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The Newbery Medal

The Newbery Medal is given each year around the end of January by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the book voted to have made the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children and young adults in the year preceding the vote. The award has been given every year since 1922, so the winning book in 2021, "When You Trap A Tiger" by Tae Keller, awarded on January 25, 2021, is the 100th book to receive this prestigious award.


The books nominated for the award in a given year that aren't chosen as the Newbery Medal book for that year are named as Newbery Honor books. It is one of the highest honors for authors of works for young people to win either a Newbery Medal or to have one's work designated as a Newbery Honor book. Out of the many thousands of works of literature for young people published over the last 100 years in the United States, only 100 titles to date stand out as Newbery Medal winners. Accordingly these works are almost always of a very high quality, of course within the context of what is considered fine literature at the time, and out of the works published in a given year.


Only two authors have won the Newbery Medal who weren't Americans, both in the first decade of the award: Hugh Lofting from England for "The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle" in 1923, and Dhan Gopal Mukerji from India for "Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon" in 1928. It is not unlikely that one or more of the fabulous Oz books by American L. Frank Baum would have won the award had it been given when the Oz books were published. The last in this series of 14 books, Glinda of Oz, was published in 1920, so Baum was out of the running for his last Oz book by just one year!


Only six authors have won the Newbery Medal twice in its first 100 years, and none three times so far. Several of the winning books, including "The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle" and "Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon", are part of a series of books that are close in quality to the award winner. Thus, along with the 100 Newbery Medal books, and the many more Honor books, these series provide lots of excellent reading for young people and adults alike.


I was introduced to these fine books in 6th grade by my beloved teacher, Mrs. Stoffregen, who read the books to us during lunch each day. I remember specifically hearing the book, "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" by E. L. Konigsburg, a book which had won the Newbery Medal two years earlier. In the years after 6th grade I read several of the new Newbery Medal books on a random basis. When I became a teacher twelve years after 6th grade I carried on the tradition of reading Newbery Medals books to my students during lunch, the titles also chosen on a random basis.


While taking my second group of students through multiple grades beginning in 2005, I decided that it was time to catch up on all the Newbery Medal books I had missed over the years, while also honoring Mrs. Stoffregen, by reading every one of the 80+ winners to that point. The first of the books I read on this literary adventure was "The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread" by Kate DiCamillo, the 2004 Newbery Medal winner.


From Despereaux I went backwards through the years, reading each Newbery Medal winning book in the reverse order of the year received. So my second book read was "Crispen: The Cross of Lead" by Avi, the 2003 winner. When a new Newbery Medal winner was announced each year I read that book next, and then picked up where I left off going backwards through the years. When a book was part of a series, such as "A Year Down Yonder" by Richard Peck, the 2001 winner, and its companion book, "A Long Way From Chicago" (a Newbery Honor book from 1999), I read all the books in the series in their order in the series. (The exception to this was with "Dicey's Song" by Cynthia Voigt, the 1983 Newbery Medal winner. I did not at the time read the other six books in that series, The Tillerman Cycle.)


With my teaching and administrator duties during these years, I was able to average about one book read every two weeks. Thus it took me over six years to read all the Newbery Medal winners back to the very first one: "The Story of Mankind", and the books in their series where they were part of one, 91 winners at that point in early 2012 and another 35 or so related books. Since that time I've read each new Newbery Medal book when it is announced so as to stay current on my reading! Nowadays I do most of my reading in ebook format for convenience sake, so it is easy to purchase and download the new award winners the day they are announced.


The Newbery Club

Of course my hope in setting off on my Newbery adventure way back in 2005, along with nurturing my own love for good literature, was to inspire my students to follow with me on my path. So right away was created what I called the Newbery Club for my students. Any student who reads even one Newbery Medal book is automatically in the Newbery Club. Those who read the ten winners in a given decade are in the Newbery Decades Club. And those (none so far!) who, like me, read all Newbery Medal winners are in the Newbery Centuries Club.


For students or adults interested in becoming members of the Newbery Club, I recommend beginning with the 2016 winner, "Last Stop on Market Street" by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson, the only picture book so far that has won the Newbery Medal. This book has the distinction of being a Caldecott Honor book as well. (No book to date has won both the Newbery and Caldecott Medals.) This makes reading this book an easy entry into the Newbery Club at just 32 pages. From there, one can choose a decade to read if one wishes to join the Newbery Decades Club. The easiest way to do this is to read the latest decade, which likely doesn't have all ten books in it yet. For instance, the decade of the 2020s only has two books in it so far, "New Kid" by Jerry Craft, the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal, and "When You Trap A Tiger" by Tae Keller, the latest Newbery Medal book.


For students or adults interested in becoming members of the Newbery Centuries Club, PLEASE JOIN ME! It's lonely in here! What a great adventure to launch yourselves on as the 100th Newbery Medal book has just been selected! You could begin at the beginning with "The Story of Mankind" (certainly not the easiest book to start with), or start with "When You Trap A Tiger" and go backwards, as I did with "The Tale of Despereaux" those many years ago. I would recommend the latter approach, both because I've done that and it worked well, also because I think reading the more modern books in the set first and working back to those from an earlier time may make the earlier ones more enjoyable once you get there.


Those who want to join the Newbery Series Club need not be a member of the Newbery Centuries Club to do so. Just pick out one of the excellent series that has a Newbery Medal winner at its heart and enjoy! I can't recommend the Dr. Dolittle books to be read by children or young people on their own because they contain racist viewpoints that need to be discussed with children during the reading (as many books from earlier eras do - see What to Do About Classic Children’s Books That Are Racist). The books by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (see immediately below) are perhaps the best books ever published that describe life in the Indian jungles. Except for Gay-Neck these books are long out of print and very difficult to come by. The award winning horse books by Marguerite Henry (Newbery Medal "King of the Wind", and Newbery Honor books "Justin Morgan Had a Horse", and "Misty of Chincoteague" and its sequels) are great for horse lovers. The famous "A Wrinkle in Time" and its sequels (the "Time Quartet"), the awesome "Chronicles of Prydain" which influenced me deeply as a teenager, the spooky "Dark is Rising" series, the incredible "Logan Family" series which includes "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" by Mildred Taylor, and the five (so far) civil rights books by Christopher Paul Curtis are great series to dive into. The aforementioned Tillerman Cycle of seven books that includes "Dicey's Song" is on my list as I missed that the first time around.


Last spring Kona Pacific was fortunate to have funding that allowed us to purchase the entire set of 99 Newbery Medal winning books at the time, except for the 1940 winner "Daniel Boone" by James Daughtery and the 1955 winner "The Wheel on the School" by Meindert DeJong, neither of which was possible to obtain at that time. Along with these 97 books we were able to purchase many recent Newbery Honor books, along with the entire Oz series in honor of the great American children's author who just missed qualifying for the Newbery Medal. All of these books are available for checking out by the students and parents of our school. Just stop by my office anytime!


With the ready availability of many recent Newbery Honor books at school (in my office!), I have begun mapping out the most ambitious Newbery Club, the Newbery Honors Club. To date there are 326 titles in this club, so this will take many years to master! So far, working backwards from last year's Newbery Honor books (this year's five Honor books were just announced), I have read 10 excellent Honor books that I haven't read previously, and am in the middle of my 11th, "Wolf Hollow" by Lauren Wolk. I would love companions on this latest mission, and in any of the Newbery Clubs, if anyone is up for a good challenge and numerous good reads.

Mr. Centers

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Newbery Medal Winners & Related

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