newbery winners. Since the Newbery Medal awards first started, the award committee has recognized other books as having literary merit. These books were originally called “Runner-Ups” but in 1971 the ALSC changed that term to “Honor Books”. They term was even made retroactive so all former runner-ups from the past years were now referred to as Honor Books.

The significance of a Newbery Medal winner plays a heavy part in book sales and distribution. There are sections in bookstores and some libraries for Newbery winners. Once the winner is announced, bookstores sell out of all copies of that book and both public and school libraries order additional copies. The winning book is often implemented by teachers in their lesson plans. Since this is one of the biggest awards in children literature, it brings quite a degree of notoriety to the winning author.

Newbery Medal Controversies

Despite the honor of being nominated or even winning a Newbery Medal, the award has also drawn its share of criticism, which is to be expected from a judged awards program that is subjective. Many criticise the judges choices, claiming some books are better than others. For example, in October 2008, a children’s literary expert named Anita Silvey published an article in the School Library Journal that criticized the Newbery committee for choosing books that she claimed were too difficult for most children.  Silvey even had support in the form of Lucy Calkins of the Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University’s Teachers College who agreed with Silvey. A study by associate professor John Beach at St. John’s University in New York showed that the books that adults choose for children are not necessarily the same that children would choose for themselves. Yet despite these criticisms, it cannot be denied that the winners of the Newbery are still relevent literature and worth recognition for their material.