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What year was the Newbery Medal first awarded?

I don't know about you, but I love a good children's books! They more than likely have a good message, but aren't too heavy and you can read them pretty quickly. Too be fair, I'm more a fan of picture books, but get sucked in easily to a good story. If you are an avid fan of children's literature, you've likely heard of the Newbery Medal and the Caldecott Medal.

On June 27, 1922, the American Library Association (ALA) awarded the first Newbery Medal, honoring the year’s best children’s book, to The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon. The idea for an award honoring outstanding contributions to children’s literature came from Frederic G. Melcher, a former bookseller who became an editor of Publisher’s Weekly in 1918.

Over his lengthy career, Melcher looked for ways to encourage reading, especially among children. In 1919, he co-founded Children’s Book Week with Franklin K. Mathiews, the librarian of the Boy Scouts organization. Two years later, Melcher suggested the creation of a children’s book award at a June 1921 meeting of the Children’s Librarians’ Section of the ALA. He proposed that it should be named for John Newbery, the 18th-century English bookseller and author who was considered the father or ”inventor” of children’s literature.

The group of children’s librarians loved the idea, and Melcher’s proposal was approved by the ALA Executive Board for the following year. The official purpose of the Newbery Medal, as agreed by Melcher and the board, was to encourage originality and excellence in the field of children’s books, to let the public know that children’s literature deserved the same recognition as poetry, plays or novels for adults, and finally ”to give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children’s reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field.”

Hendrik Willem Van Loon’s The Story of Mankind, a history of the world written especially for children, was the first book to receive the bronze Newbery Medal. In 1937, Melcher and the ALA began giving another annual award, the Caldecott Medal, for the best children’s picture book.

Together, the Newbery and Caldecott awards are the top honors for children’s literature in America. In addition to the medal-winning books, the award committees also cite a few other books each year as worthy of attention, which are today called Newbery or Caldecott Honor Books.

Do you have a favorite Newbery Medal winning title? Mine is probably the 1994 winner, The Giver by Lois Lowry, but there are several good ones... obviously.

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