Recently, my librarian friends and acquaintances have made me think seriously about children’s book award winners. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how the Newbery winners and honors appeal to kids. The general consensus seems to be that they don’t. But of course that’s not entirely true – different books appeal to different readers. And I believe that this year’s crop of Newbery winners and honors, while not particularly appealing to me, are well-crafted books that will find an audience among kids who appreciate that craft.
I decided to go take a trip down memory lane and see which winners and honors I loved as a kid. I was surprised by how many there were. Of course, many of them were required reading in school, but many I picked up on my own and loved without any pushing from an adult. Below is just a smattering of those, in chronological order. Warning: You won’t find Charlotte’s Web on the list. Sorry.
Please feel free to weigh in and tell me which Newberys you loved as a kid, and which get appreciation from kids (or just one kid!) at your library.
Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski
I got this one at a Scholastic book fair in 6th grade. My mother told me I could choose a book and she’d buy it for me. I couldn’t decide between this one and another book about a disappearing bike shop (I’m pretty sure it was this one). Happy ending: she bought me both, and I loved them both, and I didn’t even know Indian Captive was a Newbery until I was an adult.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
I was one of those kids who loved historical fiction. (When I found Ann Rinaldi in middle school, I was in book heaven.) I was especially fascinated by the Salem witch trials, so this was a natural draw for me.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Before I read this one, my only experience with survival stories was Hatchet, which I nearly loathed. Island of the Blue Dolphins saved the genre for me. I loved stories about resourceful girls and O’Dell’s writing seemed so beautiful to me at the time.
Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
Historical fiction! Romance! A stern but loving aunt! Relateable problems! This was an all-around winner, and I read it at the perfect time in my life for it.
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
My fascination with ancient Egypt as a tween knew no bounds. This was a natural fit.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
I don’t think I know a single person who loves fantasy who does not love this series. At the time, it seemed really similar to the Narnia books, which I also loved. (As an adult, I prefer Cooper.) Mention should also be made of The Grey King, the winner from 1976.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
I loved everything about this book – Raskin’s quirky writing, the very clever mystery, the fascinating characters. I read it aloud to my mother, and we kept a notebook so we could decipher the mystery as we read. It is far and away one of my best memories of my reading childhood. (It seems like this is out of print, which makes my heart break.)
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Historical fiction about the Holocaust was something I was just beginning to be interested in, and this book was a perfect fit.
Historical fiction, adventure, a strong girl heroine. This had my name written all over it.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
This is a cheat, since this one is almost universally beloved. But it’s also very deserving of the award.
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
This book was so awesomely strange to me as a tween, and I loved every page of it. It holds up well on re-read, I think.
The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
Historical fiction, a mouthy girl protagonist, lots of talk about poop, some mild language that seemed incredibly scandalous to me at the time, plus the topic of midwifery (which also seemed pretty scandalous) all made this a winner. Mention should also be made of Catherine Called Birdy, an Honor book from 1995 – even better “swear words” in that one!
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
This book holds the honor of making me love it despite the fact that it has a male protagonist (something I avoided like the plague as a kid, usually). Great voice, fascinating fantasy story, and a hell of an ending.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
I’m pretty sure there is nothing not to love about this first (and still the very best) Cinderella re-telling I ever read.
This isn’t even all of them. Would I have been exposed to these wonderful books if it weren’t for the Newbery medal? Some of them, probably. But not all.