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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 if you would like to contribute to the discussion.

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 following list is the opinion of the Newbery Book Discussion Group and does not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Allen County Public Library.
  1. The Giver by Lois Lowry (1994) Brilliant. One question for debate: are they dead or alive at the end?
  2. 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.
  3. Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman (1988) A stirring lesson in history and humanity.
  4. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1990) Well written, memorable and gripping historical fiction.
  5. 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.)
  6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1963) Even "non-science fiction fans" enjoyed this clever tale.
  7. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1978) This tightly-crafted book is a tear-jerking examination of loss.
  8. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1977) Historical fiction at its best.
  9. 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!)
  10. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2010) A Wrinkle in Time meets the $20,000 Pyramid. Tesser well.
  11. The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman (1996) Gritty, captivating.
  12. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (1986) A plain story, told well.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1979) Quirky, but some thought it was fun.
  18. Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (2005) A well-written, honest story of friendship and family. Keep your Kleenex close by.
  19. 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.
  20. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien (1972) Clever story idea. But what, exactly, does NIMH stand for?
  21. Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (1965) Characterization and a sense of place and time make this more than a story of killing bulls. Olé!
  22. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (1968) Good fun, good characterizations.
  23. 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 tale.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
  26. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi (2003) "It was light and sweet, and took little chewing to get down, which I found passing strange." (p.161)
  27. 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.
  28. Missing May by Cynthia Rylant (1993) This story about bereavement deeply touched some, failed to connect to others.
  29. 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.]
  30. The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois (1948) Some older titles still do captivate the reader.
  31. Onion John by Joseph Krumgold (1960) Some felt this story has stood up remarkably well over time .
  32. Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Gray (1943) We were all surprised by how not bad this book was -- faster than a walking pace.
  33. King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (1949) This is a very comfortable horse story. (But for how long can horses really lie down?)
  34. 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.
  35. The White Stag by Kate Seredy (1938) Who knew Attila was a good guy? He may have murdered, but he was just fulfilling his destiny.
  36. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (2000) Read this before Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963. Bud is fun but not as believable.
  37. 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.
  38. Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary (1984) A medium book about a medium boy.
  39. 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.
  40. 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.])
  41. 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.
  42. 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.
  43. 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 between twins.
  44. 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.
  45. 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.
  46. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1959) Somewhat entertaining; patrons looking for a "serious" witch story will be disappointed.
  47. Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (1953) Not bad, but Cusi just "ain't no Charlotte."
  48. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (1985) Enjoyable fantasy, even for those not usually drawn to the genre.
  49. Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman (1926) Surprisingly--not bad! These tales have held up rather well.
  50. 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.
  51. Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1992) Engaging. For those who read the book some time ago: quick, did the dog die in the end?
  52. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (1973) OK adventure that left many of us cold.
  53. Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (2011) A great book for Kansas!
  54. 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."
  55. 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.
  56. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (1995) Good storytelling, emotionally touching. One question though: will it hold up over time?
  57. 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.
  58. Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (2006) The group gave it an audible, exasperated gasp.
  59. The High King by Lloyd Alexander (1969) Entertaining fantasy that pulls along the reader, even many who would not generally enjoy the genre.
  60. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (1961) An OK story, we had some questions about authenticity and character voice.
  61. The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong (1955) An impossibly impossible series of events that brings people and storks together.
  62. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Brink (1936) The "adventures" of a pioneer girl that leaves modern-day readers wondering "so?"
  63. 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.
  64. 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.
  65. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (1950) This was a wholesome read.
  66. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (2007) The group liked it, but totally didn't love it.
  67. The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric Philbrook Kelly (1929) Is this story based on legend, or is it total fiction?
  68. 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.
  69. Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (1947) Some of us thought this was pleasant; others wished Squirrel had eaten Miss Hickory's head sooner.
  70. The Grey King by Susan Cooper (1976) Enjoyable while reading, but most of us couldn't remember much about it just two months later.
  71. 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.
  72. 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.
  73. 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.
  74. 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.)
  75. 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.)
  76. Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt (1967) We all agreed that Julie's bumpy, disjointed ride to adulthood moves very slowly.
  77. ...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold (1954) ...And now move on; this one doesn't cut it.
  78. Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (1945) A young reader in desperate need of an animal story might like it???
  79. Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (1937) Skate on by this one.
  80. The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (1971) Hopelessly 70s; today's readers want (and deserve) better.
  81. 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?
  82. The Matchlock Gun by Walter Dumaux Edmonds (1942) Tension builds. Tomahawks fly. Matchlock fires. Bergom op Zoom!
  83. Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (1952) The only "pie" this Group couldn't swallow.
  84. 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 to Nirvana"?
  85. Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (1946) May have been a great read in 1946, but nothing to recommend it now.
  86. Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (1939) The only "good luck" about finding this Thimble is that it's pretty short and has no sequels.
  87. 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.
  88. Dobry by Monica Shannon (1935) It's a plateau of a story, but the part about the gypsy bear was tight.
  89. 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???)
  90. 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 Mary R. Voors, Manager, Children's Services at

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