Not that I know this from personal experience. But Neil Gaiman does, because he got woken up on Monday with that very good news. And in typically generous form, he shared it on his blog.

I’ve always thought it would be very cool to win a Newbery. I don’t know that it would necessarily surpass winning a Pulitzer, or the sainted Nobel for Literature, but the fun thing about a Newbery Medal is that it means both kids and adults will be discovering your book for generations to come. Newbery books stay in print pretty much forever, they always carry the medal imprint on their covers, and grandparents like me will buy them for Christmas presents because they feel anything is better for the kiddies  than another Goosebumps book. 

I actually do buy my granddaughter each year’s Newbery winner for Christmas. She’s only five, and so far her father has only read her one of those books for a bedtime story: Kate DiCamillo’s Tale of Despereaux.  (The Despereaux movie was too scary for her to see, and Daddy adroitly edited the scariest part of the book as he read, but she loved the story, just as I had.)

This past October, Isabella got a little brother, Alex, so I started a new tradition. Every year, Alex gets the Caldecott Medal winner for Christmas. The Caldecott’s given for the best illustrated children’s book. This year it happened to be a book I already knew and loved: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was both written and illustrated by Brian Selznick. 

There has been a lot written lately about how Newbery books tend to be chosen by librarians whose literary tastes don’t coincide with children’s, how the medal books just aren’t accessible enough for kids to read with real enthusiasm.  I have to admit I wondered a bit about the Newbery Medal book that Isabella got for Christmas this year: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz. It’s written in the form of 22 short monologues, is set in England circa 1255, and is not the easiest read even for an adult. There’s some fairly gross stuff in there about a kid helping to deliver farm animals, for example. But it’s got both  writerly imagination and the stink of historical reality about it, making us realize that medieval life wasn’t all just storybook knights and ladies.

I am grateful to the Newbery because it helped launch the career of my favorite childhood author, Elizabeth Enright. She won for Thimble Summer in 1939, but she then went on to write my great favorites: her four novels about the Melendy Family, and her Gone-Away Lake books. She also wrote many wonderful short stories for adults that were later republished in four collections. 

But it’s worth noting that one of the world’s favorite children’s books was not a Newbery Medal book. It was a Newbery Honor book, the runner-up to that yeat’s medalist. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White is a very nearly perfect book about life, friendship and the enormous power of words. I still can’t read the ending without choking up.

Not too many people these days read the Newbery Medal book for 1953, Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark. But Charlotte and her web have become immortal, proving that sometimes readers — not judges’ committees — do know best.

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