Newbery Books Ranked!
Since 1922, the single "most distinguished contribution to children's
literature" has been given the annual John Newbery Medal by the Association
of Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
Every list you've probably ever seen arranges these award winners by
year of award, or perhaps by author. Not this one.
Finally, the list everyone really wants... the awards, arranged--not by year--but
by how much a totally biased group of readers enjoyed them. Which Newbery winner, in this group's
opinion, is the most fun to read? Well, read on...
For nearly five years, the completely biased, non-scientific, Newbery Book Discussion Group met
monthly to digest a randomly selected past Newbery book and an equally random
pot luck dinner. Group members were primarily teachers and librarians. All liked to read
children's and young adults' books. None could pass up a Dove Bar while arguing
the merits of the book under discussion. This Group read, debated, and ate its way to
creating a list of Newbery winners in rank order of what we liked best.
In November 2000, the Group "reordered" the list and decided to discuss and add the latest Newbery winner each year. The annotations, like the ranking itself, reflect the flavor
of the Group's discussion. Our most recent addition was in March 2011, when we added Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool, to our ranked list.
Everyone in our group recognizes that it is a difficult process to rank these titles. Many times, because we tended to average the total of where
everyone in the group thought a book should be ranked, a person's all-time favorite ended up further
down the list than he or she would have liked. To honor some of these titles, here are the books that individual
members of the Group believe should be placed as number one. Some received more than one vote:
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (currently number 46)
- A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (currently number 14)
- Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (currently number 55)
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (currently number 6)
- Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (currently number 4)
- The Giver by Lois Lowry (currently number 1)
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (currently number 7)
- Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (currently number 12)
- Missing May by Cynthia Rylant (currently number 28)
- The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess,
Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo (currently number 15)
We would like to hear your comments on this list. Please email Mary Voors at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute to the discussion.
The following list is the opinion of the Newbery Book Discussion
Group and does not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Allen
County Public Library.
So, here are the Newberys... in order! One note about the last third of the
list: the last ten or so titles are excruciatingly difficult to place in
order. Why? In the Group's humble opinion, once you hit "really bad"
it's pretty difficult to place in a precise ranking. So "The List!":
- The Giver by Lois Lowry (1994) Brilliant. One question
for debate: are they dead or alive at the end?
- Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (1998) Although told in
free-form poetry, this gritty and heart-wrenching story reads
like a brilliant novel.
- Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman (1988)
A stirring lesson in history and humanity.
- Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1990) Well written, memorable
and gripping historical fiction.
- Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman
(1989) Everyone loved the poetry...the only debates were how poetry
stacks up to other forms (novels, non-fiction) and the "performance"
issue (the book is at its best when read out loud by two people.)
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1963) Even "non-science
fiction fans" enjoyed this clever tale.
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1978) This
tightly-crafted book is a tear-jerking examination of loss.
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1977)
Historical fiction at its best.
- The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg (1997) Did
we choose this book, or did it choose us? (Ya gotta read the book
to get it!)
- When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2010) A Wrinkle in
Time meets the $20,000 Pyramid. Tesser well.
- The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman (1996) Gritty,
- Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (1986) A
plain story, told well.
- Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz (2008) With
characters who could live next door to you, this timeless topic will be interesting
to children forever.
- A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (2002) With its compelling
characters and vivid sense of time and place, this book exceeded
our expectations. Let's hope the paperback has a better cover.
- The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess,
Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo (2004) Dear Reader,
this is a timeless tale, told well, even though a few of us felt the rat
got the raw end of the deal.
- Sounder by William Armstrong (1970) Prepare to be deeply
depressed by this effective period piece. Argument: some sources
place the period as pre-turn of the century. Others say 1930s
Depression era. We think it's more likely pre-19th century.
- The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1979) Quirky, but some
thought it was fun.
- Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (2005) A well-written, honest story
of friendship and family. Keep your Kleenex close by.
- Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt (1983) We thought the characters
were very strong and moving, but had questions about how it stood
up as the second book.
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
(1972) Clever story idea. But what, exactly, does NIMH stand for?
- Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (1965) Characterization
and a sense of place and time make this more than a story of killing
- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E. L. Konigsburg (1968) Good fun, good characterizations.
- M.C. Higgins, The Great by Virginia Hamilton (1975) A
strange story told with great craft: lyrical writing, vividly
drawn setting and characters save this otherwise unbelievable
- A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (2001) While this
is a sequel, the tale stands alone well, filled with memorable
characters and funny scenes.
- The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare (1962) We were all
pleasantly surprised by this book's very readable story about
life in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus. With minor exception,
we found this tale plausible and entertaining.
- Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi (2003) "It was light
and sweet, and took little chewing to get down, which I found passing
- The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman (1987) Probably one
of the few Newbery books likely to be seen by the kid you hand
it to as one they expect to have fun reading.
- Missing May by Cynthia Rylant (1993) This story about
bereavement deeply touched some, failed to connect to others.
- Holes by Louis Sachar (1999) This was an entertaining
read, although the group found some five-foot holes in the story.
[Save your groans: I don't write 'em, I just add 'em to the page.]
- The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois (1948)
Some older titles still do captivate the reader.
- Onion John by Joseph Krumgold (1960) Some felt this story
has stood up remarkably well over time .
- Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Gray (1943) We were all
surprised by how not bad this book was -- faster than a walking
- King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (1949) This is a
very comfortable horse story. (But for how long can horses really
- A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal 1830-32
by Joan Blos (1980) This one reads like an authentic journal of
the time period.
- The White Stag by Kate Seredy (1938) Who knew Attila
was a good guy? He may have murdered, but he was just fulfilling
- Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (2000) Read
this before Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963. Bud
is fun but not as believable.
- Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (1991) In spite of some
larger-than-life episodes that gave us pause, we liked this kid
and rooted for him the whole way.
- Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary (1984) A medium book
about a medium boy.
- Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (1944) Learn the real
story of Paul Revere's ride; we were surprised by the political
intrigue and the convincing characterization.
- The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (1974) A sober, thought-provoking
tale. (Jessie would have had a much better time if he had only
traveled with Amos Fortune...[Bad inside joke -- see the BOTTOM
of the list.])
- Gay-Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Mukerji (1928)
We didn't expect much from this "story of a pigeon," but found
a compelling tale of courage and tenacity.
- Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry (1941) Call it not-so-boring,
especially when you throw in a shark, an octopus and a wild boar.
- Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1981) While
we're not sure who this book is really for, we appreciated the
author's craft in creating a pretty gray picture of the connection
- The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (1923)
A good adventure story and a fun read that has held up well over
time. The revised edition (1988) addresses and attempts to correct
many of the issues of racism.
- The Story of Mankind by Hendrik van Loon (1922) We waited
'til last 'cause we thought it'd be excruciating, but it wasn't
bad. It has gone through several editions.
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1959)
Somewhat entertaining; patrons looking for a "serious" witch story
will be disappointed.
- Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (1953) Not bad, but
Cusi just "ain't no Charlotte."
- The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (1985) Enjoyable
fantasy, even for those not usually drawn to the genre.
- Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman (1926) Surprisingly--not
bad! These tales have held up rather well.
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2009) If you want a really scary story,
read the first four pages. And then read on to learn about Jack, and Jack, and Jack, and Nobody.
- Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1992) Engaging. For
those who read the book some time ago: quick, did the dog die
in the end?
- Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (1973) OK
adventure that left many of us cold.
- Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (2011) A great book
- I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño (1966) For
the artistically inclined of us, this was an enjoyable read. For
the rest, comments ranged from "ho-hum" to "ick."
- Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith (1958) Some of us enjoyed
the book much more than others; it comes down to whether or not
you buy the picture of war experience portrayed in this atypical
(and long-winded) Civil War story.
- Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (1995) Good storytelling,
emotionally touching. One question though: will it hold up over
- Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James (1927) We figger you'll
like this yarn about the eddication of a wobblety legged colt
who grows up to be a hunkydory cowhorse.
- Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (2006) The group gave it
an audible, exasperated gasp.
- The High King by Lloyd Alexander (1969) Entertaining
fantasy that pulls along the reader, even many who would not generally
enjoy the genre.
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (1961) An
OK story, we had some questions about authenticity and character
- The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong (1955) An
impossibly impossible series of events that brings people and
- Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Brink (1936) The "adventures"
of a pioneer girl that leaves modern-day readers wondering "so?"
- Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis (1933)
A hard sell, based on title and looks--but surprisingly, not a
bad read by today's standards.
- Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham (1956) The pace
of this book was driven by an ash breeze; while most of us thought
it was worth the effort, others were too becalmed to find it enjoyable.
- The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (1950) This
was a wholesome read.
- The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (2007) The group liked it,
but totally didn't love it.
- The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric Philbrook Kelly (1929) Is this
story based on legend, or is it total fiction?
- Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer (1932) Sensitive portrayal
of a young Navajo's mystical and beautiful journey to manhood
in the early 1900's.
- Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (1947) Some of us thought
this was pleasant; others wished Squirrel had eaten Miss Hickory's
- The Grey King by Susan Cooper (1976) Enjoyable while
reading, but most of us couldn't remember much about it just two
- Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Joseph Finger (1925) One
or two at a time, the stories aren't bad...all at once is a drudge.
- A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced
Travelers by Nancy Willard (1982) Many of the Group responded,
"HUH??" Others found it a poetic romp for the imagination.
- Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (1930)
For a doll, self-assured Hitty's adventures are pretty incredible.
Unfortunately, some of us didn't find her adventures compelling
enough to pull the book through. Modern readers will also take
issue with some racial stereotypes.
- It's Like This, Cat by Emily Cheney Neville (1964) This precursor
to the "Young Adult Problem Novel" is, unfortunately, dated. (And,
the cover of the 1996 HarperCollins paperback is way misleading.)
- Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Eggertsen Sorensen (1957) It's
a miracle the Group finished the book (maybe it was the promise
of homemade maple cookies that spurred us on.)
- Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt (1967) We all agreed that
Julie's bumpy, disjointed ride to adulthood moves very
- ...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold (1954) ...And now
move on; this one doesn't cut it.
- Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (1945) A young reader in
desperate need of an animal story might like it???
- Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (1937) Skate on by this
- The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (1971) Hopelessly
70s; today's readers want (and deserve) better.
- Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs (1934) Suggest a
title change to "Insufferable Louisa"... need we say more?
- The Matchlock Gun by Walter Dumaux Edmonds (1942) Tension builds.
Tomahawks fly. Matchlock fires. Bergom op Zoom!
- Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (1952) The only "pie" this
Group couldn't swallow.
- The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (1931)
Blessedly short. Some of us were bothered by seeming cultural
insensitivity in the title, since the book is a story about an
artist and the Buddha...So, shouldn't it be "The Cat Who Went
- Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (1946) May have been a
great read in 1946, but nothing to recommend it now.
- Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (1939) The only "good
luck" about finding this Thimble is that it's pretty short and
has no sequels.
- The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes (1924) Due to the difficult
dialects, meandering plot, unconnected details and slow-moving
story, we can only guess that this posthumous award was given
out of pity.
- Dobry by Monica Shannon (1935) It's a plateau of a story,
but the part about the gypsy bear was tight.
- Daniel Boone by James Daugherty (1940) It's next to
last for a reason... poor biography, bad writing... stick to the
"Fess Parker" version on TV Land. (Yikes! Did we say that???)
- Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (1951) If
Pollyanna were a slave... The things that come out of his mouth
are invented at best, offensive at worst.
This list was created and is maintained by Mary R. Voors.
Comments and suggestions can be sent to Becky White at email@example.com,
or to Mary R. Voors, Manager, Children's Services at firstname.lastname@example.org.