In January of each year, the Newbery Medal is awarded to “the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”
There are so many great children’s books published each year, how in the world do they pick just one? Who are these experts in kids’ fiction? How do they decide? And, most importantly, why is there only one “r” in Newbery?
The Newbery Medal is awarded by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). The winner is selected by a committee of 15 members of the ALSC. The committee reads books that were published in the preceding year. To be eligible, the 2017 winner had to have been published in 2016. Publishers submit books to the committee, but the committee members can also suggest titles. These committee members read A LOT of books.
Twice in the fall, they meet to start narrowing down the field. Then they have a final vote. Each judge votes for three books and ranks them first, second and third. A first place vote earns four points, second place gets three points and third place gets two points. That was the simple part. Here comes the hard part. The winning book must have garnered at least eight first place votes and at least eight more points than the other books.
So, that is who and how the winner is selected. But why is there only one “r” in Newbery?
Because the award was named after John Newbery, an 18th century English book publisher and seller. Back then, they didn’t bother with the extra “r”. In 1744, he opened a bookshop and publishing house. He was one of the first publishers to print books for children.
In 1921, Frederic G. Melcher, an ALA member, proposed establishing an award for children’s books and naming it after John Newbery. It was approved in 1922 and was the first children’s book award in the world.
Its exact purpose as stated on the ALSC website is “To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children’s reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field.”
Good writing, indeed. If you haven’t made a point of reading Newbery winners and Newbery honor books, you should. They are beautifully written and wonderfully crafted stories that are not just for children. A good book is a good book for everyone.
And the winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal goes to… Kelly Barnhill, author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.
Also congratulations to the honorees:
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly
Wolf Hollow written by Lauren Wolk
To see a complete list of 2017 award winning children’s books, click here: 2017 ALSC award winners
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