The Newbery Project: What makes a Newbery a Newbery?

As I embark on this journey of reading all the Newbery winners (and hopefully all the runners up as well!) it occurs to me I should know what, exactly, makes a Newbery winner a Newbery winner.

According to the American Library Association, the Newbery award came about in 1922 and was intended to honor the best children’s book of the year before. The stated purpose of the award 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.

The award is limited to US citizens or residents– the only possible explanation for J K Rowling not winning– who have written books with children “up to and including age 14” as the intended audience. It must be written in English and it must be “distinguished,” meaing:
• Marked by eminence and distinction; noted for significant achievement.
• Marked by excellence in quality.
• Marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence.
• Individually distinct.
When deciding which book deserves the award, judges must consider

  • Interpretation of the theme or concept
  • Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization
  • Development of a plot
  • Delineation of characters
  • Delineation of a setting
  • Appropriateness of style.

It is NOT intended to be a popularity contest, nor are books chosen simply because they teach children a lesson.

Books are submitted for consideration to a committee.

Even with all these criteria, choosing which book is “most distinguished” is very subjective. I’m sure I am not the first person in the history of the award to ask why “that book” won over another. I will say that knowing the criteria makes it all that more exciting– I can’t wait to find out what book wins this year!