The Best Children’s Books Ever?: Our Top 10 List of Newbery Medal Winners of All Time

Dead End

By Noelle, Librarian Extraordinaire

Whether you know about it or not, the Newbery and Caldecott Awards are the prime achievements for authors and illustrators of children’s literature in America. Every January, a committee for each medal gets together and announces the winners they have been mulling over throughout the previous year. With this year’s award upon us, it felt like a good time to highlight once more these great titles.

Newberry

The Newbery Medal is named for John Newbery and has been awarded since 1922, its focus is for the best writing for children by an American author of the previous year. The category is broad, so the winner could be a novel or informational or even a picture book.

But with 90 years of Newbery winners and 74 years of the Caldecott, if you wanted to give your kids a taste of the best ones…which would you choose? If your child comes home and has to choose an award winner for a report, which would be a good pick? All award winners are not created equal.

I’m Here To Help!

Rather than trawling through the years of possibilities, I have read just about every Newbery I could get my hands on and thus, have done the groundwork for you. I do have to admit a few have escaped my rapacious appetite, so you may have to take these lists with the idea that I may change my opinion some day.

UPDATE: Looking for great illustrated children’s books? Make sure to read Our Top 10 Caldecott Award Winners of All Time.

With no more ado…

My Top 10 Newbery Picks (in no order besides making my list)

Holes

1. Holes by Louis Sachar. Winner in 1999. This book is really two stories: one is about Stanley Yelnats, incarcerated at Camp Green Lake for stealing a pair of sneakers. Camp Green Lake is a dry lake bed and the boys there have to dig a hole the length, width and depth of their shovel every day. The warden is looking for something…but what? The second story is about Stanley’s ancestor, the original Stanley Yelnats, Kissing Kate Barlow, and promises kept and broken. The two stories are woven together wonderfully and I really don’t know a kid who doesn’t like this book. Even the movie made of this book was pretty decent (and starred a young Shia LaBeouf). Sachar wrote a sequel called Small Steps, as well as several other great titles, most notably the Wayside School series.

Bud, Not Buddy

2. Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. Winner in 2000. Bud’s mother dies and he goes on a hunt for his unknown father with a few clues during the Depression era. Curtis has a great style of taking a serious subject (death and the Depression) and infusing it with heart and humor. His first book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, is equally wonderful and won a Newbery Honor. He has several others that are worth reading as well.

The Giver

3. The Giver by Lois Lowry. Winner in 1994. Jonah has been chosen to become the next Receiver of Memories in his community. As he takes on the job, he discovers some very disturbing truths about his “perfect” world and how it has been made into such a utopia. The plot is gripping and the ending will have you wondering. There are companion novels to read: Gathering Blue and Messenger.

A Wrinkle in Time

4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Winner in 1963. Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe get sent across the universe to save Meg’s father from the clutches of IT. The story is classic good versus evil, but it is also about the power of love, family and the choice to be selfish…or not. You’ll want to read the rest of the series, including Many Waters and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. L’Engle has a huge number of books, many of them mixing science, religion and suspense fantastically.

The Hero

5. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. Winner in 1985. Set in the kingdom of Damar, Aerin is a princess without magic unlike the rest of her royal family. She becomes driven to do something that will make her feel like she is contributing…which is when Aerin learns to become a dragon killer. And that’s just the beginning of her story. The characters and setting are terrific, and if you have a horse crazy kid, this will be right up their alley. Read more of Damar in The Blue Sword (one of my all time favorite books, and a Newbery Honor book).

King of the Wind

6. King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry. Winner in 1949. I’ll admit I was a horse crazy girl and read all of Henry’s horse-based novels. We follow Agba, a stable boy in Morocco, who loves Sham, a red gold stallion of prodigious speed. Sham will travel from the desert to France and then to England where he becomes the Godolphin Arabian, one of the original sires of the Thoroughbreds who race today. It is an adventure, it is a horse story, it is fabulous. Other great books by Henry include Misty of Chincoteague, Justin Morgan Had a Horse and Born to Trot.

Mrs Frisby and the Rats

7. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien. Winner in 1972. All Mrs. Frisby wants is to find a way to save her family when the field is due to be plowed shortly and her ill son Timothy can’t be moved safely. She is advised to visit the rats who live in the rosebush who may help her. The shy mouse discovers the mystery behind her late husband, the rats, and finds courage she never knew she had to help them.

The Westing Game

8. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Winner in 1979. When a millionaire dies, he has all the inhabitants of an apartment building come to the reading of the will. In it, he claims that he was murdered by one of them, and whomever can solve the mystery will earn all of his money. The story is told from multiple points of view as they race to figure out who committed the crime. Clever!

The View from Saturday

9. The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg. Winner in 1997. This book has one of those terrible covers I can’t explain, but the inside is worth the ugly outside. Four completely different students, along with their teacher, compete in an academic contest. Sounds simple until we begin to read the different stories of each of the students. Did the teacher put the team together? Or did the team put themselves together? The individual stories are fantastic and interesting and the way they come together is beautiful and inspiring and funny. Konigsburg also penned another Newbery winner, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which is a mystery adventure also worth reading.

When You Reach Me

10. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Winner in 2010. Miranda starts finding notes hidden in her things that show the person leaving them knows all about her…and are referencing things that haven’t even happened yet. As Miranda tries to unravel who is sending the notes (and you are beginning to figure it out, too), she realizes she may be able to change events and save someone from a tragic death. But is it already too late? Can you change what has already happened? This is a clever, amazing plot that will suck readers in and set them to wondering about the future…and the past…as they fit the puzzle pieces together.

There you have it, 10 great Newberys to read, plus a good handful of suggestions to keep going if you like any of those authors. I would in no way recommend every Newbery award winner. For example, Kira-Kira made me depressed and Up a Road Slowly was so unmemorable that I forgot I read it, started it again and got halfway through before I realized my error. If you want any more Newbery suggestions, there are many others I thought were very good, just not quite as wonderful as these.

And This Year’s Winner is…

Dead End

This year’s winner, by the way, is Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. A funny and slightly autobiographical story of a tiny town dying a slow death and its unusual inhabitants. Worth your time, although I don’t think it will make my Top 10. Keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming Top 10 Caldecott Award winners and happy reading!

NoelleNoelle has been a children’s librarian for over 15 years. She’s also been a student teacher, worked as an online account manager, worked in a pet shop and as a supermarket checkout clerk, and as a dishwasher and fry cook. She is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter. You can read more of Noelle’s book reviews at Rave Reviews Log
Noelle can be reached at “Noelle @ DadDoes.Com”

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