The Newbery Award is supposed to represent the best in children’s literature in any given year. Usually, they get it right, but every once in a while a book on the Newbery honor list is the book that really should have won. This list contains some of those books that either should have won the award, or would have won the award in any other year.
10. Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle – 1990 – Lost to: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The first two entries on this list had the misfortune of being nominated in the same year as another really excellent and worthy book that ended up taking the award. Afternoon of the Elves was an excellent book, and in many other years would have won the Newbery, but just couldn’t quite compete with Lowry’s book.
9. The Watsons Go To Birmingham: 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis – 1996 – Lost to: The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
The Watsons really should have won this, at least in my opinion, but at least it lost to a really good book, unlike some of the other books on this list.
8. The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden – 1961 – Lost to: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Nothing against Island of the Blue Dolphins, which I’m sure is a fine book, but I have much fonder memories of reading Cricket, the story of a musical cricket who amazes people with his abilities.
7. Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel – 1973 – Lost to: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Now we start to get into the more egregious picks. Julie of the Wolves is an okay book, but to have beat out Frog and Toad? People still read Lobel’s lovely little stories. They don’t read a book about a girl who lives with wolves.
6. A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin – 2003 – Lost to: Crispin, the Cross of Lead by Avi
The next two books on this list were both runners up in the same year. Ann M. Martin is the same author of countless Babysitters Club books, so when I read Corner for a graduate school class, I was shocked by how well written, and how intense it was. To lose to Crispin, a book that I personally was completely bored by, was a shame.
5. Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan – 2003 – Lost to Crispin, the Cross of Lead by Avi
On the other side of the 2003 honors was Surviving the Applewhites, a much more fun book than the other runner up. Either way, it deserved a medal much more than Avi’s book.
4. Old Yeller by Fred Gipson – 1957 – Lost to: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
This is the first book on this list that will make you say “That lost to what?” Old Yeller is clearly a classic, but it lost to a book that nobody reads anymore, by an author nobody remembers. That should be a big sign that something went wrong.
3. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander – 1966 – Lost to: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
The Black Cauldron is among the finest in juvenile fantasy. It is an enjoyable adventure story, with just enough epic and darkness to it to not turn off young readers. So why did it lose? I have no idea.
2. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen – 1988 – Lost to: Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman
Look, I love Abraham Lincoln as much as the next person, but how did a “photobiography” beat out one of the greatest survival books ever written? Think I’m kidding? Go grab a copy of Hatchet and read it, then try to tell me I’m wrong.
1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – 1953 – Lost to: Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark
Yep, you are seeing that right. The worst mistake that the Newbery panel ever made was passing over Charlotte’s Web for a book with a one paragraph description on its Wikipedia page. Since being published in 1953, Charlotte’s Web has sold over 43 million copies and been translated in to 23 languages. Secret of the Andes? Not so much. Charlotte is still a favorite of elementary school teachers despite being nearly 60 years old. So why was it passed over? One Newbery voter actually admitted to voting for Secret of the Andes because she hadn’t seen any good books about South America. Shame on you, Newbery. Shame on you.