For the super-nerdy children’s book lovers out there – like me — the Youth Media Awards at the American Library Association meeting are kind of like the Oscars or Grammys or NCAA March Madness bracket announcements for other people. I’ve never been to an ALA meeting, but I amuse myself now and then by imagining everyone duded up in sequins and tuxes for the big reveal. Would it be so bad for there to be rock-star authors and librarians getting a lot of attention?
After realizing a few years ago that my library had most of the Newbery Medal winners – the annual award for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children – I started working my way through them. The first winner, 1922’s The Story of Mankind (by Hendrik Willem van Loon), was a pretty interesting book, although it’s close to a hundred years old now, and obviously, some things have changed in our story since then. My son and I read 1930’s winner, Hitty, Her First Hundred Years (by Rachel Field), and I’ve recommended it since to several families who were looking for a good book to read together. Yes, it’s a story about a doll, but it’s not really a cute and sweet story. Hitty’s life is full of adventure, danger, high emotion, and several dramatic rescues.
I snagged a retired school library copy of 1946’s Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski a few weeks ago and found The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare at a book sale. I’ve probably had 4 or 5 copies of A Wrinkle in Time, and I’ve got at least fifteen others on my shelves which go into rotation if I have a gap in the to-be-read stack of new books. Some of the older books seem dated or clunky now, but others are still wonderful stories with characters who continue to speak to us today.
The Newberys (and Caldecotts and others from the Youth Media Awards) are a great way to showcase the variety in children’s literature. Some parents might not have read much lately or don’t know which children’s books to recommend to their own children. Kids who are stuck in a loop of reading only books by a certain author or in a certain genre can also find something new, and maybe even realize they want to try something completely different.
The Newberys are also nice to have in mind for the parent who decides their child should be reading “the classics” at age 8. I’ve met them, and while I’m sure there are people who can do it and do it successfully, most kids I know would rather be reading Holes or Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH than Pride and Prejudice or Hamlet. (Although if Pride and Prejudice were in graphic novel format, who knows?) I love Jane Austen and Shakespeare now, but I disliked them as much as the next kid when I was younger. So maybe DON’T let them know that Newbery winners are classics. But suggest them anyway.
I can’t miss an opportunity to make a list, so here are some of my personal favorites from the Newbery list:
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
The Grey King by Susan Cooper
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Holes by Louis Sachar
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
A Year Down Yonder by by Richard Peck
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo