Why Kids Are 100% Right To Shun Newbery and Caldecott Award Books

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photo by cogdogblog
Where does one start in the world of children's books?

There are so many choices today.

Different genres and sub-genres.

Original stories and spin-offs ... and spin-offs of spin-offs.

Books for different age groups. Classics. Modern stories.

Are all children's books good read-alouds? If not, how do you find out which are the good ones?

Should you read classics? Should you read graphic novels?

It is one thing to read silently for yourself, but it is a completely different game to read a children's book aloud. Especially when you have a pair of loving eyes watching your every move or when that pair of eyes is restless and watching everything else except your moves.

There are a couple of important things that you must know.

If you enter a dark phase when reading loses its allure  - there is a source of light that will help you shine the brightest beam across the ocean of children's books.

Two lights in fact, like two Pharos lighthouses. Two wonders of the world of children's literature.

The Newbery and Caldecott Medal (and Honor) books. Both are awarded annually by the American Library Association for outstanding contributions to children's literature.

[If you want a ranking of some of the most popular winners, here is a list of some of the most popular Newberry winners and most popular Caldecott winners from GoodReads. ]

Having a medal can mean that a great book becomes timeless.

It can make a bestseller out of a popular book.

Libraries will typically order countless copies.

And if you ask kids about these timeless medals, well, face it, they simply .... couldn't care less.

When The Teacher is Ready, The Book Will Appear

The dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.
       Wallace Wallace

Newbery and Cladecott winning books are easily identifiable. They carry a large printed medal on the cover. What does it mean? It means that the book won the award or was an honor book that year.

But, what does it mean to kids?

photo by archer10
It simply means that a secretive bunch of grown-ups held meetings in some far-away places behind closed doors to decide which book should be force-fed down children's throats this year.


Who knows.

Probably just because grown-ups think that kids should be reading more. Nothing new there. 

Well, our kids have a point. 

Think about it. Their definition is not far from the truth.

Depends on your perspective.

So, award-winning children's books have several things going against them from the outset.
  1. a shady bunch of anonymous grown-ups liked the book and slapped a sticker on it 
  2. the rest of the adults "insist" (although we may not use that word, but our body language gives us away) that kids should read it.
I wouldn't want to read it either.

Let me rephrase that.

At least, I wouldn't want to read it alone. As a chore.

But, if I had company, I might be willing to change my mind.

Especially, if I had someone enthusiastic about reading it aloud with/to me and even help me with the "boring parts" or "difficult" stuff.

Someone to put things in context, to answer my questions - well, then I might even enjoy it.

I don't blame kids who are not willing to read a book if they do not see someone else willing to invest time reading.

Especially as it was a group of adults who said it was so fabulous anyway.

And when I say grown-ups, I don't mean adults working at the kid's school.

It is not enough for us adults to put a medal on a book and then expect someone to read it because of the sticker.

Remember, throughout history medals were awarded to individuals deemed to have distinguished themselves with notably courageous deeds.

Let us show our kids what medals are all about.

We can distinguish ourselves by reading the Medal and Honor books with our children. From cover to cover.

We as parents must earn those Newbery and Caldecott medals, if we want our kids to see them as something more than mere shiny stickers.

Note: We love Newbery and Caldecott books at our home and we read them ALL the time. Medal and honor books - we have many in our collection. This post was an exercise in thinking, trying to view the books from a different position.

Note 2: This post was - although the title may indicate otherwise - written in support of the ALA book awards. My sole wish is to promote more reading of these books - by parents and children together.


  1. Wow. I have many things to say here. I must start by saying thank you again for all you do to promote children's literature and reading aloud to children. 

    This isn't a new argument (I'll try and dredge up for you a post from School Library Journal's Fuse #8 blog last fall). Each year, authors, teachers, readers, and librarians bring up the Newbery, wondering if what is selected is the best choice of outstanding literature for a given year or is just something a sentimental group of librarians got teary over. Just a few months ago, a group of children's authors I'm a part of discussed this very thing. Some felt the award is no longer relevant. Some felt the books selected need to better represent titles that are broadly read. Some felt (as I mentioned above), the small pocket of people choosing winners were largely won over by books that stirred nostalgia or felt lofty. It was an interesting discussion.

    A similar discussion happened this year over the National Book Award (a discussion that was largely forgotten in the midst of the SHINE / CHIME fiasco).

    Anytime you single out any type of art for special merit you'll have backlash. There are always broad opinions, and that's okay. More and more American Library Association awards exist now -- the Schneider Family award (for portraying disability in a positive light), the Pura Belpre award ("portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth"), just to name two. What distresses me, as a former teacher, a mother, and a children's author, is the drive to write off award-winning titles as out of touch or inaccessible for kids simply because they've been singled out for excellence. 

    Maybe I was in the minority as a child, but I loved the Newbery books I read. And I know I'm not alone. I follow a lovely young reader's blog who reads and writes about titles she thinks might win the Newbery the following year and brushes up on the Newberys she's missed.

    What I appreciate is your desire to make more challenging titles accessible to children by reading aloud. THIS is a gift. Thanks for lighting a fire under me today!

  2. There have been many Caldecott Medal books that my kids have loved having me read to them including Madeline's Rescue, Mirette on the High Wire, The Snowy Day, My Friend Rabbit, The Polar Express, Jumanji, and Owl Moon.  Even more of our favorite read alouds are found as Caldecott Honor Books including Mo Willems' Knuffle Bunny and Pigeon and Doreen Cronin's Click, Clack, Moo.

    I remember when we collectively experienced David Wiesner's books.  My kids had never before experienced wordless books. We were shown a new way of experiencing a story.  A chance to interpret and discuss what was happening in the illustrations -- together.  Without the Caldecott Medal on the cover, I don't know if we would have checked out Flotsam or Tuesday.

    This summer I had the pleasure of meeting Floyd Dickman at the Mazza Museum: International Art from Picture Books.  He has served on the Caldecott committee 3 times.  His enthusiasm for children's books was infectious.  He now is the Co-director of the Children's Book Center at the Mazza Museum which is a wonderful resource for teachers and families.

    For our family the Caldecott Medal Stickers grab our attention, cause us to be curious, and invite us to try something new. 

  3. Hi HappyBirthdayAuthor ,

    Many many thanks for your comment! Indeed the Caldecott and Newbery books are among our favorite read-alouds as well and I have made it a point to buy many, many of them for our home library.

    I think you put it best when you say" the Caldecott Medal Stickers grab our attention, cause us to be curious and invite us to try something new"! My thoughts exactly. 

    The point of my post was really to stimulate parents - if they do not read books with their children - to join their kids. These books are sometimes so innovative and exciting that parents will also benefit from the joint reading. 

    Alas, many kids are also finding the books "too challenging" or "too boring" (compared to a standard fare of electronic entertainment) that they reject them outright. This can be addressed by more parental involvement in the reading, not by merely expecting our kids to read more Newbery and Caldecott books (books that we simply recommend - but do not wish to enjoy with them). 

    (I've added two footnotes to my original post to clarify this position) - and your comment is precisely the kind of support for these excellent books that I endorse! 

    Thanks so much for all the great book tips and examples that you listed, I am sure that parents will benefit from checking all those out with their kids. 

    Read Aloud Dad


  4. Hi Caroline,

    So glad to read your words in support of the awards. Especially, the mention of many other ALA awards - that can be even more relevant to some kids and families. 

    In fact, like you mentioned this is not a new argument - there have been discussions about the relevance of the medals and how they relate to the interests of children today. 

    It is true - today it is distressing that many kids write off award-winning titles as out of touch or inaccessible - simply because they've been singled out for excellence. 

    We parents need to show - by example - that these books are not out of touch. Some may even require a little more engagement, thinking, reflection, emotion, brain power.. who knows - maybe all of the above. But let us invest that little extra together with our kids. 

    Unlike several of those articles (that is the reason why I didn't cite them) - I think that the Newbery and Caldecott books can be relevant for kids, they can be interesting, they can be unforgettable. I would never ever ignore them, we love them.

    The operative words are "They can be". They are not exceptional, if they are not read with understanding. 

    These books are nothing to those kids who shun them. 

    I want kids to read them with an open mind and with a desire to enjoy the book. 

    So, we need to help them. 

    It may not be enough to give the book to the child any more. 15 copies in the library is a good start, but how many copies have been in the hands of grown-ups?

    We parents need to show kids that the books can be fabulous, not just tell them. Lets enjoy the medals together. 

    Alas, kids may have a valid point that we adults/parents do not put our money, where our mouth is. That is why I entitled the post "Why Kids Are 100% Right When They Shun Newbery and Caldecott Medal Winners". I am sure that many of them would say, if the books are so fabulous, why doesn't any one else at my home/neighborhood/etc. read them? Good point. 

    Let's read them. Let's read them aloud. 

    At our home, we also adore the Newbery and Caldecott books (and I've appended a small note to the original post - to make that point clear) and I find them so original, full of new ideas and invigorating intellectually that it is a shame that many kids are not able to enjoy them.

    Thank you so much for this beautiful contribution to the discussion. I hope that your words will inspire even more parents to start a Newbery or Caldecott reading streak at home together with their kids. 

    Grown-ups ... lets earn those medals!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Caroline Starr Rose 

  5. So true...a parent can add so much by involving themselves in the reading process of their children.  A parent's perspective can bring energy, emotion, and experience to a book. My relationship with my children was built on a foundation of books.  Some of the best conversations I have had with my kids have been when we are holding a book.

  6. The Newbery awards especially can range in age appropriateness. I find that I have to read them myself to place them at the right age for my kids which is a big bummer and can be a turn off to a child who attempts a book that is a tad out of reach.

    My kids have finally learned that Caldecott means pictures not story though usually the story rocks! There are a few Caldecott books that they absolutely hate but they enjoy most of them.

    Interestingly, though, my 4th grader is seeking out Newbery books because she finds that the stories are really, really good. I pre-select them for her to choose from that are 4th grade level. She just read Turtle in Paradise and loved it. She picked out the Westing Game at school and could not finish it. The plot was simply too complicated for her to follow. Her teacher said it is really more for 7th grade but to try again at the end of the year or next year. I really wish the Newbery came with an age range!

  7. Thanks for this great insight for parents (as usual) - PragmaticMom,

    Indeed, as your words indicate, parental involvement with the Newbery books is of great help to establish whether the child is ripe for the book (or is it the other way round?). 

    I love the fact that your fourth grader is now "into" Newbery books, it is such a great example.

    It would be a great thing to have a age range on the books as you mentioned! They should do that!

    By the way, do you think that reading the books aloud to kids helps to "expand the age range", for example with the Westing Game - what do you think? Would it help a 4th grader to follow the plot if an adult read it aloud - or was it simply too complicated regardless of who is the reader?

    Thanks so much for your (and your kid's) inside view on matter! Much appreciated.

    Read Aloud Dad


  8. Such a wonderful discussion! I read almost every Newbery medal winner and many of the honor books as well. I'm always impressed by the literary merits of the books and I almost always find them to be entertaining and engrossing. Occasionally I pause and wonder if a certain book really was the "greatest contribution to children's literature." Some titles, as Caroline suggested, seem to be books that a small group of people felt sentimental over, but I have a difficult time seeing how a child of any age would really connect to it. My daughter has fallen asleep to a fair few Newbery Medals.

    So though I love most Newbery books, will seek them out and read them with my kids, I sometimes question whether the award was for "children's literature" or "children's literature written for adults." I don't mind the latter category, I just think the the award should reflect the needs and mentality of the former.

    Still, I'm grateful for these awards. They bring so many wonderful books to our attention, many of which have become lifelong favorites for me, as I hope they will become for my children.

  9. Hi, As a children's picture book author, I'm probably among many who might seek the Newbery and Caldecott awards. However, my understanding is that only the major publishing house books receive these prizes. Small press/publishers are ineligible. I think this intensifies the mystique of the "anonymous grown-ups" to whom you refer as book reviewers. It's really too bad, because there are wonderful new children's books entering the marketplace from independent authors, many of whom are explicity passionate about creating books with adults and children in mind. I continue to support your emphasis on reading with children--that's the ultimate prize! Jo Ann

  10. Hi Jo Ann,

    You have a got a fantastic point here! Indeed, Newbery and Caldecott (and other) awards are prizes that are a bit "elitist" by definition and if a parent limits him/herself to those books that is a big, big mistake.

    Award-winning books should serve as the proverbial pebble that you throw in a body of still water. They are a point from which your book interests can expand - like concentric circles in the water. 

    After tasting several offerings, you can choose to find more books by the same author, from the same publisher, from the same genre, on the same topic, from the same year... in fact the circles start expanding and expanding. 

    And when they start expanding ... they never stop. Interests start to expand. 

    Minds start to expand. 

    Award-winning books can serve as a spice of childhood, they will not suffice to provide a meal. 

    Variety and quality - should be the two main principles in building a home library. 

    Your point is a very valid one indeed. Newbery and Caldecott awarded books should not be singled out as the best there is in children's literature. 

    They are just floating lighthouses that someone built in an ocean of great children's literature, on which you can climb from time to time - to see waves of great books that surround you. 

    Thank you so much for this comment! 

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @cafeef6e69495a7519edeeb01925a5ac 

  11. Books containing tragedies of a beloved dog are NOT for little children. No wonder that, one day in a restaurant, I overheard a mom and dad chatting with their daughter, who looked to be of kindergarten age. She wanted to tell them a story about a fairy princess, a story she had made up. So the parents told her to tell them.  She briefly told of a fairy princess who lived in a palace and one day some bad people came and blew it all up. The parents were shocked and said they were really sad that she thought the story shold have such a terrible ending.

    They learn violence via television and movies.  They should not have more thrust at them, especially pre-seventh grade at the minimum, at any time in school.