Once upon a time there was a bookseller. His name was Frederic G. Melcher, and he knew in his heart that books for children were just as important as books for adults, if not more so. Why, he wondered, are they so often ignored? He thought and thought, and decided in the end that it didn't matter why; what mattered was that he did something to change all that.
He did. In 1921, he proposed the Newberry Award to the American Library Association, a prize named for 18th-century English bookseller John Newbery to be given to the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year. The Association's Executive Board approved the idea, much to the joy of children's librarians everywhere, and the first Newbery Award was given in 1922.
The express purpose of the medal was "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."
Medal winning books are included in our list of titles; runner-up honor books are available in the ALA website list on the left of this page. Melcher's brainchild was the first children's book award in the world, and remains the measure all the others. He went on to initiate the Caldecott Award for best illustrated children's book, and together the Newbery and the Caldecott provide the standard for evaluating children's books in the United States and beyond.