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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
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Flashback Friday: Authors of Newbery Past

This year, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Newbery Medal, an award that has evolved throughout its centenarian existence but has stayed strong to its roots of determining the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature of the year. On the final Friday of each month, we will take break from 2021 and look at past Newbery authors and titles.

The logo for the 100th Anniversary of the Newbery medal from ALSC.
The logo for the 100th Anniversary of the Newbery medal from ALSC.

I recently took K.T. Horning ‘s (notable children’s literature scholar) ALSC Newbery class and received lots of fun facts and information. It was enthralling to learn about the different legacies of the authors and here are five of my favorite fun facts, all taken from K.T. Horning’s Newbery course.

  1. E. L. Konigsburg is one of only five authors to have won the Newbery twice, first for FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS BASIL E. FRANKWEILER (1968)  and second for THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY (1997). The other double Newbery winners (Joseph Krumgold, Elizabeth George Speare, Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry, and Kate Di Camillo) won their second awards within a decade of their first. But Konigsburg won her second medal nearly three decades after her first. She opened her second acceptance speech with the line: “As I was saying, four days and twenty-nine years ago…” 
  2. Robert C. O’Brien, author of MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH (1972) was notoriously reclusive. He wouldn’t even attend the Newbery banquet to get his award in person, instead sending his editor, Jean Karl, to read his speech. After he died it was revealed that his real name was Robert Leslie Conly and the reason for his reclusiveness was that he worked for National Geographic and was not allowed to publish with anyone else. He used his mother’s maiden name so that he could write and publish children’s books secretly.
  3. Maia Wojciechowska was born in Warsaw, Poland. A refugee during WWII, she went to France and then the United States and by age 18, claimed to have held a record seventy-two jobs. She held a variety more in the course of her life, including undercover detective, restaurant hostess, masseuse, motorcycle racer, professional tennis player and instructor, ghost writer, and translator for Radio Free Europe.   Perhaps her most unusual job was as a matador in Mexico, where she became an expert bullfighter, who was lauded by none other than Ernest Hemingway. Her experience in the bullring informed her book, THE SHADOW OF A BULL (1965). 
  4. Robert Lawson is the only person to date who has won both a Newbery, RABBIT HILL (1945) and a Caldecott (THEY WERE STRONG AND GOOD, 1941). But today he is best remembered as the illustrator of the classic picture book The Story of Ferdinand by Munroe Leaf.
  5. Will James, the author of SMOKY THE COWHORSE (1927). was quite a character. He was a French Canadian who fled to the U.S. after allegedly killing another man. He posed as a cowboy named Will James and hadn’t been in the U.S. long before he was arrested for cattle rustling. He served a little over a year in prison, and then began to make his living as an artist and writer.

On a personal note, the Newbery author I will always remember is Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (SHILOH, 1992). She went to high school and college in my hometown of Joliet, IL and signed books at my public library. I remember our experience meeting her was very rushed, but I wrote her an e-mail years later thanking her for the ALICE books and she sent a lovely response. The most impactful book of hers for me was HOW I CAME TO BE A WRITER, which inspired me to write in any form, it doesn’t have to be fiction books!

What Newbery author was most influential to you? Let us know in the comments.

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About Emily Mroczek-Bayci

Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at emilyrmroczek@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says

    Another author with a big gap between Newbery years was Eloise Jarvis McGraw, who won three Honors, which included 35 years between her second (THE GOLDEN GOBLET, 1962) and third (THE MOORCHILD, 1997). When I introduced her as a featured speaker at a Mock Newbery soon after THE MOORCHILD came out I mentioned how impressive that was. She acknowledged that, but also said something to the effect of: It would have been more impressive if it was for Medals, not Honors. She said it graciously, and with humor, but still you knew she’d thought about this. She was a wonderful speaker, a very kind woman, and an amazing author who never wrote the same kind of book twice. Also, though it’s not Newbery-related, she co-wrote (with her daughter) an Oz book that was one of my favorites as a child: MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ.

  2. It certainly is a difficult assignment to select a favorite Newbery book. The first book that jumped into my mind was the Honor book Dragonwings by Laurence Yep (1976). Because I spent my youth in San Francisco, the description of the1906 earthquake seemed particularly poignant.
    I do believe the best Newbery winner ever written was Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (1944).
    Like Emily, I have also taken K.T. Hornung’s ALSC online Newbery course. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in children’s literature.

  3. Meredith Burton says

    These were such interesting facts, and the course sounds very intriguing.
    Lois Lowry is probably my most memorable Newbery winner. Number the Stars is one of my absolute favorite books of all time, and I love THe GIver as well. Both books were so different, but they are so beautifully written. I love Katherine Paterson, too, especially Bridge to Terabithia.
    SO interesting about Eloise Jarvis McGraw. I love how all of her books are so different, too. My favorite children’s book of last year actually won the Eloise Jarvis McGraw Children’s Book Award.

  4. Meredith Burton says

    And, of course, Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, is one of my favorite books, too. It definitely deserved the Newbery in my opinion, but an honor is good, too.

  5. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says

    I haven’t seen that many Newbery acceptance speeches live, but of the ones I attended, my 3rd favorite has to be Christopher Paul Curtis’ for BUD, NOT BUDDY. (My top two are from my Committee years, and they’re tied for first). I remembered a few things from the CPC speech and just looked up the text to make sure I had it right, and yes: He really was at the library, writing, when the Newbery Honor call came for his previous book (THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM—1963). And yes, he quoted a Sly & the Family Stone record (Thank You Faletinme Be Mice Elf Agin). I had forgotten some of the other great moments, like when he said: “I feel quite confident in saying that I’m the first person with dreadlocks to be presented with the Newbery.” Also, he tried to use his awards (he won the Newbery and the Coretta Scott King that year) to get out of housework for a year. Besides the funny bits, it was heartfelt and sincere and very inspiring.

  6. Carol Edwards says

    Mildred D Taylor is my absolute favorite Newbery author. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a book that will stick with me forever. I’m a big admirer of her other books too, most notably The Friendship which still haunts me. The Logan family is an enduring monument to resilience and honor.

  7. KT will be leading this Newbery course again in the winter! It begins in February 2022.

  8. Loved taking this course with you–and loved reading From the Mixed Up Files for the first time!

  9. Gregory Lum says

    Emily,
    I love this post! Nice fun facts!

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