What is it?

The Newbery Medal is awarded to the most distinguished American children's book published during the previous year, and is the top prize for children's book authors in the United States. Surprisingly, a great many of the Newbery winners have been banned from children's libraries and schools. (Is it any wonder that so many children are turned off by school, since all they are allowed to read is the boring, non-controversial and uninspired stuff? -- but that's a topic for a different node.)

The medal itself was designed by Rene Paul Chambellan. One side depicts a man and a young boy and girl. The reverse has the inscription "John Newbery Medal" around the top edge and "Awarded Annually by the Children's Librarians' Section of the American Library Association" around the bottom edge, and in the center it reads "for the most distinguished contribution to American Literature for children." The medal is engraved with the winner's name and date.

In addition to the Newbery Medal winner, the committee usually selected other noteworthy books as "runners-up". These books are called Newbery Honor Books.

How did it begin?

In 1921, Frederic G. Melcher, a prominent Unitarian, publisher, and co-founder of Children's Book Week, a man described as someone who "loved people, and he loved books," proposed the award to the American Library Association's Children's Librarians' section. The formal purpose of the award 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."1 The American Library Association gave the responsibility for selecting the book to receive the medal to the Children's Librarians' section. The following year, the medal was awarded for the first time, becoming the first award for children's literature in the world.

Who was Newbery?

The award was named for John Newbery, (1713-1765) an English bookseller, author and publisher of children's literature. He inherited a printing business in 1737, which he eventually moved to London and opened a bookshop. He was the first to publish a periodical for children, The Lilliputian Magazine, with stories, tales, songs and riddles, and helped to create the children's book genre.2 Interestingly enough, this award for American literature is named after an Englishman, while the British equivalent for children's literature is named for an American (the Carnegie Medal, named for the Scottish-born American industrialist/philanthropist who endowed over 2800 libraries across the world).3

Who awards the medal, and how do they decide?

The committee that selects the Newbery is made up of 15 people including the chair, and they serve a one-year term. You can visit the ALA website if you are interested in names and contact information of the current members4. For those diehards who are interested, I've also included the terms and criteria (which I lifted verbatim from the ALA website), but they are at the very end of this writeup.

What are the criteria for the award?

Rather than try and reword the terms and criteria for the award, I've included them here in their entirety from the ALA website:6

TERMS
  1. The Medal shall be awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published in the United States during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the book considered except that it be original work. Honor Books may be named. These shall be books that are also truly distinguished.
  2. The Award is restricted to authors who are citizens or residents of the United States.
  3. The committee in its deliberations is to consider only the books eligible for the award, as specified in the terms.
DEFINITIONS
  1. "Contribution to American literature" indicates the text of a book. It also implies that the committee shall consider all forms of writing - fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Reprints and compilations are not eligible.
  2. A "contribution to American literature for children" shall be a book for which children are a potential audience. The book displays respect for children's understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.
  3. "Distinguished" is defined as:
    • marked by eminence and distinction: noted for significant achievement
    • marked by excellence in quality
    • marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence
    • individually distinct

  4. "Author" may include co-authors. The author(s) may be awarded the medal posthumously.
  5. In defining the term, "original work," the committee will consider books that are traditional in origin, if the book is the result of original research and the retelling and interpretation are the writer's own.
  6. "American literature published in the United States" means that books originally published in other countries are not eligible.
  7. "Published . . . in the preceding year" means that the book has a publication date in that year, was available for purchase in that year, and has a copyright date no later than that year. A book might have a copyright date prior to the year under consideration but, for various reasons, was not published until the year under consideration. If a book is published prior to its year of copyright as stated in the book, it shall be considered in its year of copyright as stated in the book. The intent of the definition is that every book be eligible for consideration, but that no book be considered in more than one year.
  8. "Resident" specifies that author has established and maintained residence in the United States as distinct from being a casual or occasional visitor.
  9. The term, "only the books eligible for the Award," specifies that the committee is not to consider the entire body of the work by an author or whether the author has previously won the award. The committee's decision is to be made following deliberation about books of the specified calendar year.

CRITERIA

  1. In identifying "Distinguished Writing" in a book for children,
    1. Committee members need to consider the following:
      • Interpretation of the theme or concept
      • Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization
      • Development of a plot
      • Delineation of characters
      • Delineation of setting
      • Appropriateness of style

      Note: Because the literary qualities to be considered will vary depending on content, the committee need not expect to find excellence in each of the named elements. The book should, however, have distinguished qualities in all of the elements pertinent to it.
    2. Committee members must consider excellence of presentation for a child audience.

  2. Each book is to be considered as a contribution to literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other aspects of a book are to be considered only if they distract from the text. Such other aspects might include illustrations, overall design of the book, etc.
  3. The book must be a self-contained entity, not dependent on other media (i.e., sound or film equipment) for its enjoyment.
Note: The committee should keep in mind that the award is for literary quality and quality presentation for children. The award is not for didactic intent or for popularity.

Adopted by the ALSC Board, January 1978. Revised, Midwinter 1987.

To submit works for consideration for one of ALSC's media awards:

  • Review the terms and criteria for the award.
  • Send one copy of the work to the ALSC office (50 East Huron, Chicago, IL 60611-2795). Please indicate that the submission is for the Newbery award
  • Submit one copy of the work to the award committee chair. You have the option of sending a copy of the work to each committee member, but it is not required.
  • Deadline for submitting works is December 31 of the publication year for all awards and notables.

What are the medal winners and honor books?

The following is a list of Newbery Medal and Honor books from 1922-2003. I lifted this list from the ALA Past Newbery page,5 but I trimmed it a bit to make it more useful. The first listing, next to the year, is the Medal winner. The books below the medal winner are the honor books.

Note: I've only linked up authors and titles with existing nodes. I will try to add writeups of the missing books and authors, including the censorship history if I can find it. If at any time you find a node for any unlinked title and/or author, feel free to alert me to it, and I'll link it up.

  • 2008: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz
    • Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
    • The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
    • Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
  • 2007: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
    • Penny From Heaven by Jennifer Holm
    • Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
    • Rules by Cynthia Lord
  • 2006: Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
    • Whittington by Alan Armstrong
    • Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
    • Princess Acadamy by Shannon Hale
    • Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson
  • 2005: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
    • Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
    • The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman
    • Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
  • 2004: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
    • Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
    • An American Plague : The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy


References:

1 http://www.ala.org/alsc/nmedal.html

2 http://www.iupui.edu/~engwft/newbery.htm

3 http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/carnegie/carn.html

4 http://www.ala.org/alsc/newbery_com_pub.html

5 http://www.ala.org/alsc/newbpast.html

6 http://www.ala.org/alsc/newbery_terms.html

Other interesting URLS/Books:

http://www.ala.org/alsc/newbery.html

http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/unitarians/melcher.html

http://www.mothergoose.com/History/Newbery.htm

Newbery and Caldecott Awards, 2002 Edition: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books.173 Pages, ISBN: ISBN: 0-8389-3528-1.

With its vivid annotations for all winning medal and honor books since the inception of the awards (Newbery in 1922 and Caldecott in 1938), librarians and teachers everywhere rely on this indispensable guide for quick-reference, collection and curriculum development, and readers' advisory. This book was used as a reference on some of the ALA Newbery pages, so I included it here, though I haven't actually looked at it. I thought it might be a useful book for those who want to do further research.

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