Let’s face it. The books selected to win the Newbery Award don’t always appeal to kids. In fact, I’ve often heard kids say that Newbery books “aren’t any good.” I contend that if you sift through all those books with gold seals, there are bound to be some “good” ones. Here are my picks for the Newbery winners that will appeal to the pickiest of readers.
The New Kid by Jerry Kraft (2020)
Graphic novels have won honor medal status in recent years, but 2020 is the first year one has taken 1stplace. Jordan is an African-American boy with successful middle class parents. They only want the best for him, so they enroll him in a rich kid’s prep school. It’s not easy being the only black kid in an all-white school, but with a little trial and error, Jordan makes it work.
Holes by Louis Sacchar (1999)
Stanley, living under his family’s curse, has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the warden makes the boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging holes. Something isn’t right about all this hole digging and Stanley, with the help of his rag tag group of friends, is going to get to the bottom of it.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2015)
Josh and Jordan are twin basketball stars. They are best friends who do everything together. When Josh is distracted by a new girlfriend, Jordan gets jealous and vents his frustration on the court. When he’s suspended from the team, his chance to be in the playoff may not happen. Written in verse.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (2013)
A magical children’s book told from the perspective of a mall zoo gorilla. When the janitor’s daughter teaches Ivan the gorilla to draw, he uses his talent to get the animals out of their rundown zoo and into a better place.
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1994)
This is one of the first children’s books to tackle the idea of utopian societies. People are equal. Negative emotions are stifled. Everything is chosen for you. At age 12, children are given their future job assignment. Jonas receives a mysterious assignment that is rarely handed out. He will work with the Giver, the keeper of memories, and what he learns will be unsettling.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1990)
Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, is Jewish and Denmark is under invasion by the Germans. The Rosens must act quickly or risk being deported to a concentration camp. Annemarie’s family devises a plan to disguise Ellen as a family member and send both girls to relatives in Sweden. If the plan works, they will save Ellen. If not, Annemarie’s family will face dire consequences.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1977)
Cassie Logan is having a hard time accepting that people are better or worse based on skin color. Her mom decides not to buy her groceries at the racist store in town and she is fired from her teaching job. Then her dad gets involved and it just keeps getting worse.
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (2004)
Despereaux is a mouse who loves all things in the human world, especially the princess. Roscuro is a rat living in the dungeon, but wanting to live in the light. Mig is a servant girl who wants to be a princess. The lives of these three characters are going to intersect in the most amazing way.
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1992)
When 11-year-old Marty finds a beagle on the loose, he knows something isn’t right. Upon returning the dog to its owner, Marty realizes the dog is being abused. He begs his dad to let him keep the dog, but his dad refuses. When the dog runs back to Marty again, Marty decides he is going to keep the dog secretly in order to protect him.