John Newbery Medal

About the John Newbery Medal
The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

In 1921 Frederic G.Melcher had the Newbery Medal designed by René Paul Chambellan. The bronze medal has the winner's name and the date engraved on the back. The American Library Association Executive Board in 1922 delegated to the Children's Librarians' Section the responsibility for selecting the book to receive the Newbery Medal.

The inscription on the Newbery Medal still reads "Children's Librarians' Section," although the section has changed its name four times and its membership now includes both school and public library children's librarians in contrast to the years 1922-58, when the section, under three different names, included only public library children's librarians. Today the Medal is administered by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of ALA.

How the Newbery Medal Came to Be

The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year. On June 22, 1921, Frederic G. Melcher proposed the award to the American Library Association meeting of the Children's Librarians' Section and suggested that it be named for the eighteenth-century English bookseller John Newbery. The idea was enthusiastically accepted by the children's librarians, and Melcher's official proposal was approved by the ALA Executive Board in 1922. In Melcher's formal agreement with the board, the purpose of the Newbery Medal was stated as follows: "To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. 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."

The Newbery Award thus became the first children's book award in the world. Its terms, as well as its long history, continue to make it the best known and most discussed children's book award in this country.

From the beginning of the awarding of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, committees could, and usually did, cite other books as worthy of attention. Such books were referred to as Newbery or Caldecott "runners-up." In 1971 the term "runners-up" was changed to "honor books." The new terminology was made retroactive so that all former runners-up are now referred to as Newbery or Caldecott Honor Books.

Administered by:

Association for Library Service to Children logo

2004 Winner(s)

The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread

written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering (Candlewick Press)

“The Tale of Despereaux” draws the reader into an enchanting account of a smaller-than-usual mouse in love with music, stories and a princess named Pea. This tiny hero faints at loud noises but gathers the courage to fulfill his dreams.

With character and plot far more complex than the traditional fairy tale, separate stories introduce Despereaux, condemned for talking to the princess; the evil rat, Roscuro, who loves light and soup; and Miggery Sow, a farm girl with royal aspirations. Their fates are threaded together as Despereaux undertakes a hero's quest that culminates in mice, rats and humans living almost happily ever after. The lyrical language of this distinctive tale is as savory as the palace soup.

“With finesse, DiCamillo masterfully weaves drama, mystery and intrigue with high humor and fun into a cohesive, captivating and distinguished tale,” said Newbery Award Chair Eliza T. Dresang. “Time-honored themes of good versus evil, light versus dark, unrequited love, loyalty and search for identity have roots in many mythic and literary classics familiar to children. This story is sure to entice, challenge and delight readers of all ages.”


2004 Honor(s)

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

by Jim Murphy (Clarion Books)

“An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793” dramatically recounts the true story of the yellow fever epidemic that nearly decimated the population of Philadelphia at the end of the 18th century. Integrating newspapers, diaries, personal testimonies and period illustrations, the narrative delivers a social and medical history of the times and raises chilling questions about the disease today.


Olive's Ocean

by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books)

12-year-old Martha receives a page from the journal of a classmate, Olive, who has died in an accident. Olive's entry about a desire to be Martha's friend, to see the ocean, and to become a writer propels Martha into a journey from childhood to the brink of adolescence. Beautiful and powerful imagery drawn from the sun, sand and sea of Martha's summer with her family and friends at Cape Cod skillfully reflects the pain and joy of Martha's coming-of-age and awareness of her own mortality.