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What is the Newbery Medal?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Newbery Medal is a yearly award that honors an outstanding contribution to American children’s literature. It is named after John Newbery, who was a bookseller in the 1700s, in England. The medal was created quite a bit later, however, by Frederic G. Melcher, in 1921. The American Library Association approved of Melcher’s concept for creating the award, and the first award was given in 1922, to author Hendrik Willem Von Loon, for the book The Story of Mankind.

Candidate books for the Newbery Medal must be published no later than the year prior to the award year in question. They also must be written by a US citizen or resident. Candidate books can be fiction, nonfiction or poetry. They are judged solely on their written material, and not by presentation of illustrations.

Books are judged by the American Library Association, which currently includes librarians from schools as well as from public libraries. The book judged to have the most artistic integrity is given the year’s award. The author receives a medal, and the book is usually republished as Newbery Medal winner, which often boosts its sales, and makes it more attractive to educators.

The American Library Association also includes lists of Newbery Medal runners-up. Since 1971, however, the runners-up have simply been called Newbery Honor Books. Even being considered for this honor is thought to be a great thing, and may boost book sales.

Occasionally the Newbery Medal is confused with the Caldecott Medal, also awarded by the American Library Association. The distinction is that the Caldecott Medal is awarded to the best-illustrated book for children. Thus artwork is very much a part of considering the Caldecott award, while it is not considered as criteria for judging for the Newbery.

    Past Newbery Medal winners include:
  • 1959 The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  • 1963 A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • 1969 The High King by Lloyd Alexander
  • 1977 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
  • 1984 Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
  • 1999 Holes by Louis Sachar
  • 2003 Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
  • 2004 The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamilo
  • 2006 Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

Newbery Medal Honor Books include past greats like Old Yeller, Charlotte’s Web, My Father’s Dragon, and many of the Little House books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As well as Ingalls Wilder, many other authors have written more than one Honor Book, including Beverly Cleary, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Knowing this list can help one make recommendations to a child scanning the library for something “good” to read.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon308431 — On Dec 10, 2012

What characteristics does a book need to have in order to receive the Newbery medal?

By anon164339 — On Mar 31, 2011

@Anon142336: the american library association.

By anon142336 — On Jan 12, 2011

Who chooses the books for consideration of the Newberry Medal?

By anon70806 — On Mar 16, 2010

people who are publishers and they are awarded by how great they are and how great their books are published. and when they get that award they are proud to be a person that writes for a good effort.

By anon34256 — On Jun 19, 2009

Who awards the Newberry medal each year?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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