The Newbery Award: Trivia and History

Kristine: Welcome to the Clermont County Public Library’s Booklovers Podcast. I’m your host Kristine and I am joined today by Youth Service Librarian, Cara and Collection Development Librarian, Stacy.


We’ve been talking about the Newbery award. And today during this episode, Stacy is going to share some fun Newbery trivia, and we’re going to discuss a few more of our favorite Newbery books from the past.

Remember that show notes with links to all of the titles we talk about is available at And Stacy, I’m going to turn it over to you. What fun trivia do you have for us today?

Recap about previous Newbery podcasts

Stacy: Okay, well, I feel like we’re just on our fourth hour of talking about the Newbery. There’s so much to say about it. And there’s so much that we aren’t even saying about it because there’s well, obviously a 100-year history, and then there’s just so much that goes into it. We’re doing all these podcasts because we are getting ready for the 100th anniversary of the Newbery awards, which is awesome.

So, we’ve talked a little bit about the history of the medal. We’ve talked a little bit about like how it came to be about the committees that are formed every year, the Newbery committee that’s formed and the criteria that they’ve used. So, if you’re interested in all of that, you can check out our other podcasts.

Who was John Newbery

But I’m going to talk a little bit about John Newbery, who the award is named after, and then I’ll just do a little bit of trivia. So, John Newbery and that is spelled with just one ‘r’. Just one, not a berry, like you’re going to eat a strawberry and that’s how I have to remember it because before we got so in depth about Newbery, I would always have to look up and see. But I’m going to remember from now on, that’s just one ‘R’.

He in his time was considered the father of children’s literature. Not because he was the first to publish children’s books because he wasn’t. But he was the first to turn them into a truly profitable business.

In, mid-18th century England, a new and growing middle class had money to spend on their children and Newbery gave them something to spend it on. So, beginning in 1744, he published about 100 story books for children plus magazines and what they called ABC books, which we would just call alphabet books today.

Start of the Newbery Award

And he therefore became the leading children’s publisher of his time. So, the Newbery award didn’t come to fruition for more than 175 years after Newbery. And that is when Publishers Weekly editor Frederick Melcher suggested that the American Library Association create an annual award for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

And they loved the idea. So, Frederick Melcher asked that it be named for Newbery, who was an Englishman that actually never set foot in America, which I find so interesting that the award is named after him. And it is limited to American residents. You have to live in the country at least, is it six months out of the year? Thank you, Cara. Yes. She knows all that great history.

So, I find that so interesting. You can’t be English and live in England and have published a book even though, then the award was named after an English man.

John Newbery’s first children’s book

So anyway, the first book that John Newbery authored for children was called A Pretty Little Pocket Book. And it consisted of simple rhymes for each of the letters of the alphabet. And to market the book to children of the day, the book came with kind of like a toy or a little keepsake. I find this really funny, but you have to remember it was the mid-1700s. So, the book either came with a ball for a boy or a pin cushion for a girl.

Yes, you’re pulling the same types of faces that I would pull and that children today would pull. Actually, I mean, a ball is not as bad a gift still, I guess, for a boy or a girl, but a pin cushion? I think that would be like a hard no from parents. They’d be like, no, please don’t give my child something they can stick needles into. Again, mid-1700s—but a pin cushion for a girl. I thought that was a fun little bit of history there. So that is just a tiny little snippet of history about John Newbery that I found very interesting.

Newbery trivia

So, three, quick little trivia facts that you can pull out of your pocket if you’re ever playing trivia at a restaurant or something, and they happen to ask you about Newbery awards.

Most Newbery Awards won

So, Cara mentioned this one in our last Newbery when she talked about Laura Ingalls Wilder. So, if you don’t know, she authored the Little House on the Prairie series and she received five Newbery awards, but never the top medal. So, she is received five Newbery honors or in her time they were referred to as runners-up. But not, the medal. She never won the Newbery medal, which I found very interesting.

There are six authors who have won two medals each; two that our listeners and readers probably know by name. One is Kate DiCamillo and she won for the Tale of Despereaux in 2004 and Flora and Ulysses in 2014. And the other is Lois Lowry who won for Number the Stars in 1990 and The Giver in 1994.

Majority of winners are women

And then my last little piece of trivia is my favorite that I came across. And that is of the 100 Newbery medals that have been awarded since 1920, two thirds of them have gone to women, which is awesome. So, if you think about 100 years ago, you know you were thinking about the year, like 1919 after women won the right to vote, or that was 1920. I’m getting my dates mixed up. I’m sorry. It was right around that time. You know, women truly weren’t acknowledged for a lot of their accomplishments. So, within the past 100 years to have the most distinguished book for American literature for children to go two thirds to women that’s awesome.

So, yay. All right. we’re going to jump into talking about more of our favorites or classic personal best Newbery medal winners or honors. And I think Cara is going to get us started with her first pick.

Cara: Mine are both by women. I don’t know about you, Stacy?

Stacy: No, they’re both by men.

Cara: I’m sitting here wondering, talking about the history of it, we know that the committees were made up of librarians and teachers, which are generally professions that are made up mostly of women, so that might’ve had something to do with it, as the people who were picking the books as well. But that’s interesting; I’d never heard that.

Favorite Newbery Award winners

Book cover for The One and Only Ivan
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Cara’s first pick – The One and Only Ivan

My first book is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, and this one is a newer Medal winner. Both of mine are Medal winners today; in our last podcast, both of mine were Honor books, but these are the true Medal winners. Both of them, I’m very excited to talk about.

This one won the Medal in 2013. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long; it was published in 2012. But it’s definitely only gained in popularity since then. I know a lot of schools use it for assignments, which I really give them kudos for, picking a newer book that’s really engaging and interesting to kids. And then of course, Disney just came out with a movie for it a couple of years ago. It’s only cementing its place in history even further.

Synopsis of The One and Only Ivan

If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s about Ivan the gorilla. It’s based on a true story.

He was a gorilla that was raised by humans and ended up at a roadside mall where he was an attraction there. But it’s written from his perspective in this book, so anthropomorphized in this case, but he really was a real gorilla. In this story, he has friends that live at the mall with him.

It’s an elephant named Stella and then Bob, who’s a stray dog. This story’s turning point comes when Ruby, who’s the other animal on the cover, comes to the mall. She’s a baby elephant who’s been taken away from her family, and it kind of makes Ivan realize how bad their conditions are and makes him want something better for Ruby.

He’s trying to save the animals that are living there at the mall. The real Ivan was moved to Zoo Atlanta after people petitioned for him to be moved out of his conditions at the mall. He lived there until August 2012, so right around when the story was written is when he passed away.

Why it’s one of Cara’s favorites

What I love about it is the way that Katherine Applegate is able to portray his voice through her really spare text. If you open the book up and look at it, there’s a lot of white space. This is the large print version, so it’s a little bit harder to tell, but there’s a ton of white space around the text.

I read an interview with her where she talked about how she was actually a struggling reader as a kid, so she really identifies with reluctant readers and understands how valuable this white space is to them, to be able to still feel like they’re reading a true chapter book and feel like they’re a real reader, even if they might be struggling.

And of course, the illustrations are just fantastic in this. There’s one of Ivan’s art with his hand print. They’re just sprinkled throughout the text, but they’re just lovely illustrations of the animals and what’s going on with the story.

Importance professionally

I would say that this book is important to me professionally a little bit more than personally. I remember reading it at the start of my career as a librarian and just loving the book and booktalking it to kids when we were going out to promote Summer Reading to schools, so this was the summer that it was published, before it was awarded the Newbery. I actually remember saying to a packed cafeteria full of elementary school kids that I thought it was going to win the Newbery Medal that coming year, and it actually came true, which is the only time my Newbery prediction has ever been right for a Medal winner, so that was pretty exciting for me.

Seeing Katherine Applegate accept the award

Then I actually had the honor of attending the Newbery banquet where Katherine Applegate accepted the Medal for The One and Only Ivan and gave her acceptance speech, which was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you ever get the chance to go to a Newbery banquet, if you’re ever in the city where it’s being hosted, I would highly recommend it.

Something that some people don’t know is that you actually don’t have to pay the ticket price to get in, which I did, just to have the full experience. It’s a little bit pricey, but you can actually just go in and stand in the back and not be at one of the tables, but you can still attend for free and hear the speeches.

But they do publish the speeches afterwards, so you can read that. I would definitely recommend looking up her speech. It’s just full of a lot of humor and was given in a very down-to-earth way. I really admire her as an author, and I’m looking forward to seeing her new book out this year. I haven’t read it yet, but I always look forward to seeing what Newbery authors come out with next.

Kristine: That’s really interesting, Cara. I didn’t know that the public could go to the banquet still, so that’s really neat. And I agree. It’s a great book. Definitely a well-deserved honor.

Stacy’s thoughts about The One and Only Ivan

Stacy: I think her new one it’s sort of along the same lines of like kind of animal conservation awareness and human impact on the animal world. I also loved The One and Only Ivan, it made me cry. So, if you’re picking it up for the first time, just be aware that it is a tear jerker, for sure. But it’s ultimately a heartwarming and uplifting book. Good choice.

Kristine: Stacy you have our next title for us.

Book cover for Scary Stories for Young Foxes by 
Christian McKay Heidicker
Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker

Scary Stories for Young Foxes

Stacy: Yes. I have Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker. And this is a newer book as well. Quite new, actually it won a Newbery honor in 2020, so it was published just a couple of years ago in 2019.

Scary books

And this was just kind of out of left field for me, at least personally. I didn’t read this until after it won one of the honors in 2020, because it just really wasn’t on my radar. Looking back, it got great reviews, but not being a huge middle grade reader myself, it just wasn’t something that caught my attention even though when I was a youth librarian, I knew that children and especially, mid elementary up through middle school, just clamor for the scariest book possible. We would have kids come in and say, give me the scariest book you have.

And this is definitely one of those where I’d be like, are you sure that you actually want a scary book? That is still appropriate for their age because this one yeah, it was quite scary. I thought, just look at that cover. Look at that fox there on the cover. The illustrations throughout were just fantastic in my opinion, but basically this story is a set of interconnected stories with breaks in between that focus on an old vixen who is a storyteller and these seven kits who are lured from their den with the promise of being scared by this storyteller vixen here.

Synopsis of Scary Stories for Young Foxes

So, it starts out with the seven fox kits leaving their den there. They had heard from their mother that there’s an old vixen who lives in her own den. And if you go there that she will just scare their little tails off with different stories and she does. She starts in on her story, and then after each story one of the seven little foxes get too scared and then runs back home.

The interconnected stories focus on two different foxes from two different litters. And one is a little female Fox named Mia, and another is a little male Fox named Uly. I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly as U-l-y. So, I’m going to say Uly, and they encounter dangers from predators, humans, and other foxes. And the two of them, Mia and Uly eventually meet and the stories and their separate stories are, in my opinion, just expertly woven together to create one story that is just very scary good. And I do actually mean scary that both the texts and the illustrations do not shy away from disease, dismemberment and even death. So, I’ll show you a spread where here’s the worst one, in my opinion, it’s House of Tricks. It will ruin Beatrix Potter for you.

You know, it’s not for kids who say they want to be scared, but they really don’t want to be scared. In my opinion, it was pretty scary. So, I think perfect for fans of Grimm’s fairy tales or the series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and even readers of Neil Gaiman.

Book cover for Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City by 
Christian McKay Heidicker
Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City by Christian McKay Heidicker

Companion book – Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City

So, a companion book called Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City was just published this past August. And that story is set several years after this original one with a different group of main characters. And this time they face dangers in an urban setting. But this one is all about foxes in the forest.

I love it because it’s kind of an unusual pick for the Newbery. We talked about in past podcasts where the committees tend to choose historical fiction and realistic fiction, that in my opinion, don’t always have great reader appeal. Especially for the age that they’re written for. I think they get a lot of accolades from adults and librarians who are like, yes, this is the most distinguished book for children, but children are like, give me something scary. So, I love that this fits that, but it was also beautifully written, expertly written. And I think the committee did a great honor that year and chose a good horror story for one of the honor titles.

Kristine: It sounds, and the picture is a little disturbing, a little scary. So I think, kids that want to be scared will enjoy that book.

Stacy: So the story that features Beatrix Potter was based a little bit on her life, obviously she wrote wonderful animal stories, and I don’t want to name the time frame cause I can’t say when she was alive, but people hunted back then and they trapped and stuff. And I think she did a little bit of that as well. I, don’t know whether she hunted to you know if she did catch and release, if she caught to kind of study animals to study their behavior and stuff for her stories. So the author Christian McKay Heidicker definitely takes some liberties with that. But it makes for a good scary storytelling as well.

Book cover for Bridge to Terabithia
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia

Kristine: So, Cara, I think you have another title to share with us.

Cara: I do. My second book is Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, which won the Newbery Medal in 1978. We had two fairly new books, and now we’re going back quite a bit, but a book that is definitely still around. It’s still popular and still used in schools as far as I know.

Synopsis of Bridge to Terabithia

The basic story is about two friends, and there’s a tragedy that happens. Jess Aarons is the main character who’s narrating the story, and Leslie Burke is the character who comes to town. She’s new, she’s really different. She beats all the boys at the races in the schoolyard, so none of them like her. But Jess actually ends up befriending her. She’s his neighbor, so they’re close by, and she has this idea to build this kingdom in the woods that she calls Terabithia, where they can rule their own little kingdom and not have to worry about school bullies or siblings or any of that.

But then there’s a tragedy that happens. And I’m going to say this is not a spoiler, because this book has been around for so long. I guess if you haven’t read it, it is. But Leslie ends up dying. I personally love this story because I remember reading it in sixth grade and I feel like it was the first book that I had a huge reaction to because I remember just sobbing when Leslie died.


I found it really relatable as a kid. I was surprised when I read it a couple of years ago that I felt like it was more dated than I remembered. It’s interesting if you’re a re-reader; I don’t reread too many books. But especially when I go back and reread my favorite books, which I will do occasionally, that you bring new life experiences to it.

I feel like, after the birth of each of my children, when I would go back to one of my favorite books that’s about a relationship and a couple that has a child, every time it was a little bit different, which is really interesting. So obviously our life experiences influence our reading of a book.

And I didn’t get to read [Bridge to Terabithia] fully before we did this recording, but I did kind of glance through it. And I feel like it felt a little different this time too. I didn’t quite get through all of it, but I didn’t feel like it was as dated. I think what I was remembering, the first time that I read it as an adult, was the music teacher is kind of a prominent character and she’s considered to be a hippie by the rest of the community, and they kind of shun her for that. So I think that was part of it. But as I was reading it this time, I really felt like Jess’s voice stuck out. I feel like that must be one of the distinguishing qualities that the committee decided on, because he just has such a unique voice that really does feel authentic.

So that part, for sure, I feel like is distinguished. I would say that this book is her most popular out of all of her titles; she has quite a few that are very well known. But it might be considered her most controversial. At one point, it was the third-most challenged book in the country, and that’s cited as being for its use of curse words. It does have quite a few in the text. When [Paterson] was interviewed about it, she talks about how it’s most often used in schools and it’s kind of the most visible [of her books]. So anytime a book is used a lot in a curriculum, but also as a Newbery Medal winner, that just ups its visibility considerably.

Book challenges

She thought that that was probably why it gets attacked so much. But she also said that she really thinks that it’s not about the curse words. It’s about a fear of death and a fear of talking to children about death, that’s really what’s behind all the uproar over it.

I haven’t really heard of any challenges to it recently. I don’t believe it made ALA’s most recent lists of books that were most challenged, but it definitely has been in the past. Interestingly enough, Katherine Paterson was also at the Newbery banquet that I attended, accepting the 2013 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which is now known as the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, for authors who’ve made a substantial and lasting contribution to children’s literature. Along with this one, she also won the Medal for Jacob Have I Loved in1981.  She’s part of that two medal-winner club that you were talking about, Stacy, only one of six people who’ve ever done it. And then she also has one Newbery Honor to her name, for The Great Gilly Hopkins in 1979.

I can’t remember if I mentioned this one was 1978. She definitely deserves her many accolades.

Stacy: Yeah. I remember reading this one too, and it just destroyed me because going into it, especially like I do you believe I was assigned this in school? Going into it, your teacher doesn’t really tell you what it’s about, or at least mine didn’t then. And then you get to the part where she dies and you’re like, oh my God, you had no idea this was coming. Such a strong, like she said, such a strong reaction. Definitely one that I think probably ended up on the top eight titles, if you remember from our staff picks. It’s definitely one of those where so many people have a special place for it in their heart.

Book cover for Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel

Frog and Toad Together

Kristine: Well, thank you Cara for sharing those. And I think Stacy, you have another one, a unique one to share with us.

70s vibe

Stacy: Yeah, I chose this one, I think partially because it is so unique and it is Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel. And it was a 1973 Newbery honor, which if you can tell by the cover, it looks like a very seventies cover with the muted color palette. That kind of burnt orange color that showed up everywhere, I think in the seventies, like on carpets and furniture and everything and artwork. I did choose this one because it’s just nostalgic for sure. But also, because I don’t want to say this for sure, but I think it might be one of the only easy reader type of books that have won.

Maybe it’s the only one that has won a Newbery honor or medal. So, this was an honor winner, not the medal. So, if you’re in the library, you’ll find it in our beginning reader section, which is an introduction in between easy picture books and juvenile chapter books. So, they’re much smaller. They have short chapters and this is one of those I Can Read books. So, it is ideal for sharing with emergent readers. But I think adults love Frog and Toad just as much as kids do who have never read it before. In these stories, there are four stories and frog and toad of course are best friends.

About Frog and Toad Together

They do everything together. When toad admires flowers in frog’s garden, he gives him seeds to grow a garden of his own. When toad bakes cookies, frog helps him eat them. And when frog and toad are scared, they’re brave together. So, everyday situations everybody can relate to, but it’s fanciful because it’s frog and toad and they’re dressed so snazzily here on a double-seater bicycle, which just adds to the charm, I think of frog and toad.

So, I just wanted to read this little bit School Library Journal, which is one of the professional publications that we as librarians refer to all the time to learn about the best titles for children. They called this story collection, “a masterpiece of child-styled humor and sensitivity” and when I looked at it on Goodreads, it has a 4.21 average star rating out of five stars with over 42,000 ratings, which I think is amazing.  Everybody loves Frog and Toad.

I’ll read you my favorite piece. Which I have marked here and it is from the story Cookies. So, here’s our little spread here. Look at them sitting, just enjoying cookies as we all love to do. I’ll read, it says:

Frog and Toad ate many cookies, one after another. You know toad said with his mouth full, “I think we should stop eating. We will soon be sick.”

And they go back and forth and say, yes, you are right. We should stop eating, but let’s eat one more. And then frog and toad eat another one and they’re like, we should stop eating and let’s have one very last one. The best part is when he says we must stop eating, cried Toad as he ate another.

Epitome of childhood and adulthood

I just think that was the epitome of both childhood and adulthood. Like just having the willpower to say no to one more cookie. And I think that actually turned into a meme that I saw surface during 2020. And it just like captured people’s mindset very well during that time where there wasn’t a lot to do and you just didn’t have willpower to say no to one more cookie.

Just like I was saying, the very seventies vibe and the nostalgia invite adults to read it again and again, and it just, I think has an endless appeal for new generations. So, I definitely wanted to highlight this kind of an unconventional pick but just one of my favorites. So, Frog and Toad Together.

Cara: That’s one of my favorites too. I’m glad you picked that one. Cookies is my favorite story out of that one. There’s another volume that has a story about ice cream that I’ve used a lot in storytime. I definitely think they’re relatable, like you’re talking about, trying to have the willpower and not to eat cookies.

I think most people are either a Frog or a Toad. I’m definitely a Toad. He’s a list-maker, he’s a worrier. That’s me.

Stacy: For sure. They’re very relatable and I just find them so charming and just adorable illustrations.  One of my favorites.

Kristine: Thank you for sharing that.

Stacy: Yeah.

Book cover for The War That Saved My Life by 
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved My Life

Kristine: I have one more title for us.

And this is probably one of my favorite juvenile books that I’ve ever read. And it is The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. And this is the only an honor book. And I have to say I’m a little disappointed by that.  This won the honor, I believe in 2016 and was beat out by a picture book.

The picture book is great, but I’m just a little bit disappointed that the picture book squeaked by this one, I’m not sure how or why, because it is a fabulous, fabulous book. Very well-written, distinguished in so many areas.

Synopsis of The War That Saved My Life

So this book follows Ada, who was born with a club foot. So she can’t walk.

And her mom is really embarrassed by her and therefore she does not let her leave their apartment ever, not even to go to school. So in 10 years, Ada is 10, in her 10 years she’s never been outside.  Her only knowledge of the outside world is what she can see through the window.

Kristine: And then World War II happens.

She lives in London, in the city, which is very unsafe with all the bombings. So families start sending their children out to the countryside where it’s safer. Well,  Ada’s little brother Jamie is supposed to be sent, but Aida’s mom doesn’t think Ada needs to go. So she is not planning to send Ada.

Ada decides that she is going to.  So she sneaks out with her brother in the night to go to the train and with her brother’s help and some help from others she makes it.  And so they go to the countryside.

There are so many things that she’s never seen or even imagined just like the grass and seeing ponies and having enough to eat. These are all brand new experiences for her.

She meets a woman named Susan who takes in her and her brother. And, even though Susan doesn’t want these two kids from London coming to live with them, she still takes them in. And It’s just a really heartwarming story to see how even though, she didn’t want to take these two kids and these two kids leave an impression on her and she on them.

She gets Ada, her first pair of crutches. She teaches her to read. It’s just a really heartwarming story where we see a lot of growth and transformation in the characters. The setting is beautiful. It’s a really unique plot. Its historic fiction, so it’s set during world war two, but that’s not the main part of the story.

It’s the relationship between the characters, it’s the transformation of the characters. I think the author did a great job of looking at how a 10 year old girl would feel and react in the situation that she’s been placed in. I would highly recommend this book. I think adults, as well as kids would enjoy it.

Disappointment that it won the Honor and not the Award

And like I said, I’m a little bit salty that it did not win the Newbery award, that it just got the honor. It was definitely deserving. So that is the title I wanted to share with you today.

Cara’s thoughts about The War That Saved My Life

Cara: I agree. I love that one too. I can see why you’re upset about it not winning the Medal. It was definitely one of my favorites that year to win the Medal, and it’s stuck with me still, after all this time, which the Honors don’t tend to. When you’re talking about within the past couple of years, thinking about all the ones that you’re looking at [that are eligible] for the Newbery Medal or Honor.

Historically, as we’ve talked about, some of the Honors really stick out more than the winners. That one’s definitely stuck with me. I think it’s because of the juxtaposition of her horrible, abusive life that she had beforehand, and then the love and the comfort that she experiences with her new caregiver when she makes it out into the countryside, it’s just totally different.

She’s just experiencing life in a different way. That really stuck with me.

Stacy: That’s not one I read, but I just think like with any award, doesn’t matter if it’s a book award or the academy award or whatever, it’s all subjective. So, it’s a winner in your heart.

So, you can always recommend that title to others and like you said, the picture book that did win that year was wonderful and definitely deserving of all the other accolades that received, but yeah.

Kristine: the gold or bronze in my heart.

In closing

Kristine: All right. Well, I thank everybody, Cara and Stacy for joining me for our Newbery podcast today. As we’ve mentioned, be sure to tune in to our Facebook page to vote for your favorite Newbery.  Make sure you keep an eye out for that.

And as always, we will be anxiously waiting for the announcement of the Newbery award for 2022. You can watch that. It will appear live virtually on January 24th, 2022 at 8:00 AM. A live video stream will be available at Thank you for joining us listeners. Remember to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. Viewers, follow the Clermont Library YouTube channel for this and other great library content. You can find all of the books we talked about in our catalog or in our digital collection via Libby, Hoopla or Freading.

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