The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
A Newbery Book Should Have Broad Age Appeal
There’s nothing worse, in my mind, with a Newbery winner that is too high such that only the most advanced elementary school readers can attempt it. The Westing Game is a good example of that for me. It won in 1978.
A Newbery Winner Does Not Have to be Middle Grade Chapter Book
Last’s year picture book surprise, Last Stop on Market Street, opened up the possibility that other genres are being seriously considered. Both Roller Girl and El Deafo took home Newbery Honor prizes too, putting graphic novels right in the hunt.
The Newbery Seeks Diversity?
Winning a Newbery does have a significant financial impact for an author which can not be underestimated. This award can affect what might get published in the future, showing that diversity books appeal to a broader audience than the characters they represent. Brown Girl Dreaming is a good example of that in showing the world that a girl about a brown girl would be read by non-brown girls.
My 2018 Newbery Predictions
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
The only reason I suspect that this book won’t get Newbery recognition is because of previous honors via The One and Only Ivan which won in 2013. But this story is remarkable in its spareness that still conveys exquisite detail of multi-generations of intertwining stories as told by a special tree who has been rooted in place for centuries, assisting in the making of wishes come true. Applegate adds in an especially relevant theme of anti-Muslim bigotry which is a Very Important Message, pushing this book, at least for me, into Newbery recognition territory. It’s a kind of Charlotte’s Web meets [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla
Charlie has OCD and possibly also has Aspergers Syndrome. Accommodating his needs leads his crew on a cross-country trip in search of birds in a circuitous path that finalizes at a hospital in Virginia caring for their brain-damaged father. While Charlie’s siblings are on this trip — three siblings with their own strong personalities — it’s their caregiver, the mysterious Ludmila whose own backstory they discover throughout the course of their journey, that ties her, indirectly, to their father. And it’s during this adventure that includes meeting an assortment of people that pushes Charlie out of his usual routine and into a quest for both birds and a chance to meet a mysterious ornithologist that inspires him. Weaving these backstories together to such a satisfying ending is what makes this book Newbery caliber for me. It reminds me of Walk Two Moons and Moon Over Manifest, yet Pla manages to tie even more backstories together which is quite a feat. All the more remarkable that this is her debut book! [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
One Last Word: Wisdom From the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes
The concept of this poetry book is so interesting. Nikki Grimes selected poets of the Harlem Renaissance and then picked poems in which she built a new poem based on it. The format of the new poem takes a line from the poem and turns it into a kind of Acrostic Poem called “Golden Shovel.” The word from each original poem ends the line of free poem that Nikki Grimes creates. She also makes her new poem a kind of echo or reply to the original poem. Despite this very difficult format of Acrostic Poem, Grimes poetry sings. That this book celebrates African American poets that came together in a particular location, supporting and inspiring each other is magical. The torch has been passed from one generation to the next via Nikki Grimes and in a most satisfying celebratory way! Grimes does not leave out African American illustrators and artists from the Harlem either. Their artwork graces each poetry pairing. [poetry anthology, ages 10 and up]
Blooming at the Sunrise Motel by Kimberly Willis Holt
This book has all the ingredients to be Newbery winner. The plot slowly reveals itself in a delicious way, exposing the backstory of the characters with their secrets slowly coming to life. But these are not deep and dark secrets. These are heartwarming and so human. It starts with a tragedy that brings young Stevie to her grandfather’s motel, but as a seed takes root, so does she. The metaphors work beautifully to showcase a family able to heal, and ultimately the story is about hope and redemption. I’m rooting hard for this one, pun intended. It reminds me a little bit of Walk Two Moons. [chapter book, age 8 and up]
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
Lauren Wolk debut book, Wolf Hollow, won a Newbery Honor last year. I thought it was good and it made my list, but it was a little dark for me. I like Beyond the Bright Sea even more, and I hope that a previous honor won’t up the bar this year for her. Crow arrives on an island in a barely seaworthy boat as an infant as is adopted and cared for by Osh, a man who arrived at this same place on a year previously and is living in isolation. Now Crow is twelve years old and wondering about her birth parents, and the stigma she bears from where she originated. Into this identity crisis, Wolk adds in lost treasure, a dangerous criminal, and the true meaning of family. This is a very satisfying read. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca
This is my pick for Early Chapter Book if the Newbery goes with this genre. It’s pretty hard to match Kate DiCamillo’s Flora and Ulysses which won a few years ago but is, I think, the only other Early Chapter Book. Flora and Ulysses had a stronger voice but Princess Cora and the Crocodile has an important message about being yourself and finding your passion. It’s a charming story of quiet rebellion with the help of a “fairy crocodile.” [early chapter book, ages 6 and up, or as young as 4 if used as a read aloud]
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
The plot is a little too simple and straightforward to be a Newbery contender but I think this is a really important book that needs to be in every library and that’s why I’m adding it to my list. There are a lot of book awards by ethnicity but not currently for Arab American or Muslim themed books and that is so needed right now in order to combat racism and negative stereotypes. Hena Khan does this so effortlessly in Amina’s Voice. Her characters are relatable who struggle with things that all kids can relate to like friendship issues, fitting in, and balancing old world versus new world values and traditions. In the midst of this, a tragedy takes place in Amina’s community that, sadly, is not unthinkable. The silver lining is how it brings together those not directly affected into helping those who are. This speaks to the strength of Americans. Each one of us has the ability to be an ally against racism and injustice as we find it in our own communities. This is the power of this book. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
Sheinkin is a master storyteller, reminiscent of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist though I don’t he was. He weaves the backstory to the Indian Boarding Schools including the underlying racist history behind it seamlessly into a page-turner of Jim Thorpe, Pop Warner and the rise of football in which the Carlisle Indian School was its most unlikely team to succeed. But succeed it did, going on to a season in which they would best the Ivy Leagues, then the most competitive in this new sport. Sheinkin doesn’t shy away from calling out bigotry or exploitation especially in telling a simultaneous backstory of Pop Warner who leaves a complicated legacy.
In some ways, this is the rise and fall of super athlete Jim Thorpe. Had he be born in different times, the outcome would be very different. In more modern times, he would be sitting on a multi-million dollar contract in football. Instead, Jim Thorpe’s future is constrained by racism, despite being quite possibly the best athlete of his generation. For non-football fans like myself, this is a page-turner fascinating read. For those who like history or football, it’s a must-read. Sheinkin’s meticulous research comes through, building a compelling story that feels very pertinent today even though it’s our history. [nonfiction historical fiction, ages 10 and up]
Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King
I’d have to add Me and Marvin Gardens to my longshot Newbery List but it’s a perfect pairing with Undefeated, especially if you compare the loss of land by each parties and use that topic to drive a discussion. While the loss of land is a small part of each book, it’s an interesting way to look at White Privilege versus racism and genocide of Native Americans. Me and Marvin Gardens also has a magical realism related to an environmental message that makes this story especially important. That King also weaves in storylines of difficult friendships, bullying and alcoholism move this into Newbery territory for me. It might not for the actual Newbery judges, however. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls by Tonya Bolden
After the popularity of the movie Hidden Figures, this “discovery” of African American achievement feels long overdue. For African Americans, I’m sure the people in the book are known but those who lived long ago were especially erased from white history. Either their achievements were pocketed by white superiors, or their names were separated from their Black identity. Tonya Bolden has written what I suspect is a labor of love to bring the backstory and details of these sixteen role models into the light as they well deserve. This book serves as a beacon for all readers but especially those who are African American. [nonfiction biography compilation, ages 10 and up]
The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli
Spinelli has won the Newbery in 1990 for Maniac Magee and a Newbery Honor in 1997 with Wringer, but there have been many, many contenders along that way that have not garnered a prize. I think The Warden’s Daughter has all the elements for Newbery recognition. At first, when I started the book I fretted that this would be a version of the Al Capone series and was prepared for grim prison reality. Thankfully, this story is much more humane; in fact, the story revolves around the humanity of a female prisoner, the warden himself, and a turbulent time for his daughter. The resolution is a slow build as the reader gets to know and bond with the characters with a surprise reveal at the end. I highly recommend this book, Newbery recognition or not! [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.