Newbery Knowledge

Trivia about Newbery Award winners:

At the Banquet

When Marguerite Henry came to the 1949 ALA convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to accept the Newbery Medal for King of the Wind, she brought her horse, Misty, the subject of 1948 honoree Misty of Chincoteague. The publicity stunt was a surprise to ALA leadership, who were less than thrilled. Misty wasn’t allowed to attend the banquet — she stayed at the Rand-McNally booth.

E. L. Konigsburg is one of six authors to win the Newbery twice. (Prior to 1958, an author was not allowed to win more than once, unless the vote was unanimous.) The other double winners — Joseph Krumgold, Elizabeth George Speare, Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry, and Kate DiCamillo — each won their second within a decade of their first. But Konigsburg’s wins, for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968) and The View from Saturday (1997), came nearly three decades apart. She opened her second speech: “As I was saying, four days and twenty-nine years ago…”

Robert C. O’Brien was notoriously reclusive. He didn’t even accept his 1972 Newbery Award for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH in person, instead sending his editor, Jean Karl, to read his speech. His real name, Robert Leslie Conly, was revealed after his death, as was the reason for his reclusiveness: he worked for a publisher and had signed an agreement to not write for any other company. He used his mother’s maiden name to secretly publish children’s books. His daughter Jane Leslie Conly won a Newbery Honor for Crazy Lady! in 1994.


About the Authors

The author of 1927’s winner, Smoky the Cowhorse, was a French Canadian who fled to the U.S. after allegedly killing another man. He assumed a new identity as a cowboy named Will James and was soon arrested for cattle rustling. He served over a year in prison, and then made his ­living as an artist and writer. He is one of two Newbery Medalists with a mug shot (the other is Jack Gantos, author of 2012 winner Dead End in Norvelt).

Monica Shannon’s 1935 Newbery-winning Dobry tells the story of a Bulgarian peasant boy who longs to become a sculptor. The tale is loosely based on the life of Atanas Katchamakoff, who, incidentally, illustrated the book.

In 1936, when Carol Ryrie Brink’s Caddie Woodlawn won, three of the four Honor Book authors (Elizabeth Janet Gray, Kate Seredy, and Armstrong Sperry) went on to win Newbery Medals in subsequent years. Phil Stong was the only honoree who did not.

Esther Forbes won the Pulitzer Prize in 1943 for her biography Paul Revere and the World He Lived In. The following year, she won the Newbery for Johnny Tremain, a novel set during the Revolutionary War, in which Paul Revere is a character.

Robert Lawson is the only person to date who has won both a Newbery Medal (for Rabbit Hill, 1945) and a Caldecott Medal (for They Were Strong and Good, 1941).

Lois Lenski lived for several months in each of the settings of her seventeen regional novels to get to know the people who lived there, and each book was based on a real child. After the second book, Strawberry Girl, won the 1946 Newbery, she got letters from children all over America, asking her to come live with them and write about their communities.

Carolyn Sherwin Bailey based Miss Hickory, her 1947 Newbery Medal winner, on a doll her grandmother made out of a hickory nut and apple-tree twigs. The book ends bizarrely with a squirrel plucking the hickory-nut head off the main character, and then Miss Hickory’s headless body wandering around until she grafts herself onto an old tree. The end.

Marguerite de Angeli, 1950 winner for The Door in the Wall, started as an aspiring singer, even auditioning for Oscar ­Hammerstein I. When her parents dissuaded her from that career, she began illustrating picture books and then longer works such as Bright April, one of the first children’s novels dealing with racial prejudice.

While working as a children’s librarian at the New York Public Library, Eleanor Estes wrote Newbery acceptance speeches in her head. When tuberculosis left her bedridden in 1941, she wrote children’s books…and then a real Newbery acceptance in 1952 for Ginger Pye.

Maia Wojciechowska, 1965 winner for Shadow of a Bull, claimed she held ­seventy-two jobs before age eighteen. During her life, she worked as: an undercover detective, restaurant hostess, masseuse, motorcycle racer, professional tennis player and instructor, ghostwriter, translator for Radio Free Europe, and matador in Mexico. (Ernest Hemingway even lauded her bullfighting skills.)

Christopher Paul Curtis modeled the character of the children’s librarian, Miss Hill, in 2000 Newbery winner Bud, Not Buddy, on Charlemae Hill Rollins, the longtime head of the children’s department at the Chicago Public Library. Rollins served as the 1957 Newbery chair and was the first Black librarian to fill that role.

Jack Gantos’s semiautobiographical Dead End in Norvelt, the 2012 Newbery winner, is set in the Pennsylvania town where the author grew up. Norvelt was founded as a model community during the Depression and was named in honor of First Lady EleanNOR RooseVELT.


All in the Family

Eliza Ingersoll Bowditch, wife of 1922 Newbery winner Hendrik Willem van Loon (The Story of Mankind), was the great-granddaughter of Nathaniel Bowditch, the subject of Jean Lee Latham’s 1956 Newbery winner, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch.

Two sons of Charles Boardman Hawes (whose 1924 Newbery-winning The Dark Frigate would be ineligible by today’s standards, since it first appeared serialized in the boys’ magazine The Open Road), John Peter and Baldwin “Butch” Hawes, sang with Pete Seeger in The Almanac Singers, a precursor to The Weavers. They were later joined by Woody Guthrie.

Ruth Sawyer, 1937 winner for Roller Skates, started the first storytelling program at the New York Public Library in 1910. Her daughter, Margaret, was also a librarian and was married to Robert McCloskey, who won the Caldecott in 1942 for Make Way for Ducklings. Sawyer’s granddaughter was immortalized in McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal, a Caldecott Honor in 1949. McCloskey won another Caldecott Honor in 1953 for Journey Cake, Ho! ­written by his mother-in-law — Ruth Sawyer.

Author of 1939’s winner, Thimble Summer, Elizabeth Enright was the daughter of political cartoonist W. J. Enright and children’s book illustrator Maginel Wright Enright, and the niece of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Armstrong Sperry’s journeys in the South Pacific inspired most of his writings, including 1941 winner Call It Courage, which is set at sea. His brother, Paul, also loved sailing and invented a shoe with a rubberized sole — the Sperry ­Top-Sider — after accidentally slipping on a boat deck.

As a teen, Paula Fox (1974 winner for The Slave Dancer) put a baby up for adoption. Years later she reconnected with her daughter — and learned that her granddaughter was grunge music icon Courtney Love.

Sid Fleischman, 1987 winner for The Whipping Boy, and his son Paul, 1989 ­winner for Joyful Noise, are, to date, the only parent/child pair of Medalists.

Russell Freedman’s father worked in publishing, so young Russell had dinner with authors such as John Steinbeck and Margaret Mitchell. Freedman said he would have preferred to dine with his favorite childhood author, Hendrik Willem van Loon. In 1988, Freedman followed in van Loon’s footsteps, also winning the Newbery for a nonfiction book, Lincoln: A Photobiography.

The 2002 banquet occurred on Father’s Day, and Linda Sue Park opened her acceptance speech for A Single Shard by giving her medal to her father, ­saying he had always encouraged her to be a reader and a writer.

From the May/June 2022 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: The Newbery Centennial.

Kathleen T. Horning

Kathleen T. Horning

Kathleen T. Horning is the director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a library of the School of Education, University of Wisconsin–Madison. The author of From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books, she teaches online courses for ALSC on the history of the Newbery and Caldecott medals.

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