The John Newbery Medal for excellence in children's literature was first awarded in 1922. Every year since 1922, the American Library Association has announced a single winner and several honor books. In honor of the 100 year anniversary of the Newbery, I'm sharing my favorite Newbery Award books.
I allowed myself to choose from past winners as well as honor recipients. It was an impossible list to make! How could I limit it to 10? (Spoiler alert: I didn't.) These are my personal favorites and I could have easily made a list of 20 or 30 books I think "you simply must read." I did not attempt to create a balanced list by genre, author or theme. I simply picked the books I enjoyed reading the most!
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THE WHEEL ON THE SCHOOL by Meindert DeJong (1955 Winner)
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In Holland, Lina and her friends wonder why there are no longer any storks in their village. They work together to build a nest for the birds on the school, and in doing so discover their individual and collective strengths. I remember loving this book as a kid. When I picked it up as a read aloud, I expected my kids to find it boring. Au contraire! Even my then-6 year old couldn't wait to hear more. Ages 8 and up. (Younger as a read aloud)
ZLATEH THE GOAT AND OTHER STORIES by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1967 Honor)
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This is a long time favorite book of mine, and is one that many families pass by. Don't be so foolish! If you are not familiar with Chelm, Singer's book of short stories is the best introduction. In Jewish folklore, Chelm came into being when an angel, tasked with distributing a sack of fools around the world, tripped and spilled all in one place! Chelm is a village of fools and the seven Elders are the most foolish of all. There are seven stories in all, each with a little lesson to be gleaned, but read them for the light-hearted humor and a few giggles. Great as a read aloud. Ages 7 and up.
THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin (1979 Winner)
I still remember my 5th grade teacher reading The Westing Game to the class. I was completely riveted and it continues to be one of my favorite children's books of all time. Mr. Westing, an eccentric millionaire, writes his will as a game. The named beneficiaries must discover who murdered him in order to inherit his fortune. "Players" are separated into teams with clues. This unusual mystery has a host of curious characters and surprising plot twists. Ages 9 and up.
CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY by Karen Cushman (1995 Honor)
In the 13th century, 14-year-old Catherine, the daughter of a landed knight, has a little more gumption than a girl in her times is supposed to have. Her father is trying to marry her off to enrich his coffers but she would rather run around with the peasants on the manor and thwart his efforts. This short novel is told in a diary format and is 100% hilarious. Ages 9 and up.
THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (1996 Honor)
Curtis' book is a tender and very funny portrait of a loving African-American family living in Flint, Michigan. Young Kenny’s parents decide to drive the family down to Birmingham where older brother Byron will spend the summer with grandma in an attempt to correct his delinquent behavior. Most of the action takes place before the family gets to Birmingham and despite the serious undercurrents of the story, there are many moments of this book which are laugh-out-loud funny. Highly recommended and very enjoyable. Ages 9 and up.
A SINGLE SHARD by Linda Sue Park (2002 Winner)
In 12th century Korea, Tree-Ear, an orphan, lives under the bridge with the disabled Crane-man. The two survive from day to day but Tree-Ear is fascinated by the local revered potter, Min. Circumstances collide and Tree-Ear becomes Min's apprentice. Tree-Ear must learn patience, an appreciation for hard work, as well as suffer through Min's bad temper. When Min sets about creating pottery to impress an emissary, Tree-Ear is determined to help him succeed and undergoes an important, life-changing journey. An utterly fantastic book. Ages 9 and up.
THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary D. Schmidt (2008 Honor)
Holling Hoodhood always seems to be getting into scrapes, but his father appears to be mostly concerned with how Holling's antics affect his business reputation. On Wednesday afternoons, most of his classmates head off to Catholic or Jewish religious education classes. However, the Hoodhoods are Presbyterian, so Holling stays behind at school where his teacher introduces him to Shakespeare. Holling's antics at school, his involvement in a Shakespeare production and the general mayhem he creates wherever he goes make for lots of laughs from a master storyteller. Ages 10 and up.
WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON by Grace Lin (2010 Honor)
This is one of my favorite chapter books ever, and long time readers of this blog won't be surprised to see on on a list of my favorite Newbery Award books. Minli's family lives in poverty and Minli sets out on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her family's destiny. Along the way she is accompanied by the Jade Dragon and her journey is filled with twists and turns of fate. Lin deftly weaves together Minli's quest, her father's stories, and wonderful illustrations to create a memorable tale. Don't forget the companion books, Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver. Ages 8 and up.
WOLF HOLLOW by Lauren Wolk (2017 Honor)
Annabelle lives comfortably on the family farm in a small Pennsylvanian town. She befriends an unusual but kind man, Toby, a WWI veteran who lives in an abandoned smokehouse behind her family's property. Annabelle's life is thrown into confusion when the mean-spirited Betty moves to the town and begins to bully, first Annabelle, and then Toby. This is a powerful, moving, memorable and complex book about truth, lies, kindness, and community. I read it straight through without putting it down, something that rarely happens these days! Ages 9 and up.
THE NIGHT DIARY by Veera Hiranandani (2019 Honor)
I could not put this book down! Nisha and her twin brother are half-Muslim, half-Hindu children living with their father in India just before the time of Partition. When the word comes that their town is to become part of the new Pakistan state, Nisha, her brother, her Hindu father and grandmother must make the harrowing and dangerous journey to the Indian border. Each chapter is an entry in Nisha’s diary as she leaves her comfortable life behind and struggles with her own questions of identity. Highly recommended! Ages 9 and up.
MY FATHER'S DRAGON by Ruth Stiles Gannett
I wanted to include My Father's Dragon on this Newbery Award books list because I have recommended it time and time again. That's because it is my number one suggestion for parents who are looking for a first chapter book read aloud for their preschooler or kindergartener. It's short, engaging chapters, plentiful illustrations and unique characters will hook young listeners from the first page. Inevitably, when kids start reading chapter books on their own, they will want to revisit Elmer's adventures with the baby dragon again and again. Ages 3 and up as a read aloud, ages 5 and up as an independent read (but do read it aloud first).