Saturday, October 18, 2014

What I've Learned from Newbery Award-Winning Books

The Newbery award was established in 1922 as an award for outstanding American children's literature. In May 2013, I began a quest to read ALL the Newbery winners. My intent was to learn more about writing middle-grade fiction, having already penned Otter and Arthur and the Sword in the Stone (2012) and, at the time, writing its sequel, the now-out Otter and Arthur and the Round Table.

Having read nearly every winner from the last 35 years, I've learned a little something about how to win a Newbery in the modern era:

1) Write realistic fiction.
2) The main character should be a human, most likely a child from age 10-12, and an orphan.
3) Don't write down to kids.

Anyone who's followed my posts on the Newbery winners is well aware of my opinion regarding #2. It seems absurdly formulaic, but about half of the Newbery winners over the last 35 years have centered around a character who has lost one or both parents. Certainly this is rich territory to explore for an author - but it would be nice to see the Newbery committee branch out a bit in acknowledging more of the vast repertoire of other traumas faced by the under-teen set.

Having said that, #3 is still a very valid point. When I set out on this endeavor, I was slightly concerned about reading "books for kids." However, these are generally books which, while they center around kids, are good reads for any age. Still, in considering point #1, it is surprising that more of these books haven't tapped into a more imaginative spirit generally associated with children's books.

In any event, here's a full list of the Newbery winners from 1922-2014. Note: the year is when the book won the award, not necessarily its year of publication. Links go to my personal reviews of the books - and what I learned from them as a writer. I've read books marked with an asterisk, but have not reviewed them.

  • 2014: Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
  • 2013: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  • 2012: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
  • 2011: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
  • 2010: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

    This was the first one I read, the one which started me on this journey.


  • 2009: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Dave McKean
  • 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 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

    Possibly my favorite yet.


  • 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 Appprentice 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 *

    The most thought-provoking. Sort of a George Orwell '1984' for kids.


  • 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: The 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 (Holt)
  • 1968: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum)
  • 1967: Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt (Follett)
  • 1966: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino (Farrar)
  • 1965: Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (Atheneum)
  • 1964: It's Like This, Cat by Emily Neville (Harper)
  • 1963: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Farrar)
  • 1962: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton)
  • 1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (Houghton)
  • 1960: Onion John by Joseph Krumgold (Crowell)
  • 1959: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton)
  • 1958: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith (Crowell)
  • 1957: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen (Harcourt)
  • 1956: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham (Houghton)
  • 1955: The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong (Harper)
  • 1954: ...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold (Crowell)
  • 1953: Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (Viking)
  • 1952: Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (Harcourt)
  • 1951: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (Dutton)
  • 1950: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (Doubleday)
  • 1949: King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (Rand McNally)
  • 1948: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois (Viking)
  • 1947: Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (Viking)
  • 1946: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (Lippincott)
  • 1945: Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (Viking)
  • 1944: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (Houghton)
  • 1943: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray (Viking)
  • 1942: The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds (Dodd)
  • 1941: Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry (Macmillan)
  • 1940: Daniel Boone by James Daugherty (Viking)
  • 1939: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (Rinehart)
  • 1938: The White Stag by Kate Seredy (Viking)
  • 1937: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (Viking)
  • 1936: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (Macmillan)
  • 1935: Dobry by Monica Shannon (Viking)
  • 1934: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs (Little, Brown)
  • 1933: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis (Winston)
  • 1932: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer (Longmans)
  • 1931: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan)
  • 1930: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (Macmillan)
  • 1929: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly (Macmillan)
  • 1928: Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (Dutton)
  • 1927: Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James (Scribner)
  • 1926: Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman (Dutton)
  • 1925: Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger (Doubleday)
  • 1924: The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes (Little, Brown)
  • 1923: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (Stokes)
  • 1922: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon (Liveright)