Newbery Winners Through the Decades

by Lisa Q. Harling, Youth Services

Lisa explores award-winning children’s literature that has stood the test of time. All great gift ideas this holiday season!

Newbery Winner 1964 It's_Like_This,_Cat
I picked up a copy of It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Neville because the retro cover caught my eye. Turns out the cover wasn’t intended to be ironic in any way – it’s just old! The book was published in 1964, making it a bit older than me. In this charming book we meet Dave and his adopted stray cat with whom we travel the streets of NYC. We join Dave as he makes and loses friends, has his first crush, and navigates a mild teenage rebellion. It’s a treat to travel back in time and find that regardless of the decade kids are kids.

Newbery Winner 1974
Historical fiction is a wonderful way to introduce young readers to a part of our collective past by bringing it to life in story form. In Slave Dancer, Paula Fox reveals aspects of slavery as seen through the eyes of Jesse, a teenage boy from New Orleans. Jesse tries to earn money for his struggling family by playing his fife at the docks for tips. He is kidnapped and taken aboard a slave trading ship where he is forced to play music to which the slaves are required to dance in order to maintain their physical condition and guarantee a good price. The author is able to take us aboard the ship and let us feel what Jesse does as he encounters the horrors of slavery.

Newbery Winner 1984 9780380709588
While reading Dear Mr. Henshaw, I got so caught up in the story of Leigh’s life as it unfolded in letters that I forgot the book wasn’t really written by its main character, Leigh but by Beverly Cleary – she is just that talented. Beginning in second grade and continuing for the next four years, Leigh writes letters to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw. Some of the letters he mails others he doesn’t and these function as his diary. Leigh uses his correspondence with Mr. Henshaw as a way to work through family and school problems large and small.

81cJChEQjSLNewbery Winner 1994
The Giver, by Lois Lowry, is one of the first dystopian books to have wide spread appeal for younger readers. In this thought provoking novel, Lowry creates a world in which everything is perfect – there is no disease, no divorce, no unemployment and each family has two children. Everyone in the community accepts things as they are, obeys the rules and doesn’t question anything, until 12 year old Jonas does…

The_Tale_of_DespereauxNewbery Winner 2004
Without reservation I can honestly say that The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, is the best read-aloud book I have ever found. It is the unlikely story of a mouse who loves a princess and the journey he takes. He leads us through a castle and its dungeon encountering unforgettable characters along the way. Periodically the author addresses the reader which is engaging for the reader and listener alike. The dialog welcomes the use of accents making it a fun an entertaining read for kids and adults.
16052012Newbery Winner 2014
Kate DiCamillo manages to take an unlikely friendship and make it seem completely plausible on every page of Flora & Ulysses. After rescuing a squirrel (Ulysses) from a near-death experience with a vacuum cleaner, Flora, a comic book obsessed 10 year old, is convinced that the squirrel has superhero powers. And a superhero is just what Flora needs as she copes with her parent’s divorce – not to mention her parents’ eccentric personalities. Wonderful illustrations complete this endearing story of a young cynic and her offbeat life.

LisaThis Youth book review was brought to you by Lisa Q. Harling. When not conducting Story Times or reading the best that kids’ authors have to offer, Lisa enjoys writing witty PSAs on Facebook, playing with her dogs and keeping up with her two adventurous sons. If you have suggestions for future book reviews, email her at

One thought on “Newbery Winners Through the Decades

  1. The Giver was one of my favorite novels as a kid, and I would say some good adult follow-ups to that book would be Ayn Rand’s Anthem, or if a more sci-fi dystopia is wanted, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham.

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