Newbery Medal Created Legacy of Excellence in Children's Books

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 19, 2009 | Go to article overview

Newbery Medal Created Legacy of Excellence in Children's Books


Since 1921, the Newbery Medal has been awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American childrens book published in the previous year.

The idea came from bookseller and publisher Frederic G. Melcher when he proposed the idea to the Childrens Librarians Section of the ALA. He wanted to encourage original and creative childrens books and to have a vehicle for recognizing exemplary childrens books in the same way that poetry, plays or novels are recognized. He also wanted to give librarians who make it their lifes work to serve childrens reading interests the opportunity to encourage good writing of childrens books.

Melchers idea was enthusiastically embraced and the first Newbery award, named for 18th century English bookseller John Newbery, was awarded in l922. Now there are many childrens book awards, but the Newbery Medal was the first and still is the most prestigious and most discussed.

In 1937, Melcher proposed the establishment of a second annual medal to be given to the artist who created the most distinguished picture book published in the U.S. in the preceding year.

Originally, the two awards were determined by a committee of childrens librarians. Serving on the Newbery-Caldecott Committee, as it was known then, was among the highest honors for a childrens librarian. It was my pleasure to serve on this committee in 1978. In 1980, two committees were created, one for each award.

In 1991, the Association for Library Service to Children, the division of the ALA administering these awards, branched out into media and created the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Childrens Video. Like the Newbery and Caldecott awards, the focus is on quality and limited to entries originally released in the U.S.

"Distinguished" is the operative word in the criteria for both the Newbery and Caldecott awards. It is defined as:

* Marked by eminence and distinction: noted for significant achievement. …

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