John Newbery lived in England during the 18th century and contributed significantly to the genre of children’s literature. As a publisher, John Newbery influenced the growth of children’s literature as a genre, including publishing several children’s books that he had written himself. The John Newbery Medal is named for him.
The Newbery Medal was created in 1921 by Frederic G Melcher and is awarded to one original work that was the most distinguished contribution for children’s literature in the previous year. The book must be published in English and written by an American citizen or resident to be considered for the Newbery Medal.
Since the beginning, the medal has created controversy over what would be called distinguished for a children’s book. The idea was that by rewarding distinguished children’s books, the genre as a whole would become more distinguished from other, lower quality, children’s books that had little value to the general population. This presented a problem for these authors writing popular children’s series. Their books were selling well, but they were not deemed distinguished enough to win an award.
The criteria and rules of the medal have been chagned many times over the years, but the idea of the most distinguished contribution has remained the same.
This year, for the first time, the winner of the Newbery Medal was a children’s picture book rather than a longer work of literature.