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 Newbery 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."
Winning books are included in the list below; runner-up honor books are available in the list here. Melcher's brainchild was the first children's book award in the world, and remains the measure of 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 an important standard for evaluating children's books in the United States and beyond.
1 = Avoid 2 = Not recommended 3 = Reservations
4 = Recommended 5 = Highly Recommended
F = Fighting/Violence L = Language A = Attitude W = Worldview S = Sexual
2016: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
- A young boy and his grandmother brave the mean streets of Brooklyn to serve hot food to the homeless.
2015: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
W - Junior high basketball gets the slam poetry treatment in this unrealistic novel of cliched family relationships.
2014: Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
A - Ridiculous in the best sense of the word, this tale of a girl and her superhero squirrel is tender and hilarious.
2013: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
F W - A large, artistic gorilla caged in a supermall gives voice to contemporary Evolutionistic propaganda.
2012: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
F L A W - A wild kid and an old woman in a New Deal town celebrate atheistic Communism and moral anarchy.
2011: Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
- A Depression-era girl discovers the truth about her father while waiting for him to return.
2010: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
F L - A sci-fi novel about time travel meets a realistic story of self-sacrifice and love in 1970s Harlem.
2009: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Dave McKean
F W - A masterful riff on The Jungle Books, these stories are set in a London graveyard peopled by ghosts and goblins.
2008: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz
- Short (usually poetic) plays allowing students to bring the Middle Ages to colorful life.
2007: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, illus. by Matt Phelan
L S - Lucky is a lovable little girl living in the desert without parents and without a clear trajectory for her young life.
2006: Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
L W - Postmodernism lite for young readers, Criss Cross encourages kids to find their own meaning and reality.
2005: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
- A somewhat maudlin family tale about Japanese-Americans in the 1950s who struggle with loss and growth.
2004: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo
L - A mouse who doesn't fit in explores a dangerous castle in search of his true love....and the meaning of life.
2003: Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
F L - Wat Tyler's Rebellion provides the implied backdrop for this rousing historical adventure about faith and identity.
2002: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
- A boy in Medieval Korea learns truths about the heart and hard work as he learns pottery-making from a master.
2001: A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
- Mary Alice describes life with eccentric, dour Grandma Dowdel, first love, and 1930s rural Illinois.
2000: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
W - A black orphan seeks his father in Michigan during the Great Depression and winds up touring with a jazz band.
1999: Holes by Louis Sachar
L - A pretty average boy is sent to a detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, and learns about life and friendship.
1998: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
F - The Dust Bowl is the backdrop for this heartbreaking yet hopeful novel-in-verse of father-daughter love and bonding.
1997: The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg
L - Four 6th graders and their paraplegic teacher learn about selflessness and friendship as they train for a trivia bowl.
1996: The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman
F L W S - A young orphaned waif forges her own identity amidst the squalor of a near-fantastical Medieval England.
1995: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
F L - 13-year-old Salamanca Hiddle travels to Lewiston, ID and through the past to come to terms with loss.
1994: The Giver by Lois Lowry
F S - In this challenging dystopian novel, Jonas learns that there's a heavy price for joy, and that it's worth paying.
1993: Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
L W - This story about the loss a 12-year-old girl and an old man experience accurately depicts grief, but falters in its solution.
1992: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
F L W - Marty Preston goes to great lenghts to rescue his beloved beagle Shiloh, and matures in the process.
1991: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
- Both gritty and fanciful, the story of a loving boy looking for home and finding very unlikely places to lay his head.
1990: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
- Young Annemarie's Jewish friend Ellen and her family are in danger from the Nazis in 1940s Copenhagen, Denmark.
1989: Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman
- A series of poems about creepy crawlies designed to be read out loud by two readers at the same time.
1988: Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman
- A balanced and engaging portrait (both literal and figurative) of the often either maligned or worshiped 16th president of the USA.
1987: The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
L - A young peasant who takes beatings for the prince saves their lives and helps them both discover true friendship.
1986: Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
- A tale of subtle beauty in which two orphans, their father, and a mail-order bride become a family on the prairie.
1985: The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
L S - The hero is actually a heroine and the crown plays little role in this ultimately forgettable high fantasy.
1984: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
- A young writer deals with the pains of his parents's divorce and growing up by writing letters to his favorite author.
1983: Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt
- A band of four siblings end up with their Gram in Maryland and begin to forge a normal life for themselves.
1982: A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard
- Nancy Willard uses Blake's poetry as a jumping off place for some nonsense verse of her own set in a magic inn.
1981: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
W S - A bleak but beautiful tale of a girl, a Chesapeake crabbing community, and loss of faith during World War II.
1980: A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos
- Young Catherine Hall describes the sorrows and triumphs of early 19th century farm life in New Hampshire.
1979: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
- This very funny mystery novel reveals many things, from who Sam Westing is to what it is that makes a friendship.
1978: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
L A W - A couple 10-year-olds in rural Virginia cope with life by inventing an imaginary kingdom where tragedy awaits.
1977: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
F L - Set in 1930s Mississippi, this beautiful story follows the black Logan family in their fight for dignity and land.
1976: The Grey King by Susan Cooper
F - A fantasy in which there are no swordfights, no dragons, and a wizard who only asks a riddle then disappears.
1975: M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton
A - M. C. Higgins must prove to his father Jones, his crush Lurhetta Outlaw, and himself, that he is, in fact, the Great.
1974: The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox
F L - Never has the slave trade been excoriated and exposed in such beautiful language, or with such great sadness.
1973: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
F S - Miyax discovers the old ways of the Eskimos, her people, just as their culture teeters on the edge of annihilation.
1972: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
- Some ingenious rats and a scared mouse brave evil cats and loud tractors to save the mouse's children from death.
1971: The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars
- Middle schooler Sara joins an all-day search for her missing mentally handicapped 10-year-old brother Charlie.
1970: Sounder by William H. Armstrong
F - An extraordinarily simple and moving story about a black family torn apart by injustice and held together by hope.
1969: The High King by Lloyd Alexander
F - Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper becomes Taran the War Leader in this action-packed epic fantasy of Prydain.
1968: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
- Claudia is altogether too typical, so she runs away with brother Jamie to hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
1967: Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
S - This subtle and beautiful meditation on growing up deals with death, loneliness, and love with equal candor.
1966: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
F - Brilliant historical novel about Juan, the black slave of renowned Spanish painting master Diego Velazquez.
1965: Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska
F - Young Manolo must learn to overcome his fears and face his bull (both real and metaphorical) to become a man.
1964: It's Like This, Cat by Emily Neville
F - This relatively forgotten little gem about a teenager in 1960s Manhattan is both gritty and heartwarming.
1963: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
W - The Murry children and Calvin O'Keefe set off across the universe to rescue Meg's dad and save the world.
1962: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
F W - A young Galilean named Daniel must choose between violence and peace as he looks for the kingdom of God.
1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
F - Karana must overcome her own limitations of education, her fear, and her loneliness in order to survive alone.
1960: Onion John by Joseph Krumgold
- Who knew it would take a backward immigrant no one understands to help a father and son learn to communicate?
1959: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
A W - 16-year-old Kit moves from Barbados to Connecticut, only to find her Puritan relatives too stuffy and solemn.
1958: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith
F L - Young Jeff Bussey becomes a man and falls in love while battling both Rebels and Unionists in the Civil War.
1957: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
- Two kids in rural Pennsylvania forget their city roots and run free through the woods and hills of their new home.
1956: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
- This factual novel follows "Nat" Bowditch from indentureship to his career as a sailor and brilliant mathematician.
1955: The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
- Some Dutch kids search the countryside looking for a wheel to put on the schoolhouse roof for storks to roost on.
1954: ...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold
W - Shepherding and the annual sheep drive to the Sangre de Cristo mountains are the path to manhood for Miguel.
1953: Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark
W - In a Peru untouched by modernity, Cusi learns who he is, where he comes from, and what he truly wants.
1952: Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
- Two kids in early 1900s Connecticut actually behave like children and look for their missing dog, Ginger Pye.
1951: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates
- A black man attains his freedom and gives the same gift to others throughout the 18th century in the United States.
1950: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
- Young Robin de Bureford traverses Medieval England in search of his destiny, handicapped by plague-ridden legs.
1949: King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
- Young Agba follows the legendary Godolphin Arabian from Morocco to France to England to ultimate greatness.
1948: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois
- An adventurous old loner finds wealth and an island utopia when his hot air balloon crashes in the Pacific Ocean.
1947: Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey
- Odd story about a stick doll with a hickory nut head who finds her true purpose in becoming part of a tree.
1946: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
F - The Boyers work and fight (literally) to stake out a living in the Florida swampland and pine forests.
1945: Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson
- Cute animals stress out about the new human tenants of Rabbit Hill, but their worries are all for naught.
1944: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
F L - On the eve of the American Revolution, Johnny Tremain grows to manhood and learns the price of standing up.
1943: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray
W - A young minstrel who sings a bunch of songs looks for his father and dog across late 13th-century England.
1942: The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds
F - 10-year-old Edward defends his mother and sister from Indians using an unwieldy antique firearm.
1941: Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry
F - Mafatu, ironically named "Stout Heart," travels away from his island to prove his courage in the face of peril.
1940: Daniel Boone by James Daugherty
F - Daniel Boone swings on wild vines straight out of history and into legend as an explorer and warrior.
1939: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright
- Young Garnet Linden lives the perfect rural American ideal for one summer, complete with hot dogs and fairs.
1938: The White Stag by Kate Seredy
F W - The epic story of Attila the Hun and the origins of the Hungarian people as no history book tells it.
1937: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer
L - In one year during the 1890s, a young girl gambols through New York, embracing life and learning about death.
1936: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
- A feisty 11-year-old redhead comes of age on the Wisconsin prairie at the time of Indians and the Civil War.
1935: Dobry by Monica Shannon
W - A young Bulgarian peasant very much alive to the world pursues his ambition to draw and sculpt.
1934: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs
W - The life of Louisa May Alcott mined for its autobiographical similarities to her best-known work, Little Women.
1933: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis
F W - A young Chinaman in 1920s Chungking navigates a restless city toward maturity and manhood.
1932: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer
W - Armer provides a moving portrait of Navajo Indians learning to transition between ancient and modern ways.
1931: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth
W - A young painter explores Buddhist spirituality in order to paint a perfect picture of Siddartha.
1930: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field
- In 19th-century New England, a sentient doll experiences life with a whaling captain's family.
1929: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly
F - Adventure and intrigue abound in this historical romance about Old Warsaw and a mysterious family pumpkin.
1928: Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji
W - An Indian boy raises a beautiful pigeon that gradually teaches him the importance of peace and gentleness.
1927: Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James
F - Written by a real cattle rustler and cowboy, this is to Western mustangs what Call of the Wild is to sled dogs.
1926: Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman
- These stories set in ancient China are eloquent and funny as they investigate all manner of reversed fortune.
1925: Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger
- Including myths, just-so stories, and magical adventures, these tales of South America are exotic and beautiful.
1924: The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes
F - Swords and fire abound as a young English boy sails with pirates, leads troops in the English Civil War, and more.
1923: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
- Doctor Dolittle speaks every animal language you can imagine, which allows him to travel the globe and help others.
1922: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon
W - A Western-centric history of the world complete with liberal modernist propaganda and revisionism.