Children's Book Awards

by Catherine Huang

#36, 7 February 2005

Caldecott and Newbery Awards

The Newbery Medal for children's literature, the first award established for authors in this genre, has been awarded annually since 1921 by the American Library Association "for the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year." In 1938, the Caldecott Medal, named for nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, was instituted to honor the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Criteria for the awards include the stipulation that candidate books be published in the United States, in English, and that the recipients are American citizens or residents.

During the process of listing books for sale, I have constantly come across children's books that I was sure - or almost sure - were award winners of some kind or written by award winning authors. I was also aware that these awards are flashpoints, and yet, when I tried to find reliable information to put in my listings, it proved elusive. Finally, I decided to save time by spending time and invest a few hours to compile the Newbery list and its companion lists because I simply couldn't find anything like it.

You may be aware of

It posts many lists of award-winning books and authors but concentrates exclusively on readily available books - that is, virtually every book on this site is still in print, so it is biased against the very books that we as booksellers are primarily interested in. When I finally discovered complete lists of Newbery and Caldecott award books, I was stunned by the number of both books and authors that I had never heard of. Furthermore, I had no idea that there could be as many as 5 or 6 Newbery Honor books in a given year! (First prize is designated the Medal or Award winner, but other distinguished books nominated for the prize may be designated as Honor books.)

Unfortunately, the lists were chronological, and paging through 80 years of winners to check specific authors for titles that were Newbery winners was very time consuming. (Okay, I admit that nobody's career spanned the entire 80 years, but some authors were actually productive for 40, 50 years or longer!) So, I compiled lists that I could check names against. Then I could quickly research an author and mention in a description that so-and-so was a Newbery medallist, or finalist, in such-and-such a year and add it to my listing.

The resulting list started paying off for me in monetary terms almost as soon as I finished it. I bought a scruffy ex-library book, minus its dustjacket, at a thrift store because I recognized the author, Caroline Snedeker. The minimum price for this title, even in this condition, turned out to be $30. Snedeker's Newbery award books are definitely worth buying, but so are other Snedeker titles - for example, The Perilous Seat, The White Isle, The Coward of Thermopylae (a.k.a. The Spartan), A Triumph for Flavius, and Theras will normally fetch low $$ to low $$$, depending on availability and condition.

For this article, I (somewhat randomly) checked a sample of other Newbery books online. Some are annotated on the list, and the following terms are defined as follows:

Rare: no copies found on Abebooks - in most cases, no copies on a global search of multiple sites.

Very Scarce: one copy

Scarce: a handful of copies (perhaps 5, certainly fewer than 10)

Common: more than 40 copies; in some cases a hundred or more

$$: prices in two digits (USD)

$$$: prices of $100 or more

Click here for a chart showing Newbery Award Winners chart from 1922-2004

Click here for a chart showing Caldecott Winners from 1939-2004

Some Notable Authors to Look For

Elizabeth Yates's Newbery Award winning Amos Fortune has been reprinted so often that only first editions in fine condition are likely to be of value. Mountain Born is also rather common, though there seem to be no collector-quality copies now available - in other words, there is room at the top. The White Ring, however, is a very scarce book, as are Wind of Spring and Haven for the Brave (in the original hardcover edition). The lesson here is that it is more important to recognize authors' names than specific titles because a Newbery book by its very nature is highly publicized and inevitably becomes a best-seller. More often, therefore, it's the little-known books by well-known authors that are major flashpoints in children's literature, and typically they exceed the value of the award winning book itself. So, there is no need to memorize book titles, for the most part, if you don't feel so inclined.

Cornelia Meigs's Invincible Louisa is another often-reprinted, common Newbery winner. Of her three award books, Swift Rivers is the most common, Clearing Weather a little less so, and Windy Hill is designated RARE because I couldn't find a copy on Abebooks. Her non-Newbery books Mother Makes Christmas and Scarlet Oaks fall into a mid-range category - $10 and up - but values for especially fine copies could climb closer to three figures.

A third example is The Golden Basket by Ludwig Bemelmans. You may recognize him as the author of the wildly popular Madeline books, but Madeline made her first appearance in The Golden Basket, which seems never to have been reprinted and consequently is highly sought-after.

Here's an exception to the general pattern: Alida Malkus was a very prolific author, and many of her books don't fetch much. However, there are no copies whatsoever of her Newbery award book online now, and I think, by comparison with some of her scarcer books, low $$$ would be an achievable price.

Another possible flashpoint: similar to the first but on a different scale, so to speak, is the case of a little known and/or early award winning author. William Bowen's Old Tobacco Shop (1922) is a good example. I found only one copy online, and it is probably under priced at $50.

A pattern similar to the above examples seems to prevail with book series as well. Bemelmans's first Madeline book was duly noticed and given an award, but more often an author's first book escapes attention and only later in the series does the work gain recognition - which of course makes the early book more valuable. C.S. Lewis is an extreme example of this phenomenon. Not until he published the seventh and final book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle, did he finally capture a Carnegie. Certainly it is among the three or four best in the series but not nearly as well-known nor widely regarded (nor as valuable in first edition state) as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Beverly Cleary (Ramona and Beezus and Ramona the Brave) and Eleanor Estes (The Moffats) also won awards for later works that were really no better than their earlier books. Lloyd Alexander won awards for only 2 out of the 7 or 8 outstanding books in the Prydain series. Cynthia Voigt won a Newbery for Dicey's Song, the sequel to Homecoming, but didn't, in my opinion, approach the quality of its predecessor. Little House in the Big Woods went unnoticed by the Newbery committee in its year of publication, but they awarded honors to five of its sequels. The Carnegie committee, however, cannot be faulted for ignoring the Swallows and Amazons books that preceded Pigeon Post; they were published before the institution of the award.

More recent Newbery books and other titles by their authors tend to have been heavily reprinted in hardcover and paperback. Condition is crucial here, since scruffy copies will have little or no value. Look for presentable hardcover copies with dustjackets. Paperbacks will not have great value, though they may do well in an open shop - parents do look for them - and would probably be excellent books to sell in lots.

I'm still trying to come to a firm (i.e., a quantified, statistically supported) conclusion about this, but my feeling is that, on balance, children's fiction is more sought-after than non-fiction because buyers are driven by nostalgia; they have fond memories of storybooks. The presence of illustrations, however, can be value enhancing for non-fiction as well. Holling Clancy Holling's Paddle to the Sea is a good example. It often appears at Abebooks' Booksleuth, a service for users who are searching for books they have forgotten the title of. By the way, if a book is sought frequently on Booksleuth, this could point to a potential flashpoint. Paddle to the Sea is not by any means a scarce book (119 copies show on Abebooks alone), but it does have solid value. Prices range from $5 to $400.

These are only a few examples. The lists are full of possibilities, and there are a number of useful things you can do with them. For example, compare the lists of Caldecott and Newbery winners for crossovers. Bemelemans won a Caledecott medal and an honor award for two of the Madeline series. Holling Clancy Holling won both Caldecott and Newbery awards for his books, which are dense with both text and illustration. Multiple awards often point to enhanced values.

You can also choose an author (or several) and do a search on their books. I'm considering requesting that my library interloan a considerable number of these books for me because I feel that acquiring familiarity with them will make them stand out in the crowd, as old acquaintances. Just typing these lists has started this process already. The dim gilt name "Snedeker" printed in absurdly small font on a russet-colored spine in the darkest, dustiest corner of the thrift store wasn't at all conspicuous, but I knew Cara Snedeker already, and the book almost leaped into my hands!

Authors of Numerous Outstanding Books

The Newbery Award panel is specifically instructed to look only at books published during the current year and not to consider "the entire body of the work by an author." Yet in certain cases talented, prolific and important authors are inadequately recognized because of this. In response to this perceived need, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (named after its first recipient) was instituted in 1954 to "honor an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children." It has been awarded at various infrequent intervals in the past and currently is awarded every other year. A list of recipients follows:

Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, Past Winners

2003: Eric Carle
2001: Milton Meltzer
1998: Russell Freedman
1995: Virginia Hamilton
1992: Marcia Brown
1989: Elizabeth George Speare
1986: Jean Fritz
1983: Maurice Sendak
1980: Theodor S. Geisel (Dr. Seuss)
1975: Beverly Cleary
1970: E.B. White
1965: Ruth Sawyer
1960: Clara Ingram Judson
1954: Laura Ingalls Wilder

What this amounts to is a short list of flashpoint authors/artists in American juvenile literature. Most are collectible, and first editions in fine condition will usually do very well, though there are the inevitable exceptions.

Enter Book Title or ISBN

Powered by FetchBook.Info
New & Used Books