The Newbery Medal, named after English publisher John Newbery, is given to authors of the year's best children's literature. First bestowed by the American Library Association in 1922, the prestigious Newbery Medal was the world's first award for children’s books, and over the last century it has honored many beloved classics. Here are eight books that have won the medal through the years.
1. The Twenty-One Balloons // William Pène du Bois
This 1947 fantasy novel follows the adventures of a retired schoolteacher on a mission to travel the world in a giant hot air balloon. When a run-in with a seagull forces him to land in Krakatoa, he discovers interesting residents and their ways of life. Up against some strong competition—like Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (who would win the following year for King of the Wind) and The Quaint and Curious Quest of Johnny Longfoot by Catherine Besterman—The Twenty-One Balloons won the Newbery medal in 1948.
2. Holes // Louis Sachar
Holes (1998) is the tale of Stanley Yelnats, a boy unjustly accused of stealing shoes. Stanley is sent to a boy’s detention camp where he's forced to dig holes in the hot sun every day. Through interwoven story lines, Stanley soon learns the truth behind his family’s curse and the dark history that looms over Camp Green Lake. Holes won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and the 1999 Newbery Medal. The novel is required reading at many middle schools, and Disney released a movie adaptation of the book in 2003 that earned $71.4 million globally.
3. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH // Robert C. O'Brien
When her husband dies, a mama mouse with four children must figure out a way to move to their summer home, which becomes increasingly difficult when one of her kids get pneumonia. A secret society of intelligent laboratory rats decides to help her, and she learns more than she ever knew about the husband she lost. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH went on to win the Newbery Medal in 1972 and was adapted into an animated film in 1982. The Russo brothers (Avengers: Endgame) are reportedly making the book into a live action movie.
4. Up A Road Slowly // Irene Hunt
This 1966 coming-of-age story follows Julie, a girl who is forced to live with her aunt in the country after her mother dies. Over the course of 11 years, Julie must maneuver through the joys and pains that come with friendships, love, and growing up. Up a Road Slowly was Irene Hunt’s second book; her first novel, Across Five Aprils, was a Newbery Medal runner-up in 1965.
5. Walk Two Moons // Sharon Creech
Published in 1994, Walk Two Moons is the story of 13-year-old Sal and her journey with her grandparents from Ohio to Idaho. During the trip, she regales them with fantastical tales of her friend, Phoebe Winterbottom, while also longing to reunite with her mother again. Creech's book won the 1995 Newbery Medal in addition to the UK's Reading Association Award and Children's Book Award.
6. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry // Mildred D. Taylor
Taylor’s 1976 book is the somber story of a young girl, Cassie Logan, and her family during a long, dark year in southern Mississippi during the Jim Crow era. The Logans are a Black family that must survive in a town filled with night riders, burnings, and unbridled racism. The novel won the 1977 Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award, an honor given to Black authors of children's literature that reflects the African American experience.
7. Bud, Not Buddy // Christopher Paul Curtis
During the Great Depression, a 10-year-old boy named Bud is sent to a foster family in Flint, Michigan, after the death of his mother. But Bud fails to get along with his new family and decides to set out to look for his dad, whom he believes to be a famous jazz musician. Bud, Not Buddy won the Newbery Medal, the International Reading Association's Children's Book Award, and the Coretta Scott King Award in 2000.
8. The Girl Who Drank The Moon // Kelly Barnhill
In this fantasy novel, the people of the Protectorate are fearful of a witch who lives in a forest. Since they deem her to be evil, they leave her a baby as an annual peace offering. But Xan, the witch, is a loving woman who gives those babies to grateful families each year. Xan accidentally gives one of the infants—whom she names Luna— the power of moonlight, and the girl must learn how to wield her magic. All the while, the people of the Protectorate secretly plan to get rid of the witch for good. Barnhill’s book won the Newbery Medal in 2017, a fact that surprised the author. She told The Washington Post that she thought it was too weird for people to understand.