One of the highlights of the American Library Association‘s Midwinter meeting (which just concluded here in Philadelphia) is the announcement of the winners of the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal, and ALA’s other book prizes. The Newbery is one of the oldest and best-known awards for children’s literature, and winning it can guarantee substantial sales, and keep a book in print for decades.
They’ve made some interesting picks this year. This year’s Newbery Medalist is Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village. It’s not just one story; it’s 22: a connected set of vignettes told by characters who inhabit an English village in the year 1255. Author Laura Amy Schlitz (who’s also a librarian) wrote them to be performed by 5th graders at her school. Newbery committee chair Nina Lindsay calls the end result “a pageant that transports readers to a different time and place” through “varied poetic forms and styles offer[ing] humor, pathos and true insight into the human condition.”
The Newbery Honor books this year are:
- Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
- The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
- Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
The Caldecott medal usually goes to short picture books for young readers, but this year’s winner is different. It’s a 500+ page graphic novel by Brian Selznick called The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and tells the story of an orphan in early-20th-century Paris living inside the walls of a train station, trying to finish an invention left by his father. The ALA Caldecott site says “the suspenseful text and wordless double-page spreads narrate the tale… which is filled with cinematic intrigue.” Sounds intriguingly steampunk to me.
The Caldecott Honor books this year are:
- Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story From the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine (writer) and Kadir Nelson (illustrator)
- First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
- The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis
- Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity by Mo Willems. (This is the only 2008 award recipient that I’ve yet read. We bought it for our daughter for Christmas, and it’s a hoot.)
I’m also happy to report that some of the earliest Newbery awardees have been put online. The early medal-winners have been up for a while, but the honor books can be just as interesting, though often much harder to find. Mary just posted Cornelia Meigs’ 1922 Newbery Honor Book The Windy Hill today to her Celebration of Women Writers, and the Open Content Alliance has recently scanned most of the other honor books from that year. (I’m still seeking a copy of Cedric the Forester, but all the others are now online.)
While Newbery medalists often stay in print indefinitely, lots of other good children’s books are published every year that quickly fade into obscurity. Even most of the early Newbery Honor Books are now out of print and hard to find. But perhaps not for long. Might some of the rightsholders to the older books, particularly the out of print titles, be willing to let them go online so kids can read them again? Or are some of them already fair game? In some initial investigations, Mary’s found more than a dozen post-1923 Newbery Honor Books, and two post-1923 Newbery medalists, whose copyrights appear not to have been renewed at all, and would therefore now be in the public domain.
You can read the online Newbery winners (and early winners of the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes as well) from the Prize-Winning Books Online exhibit of The Online Books Page. We hope to add more titles to this exhibit in the near future. If you’re interested in clearing copyrights or digitizing any of these books, I’d be very interested in hearing from you.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading these newly honored and newly digitized books!