recommending the newberies


Twenty-Five Newberies in, I thought I’d pause and reflect on a quarter century’s worth of award winning children books from 1922 to 1946. I started this project with pretty high hopes about the delight of reading so many wonderful children’s books. However, it became apparent only a few books in that this was going to definitely be a labor of love at times, emphasis on labor.

Yet, every book has taught me something, and I am still glad that I’m doing the project.
Newbery Read Through Logo


I struggle with knowing how to talk about the books that I didn’t love (Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy has started a great conversation about this issue in general.) One thing about reviewing these old Newberies is that the authors have all died, and no one will really get offended if I say that I really didn’t enjoy a particular book. But at the same time, I want to get in the habit of talking about books the way that I’d like people to talk about my book someday, even if they didn’t like it: honestly tempered with respect and a gracious spirit.


Still, I am finding that there are some books I’m recommending to friends, and some that I am not. The majority of the early Newberies I’d recommend if someone had a particular interest in that topic. And a few I wouldn’t recommend even if someone really was interested in it, because there are so many other books that do it better.


Books I'm actually recommending from the first 25 Newberies


The books I find I’m recommending most are: Caddie Woodlawn, Strawberry Girl, Roller Skates, and Thimble Summer (female protagonists); Johnny Tremain, Adam of the Road, and Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze (male protagonists), and Dr. Dolittle and Rabbit Hill (animal adventures).


Here’s the first 25, with my original tweets about them and who (if anyone) I would recommend these books to:

newbery medal drawing

Strawberry Girl, Lenski, 1946

Newbery Review #25, Strawberry Girl, 1946: 1900s rural Florida, feuding farming families, strong pioneer ladies.

Recommend? Yes! especially Laura Ingles Wilder fans.



Rabbit Hill, Lawson, 1945

Newbery Review #24, Rabbit Hill, 1945 farm animals anticipate a new farmer arriving, spirit of Beatrix Potter.

Recommended? Yes! especially anyone longing for spring (i.e. all the Midwest).



Johnny Tremain, Forbes, 1944

Newbery Review #23, Johnny Tremain, 1944: Teenage Patriot Bostonian in months leading up to American Revolution.

Recommended? Yes, most everyone, especially boys or revolutionary war buffs.



Adam of the Road, Gray, 1943

Newbery Review #22, Adam of the Road, 1943: Medieval minstrel boy’s journey. One of the best Newberies far.

Recommended? Yes! everyone, especially lovers of medieval adventures and dogs coming home.



Matchlock Gun, Edmonds, 1942

Newbery Review #21, Matchlock Gun, 1943: Surprisingly strong mother figure and very cool old Spanish gun.

Recommended? Only if you really like Dutch New York or quick stories about stand-offs with Native Americans, or very old guns.


Call it Courage, Sperry, 1941

Newbery Review #20, Call it Courage, 1941: Polynesian Legend. Hero’s Journey. Desert Island Adventure.

Recommended? Maybe, if you really like desert survivor stories or are looking to study the hero’s journey.



Daniel Boone, Daugherty, 1940

Newbery Review #19, Daniel Boone, 1940: Did almost being WWII make this Americana book win the Newbery?

Recommended? No, not even if you really love Daniel Boone, not even if he is your great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.


Thimble Summer, Enright, 1939

Newbery Review #18, Thimble Summer, 1939: one of my favorite early Newberies, about a plucky Wisconsin girl.

Recommended? Yes! especially Laura Ingles Wilder Fans.



White Stag, Seredy 1938

Newbery Review #17, White Stag,1938: Attila the Hun in a tiny Wagner opera/Norse-Eastern take on Moses.

Recommended? No, not even if you really love Attlia the Hun and Wagner. Well maybe then; maybe.



Roller Skates, Sawyer, 1937

Newbery Review #16, Roller Skates,1937: if Anne (of Green Gables) got stuck in Manhattan w/ roller skates.

Recommended? Yes! everyone who loves a spunky girl and can handle a mediocre ending to a fantastic beginning.



Caddy Woodlawn, Brink, 1936

Newbery Review# 15, Caddie Woodlawn, 1936: 15 years & 25 miles apart, Caddie & Laura Ingles Wilder could have been best friends.

Recommended? Yes! especially Laura Ingles Wilder Fans.



Dobry, Shannon, 1935

Newbery Review #14, Dobry, 1935: Bulgarian peasant boy wants to be sculptor, not farmer. Beautiful setting.

Recommended? Probably, especially if you love art, Eastern Europe, and meditations on snow.



Invincible Louisa, Meigs, 1934

Newbery Review #13, Invincible Louisa, 1934: Biography of Louisa May Alcott. Makes you want to re-read Little Women.

Recommended? Probably, especially if you love Little Women and/or strange utopian transcendentalist societies in the early 19th century.



Young Fu, Lewis, 1933

Newbery Review #12, Young Fu, 1933: Coming of Age story of a young 1920s Chinese copper-smith’s apprentice.

Recommended? Yes, especially if you love coming of age stories and early 20th century China.



Waterless Mountain, Armer, 1932

Newbery Review #11, Waterless Mountain, 1932: Coming of Age story of a young Navajo Boy, slow and beautiful.

Recommended? If you really like the southwest and stories about Native American relics and coming of age tales.




Cat Who Went to Heaven, Coatsworth, 1931

Newbery Review #10, Cat Who Went To Heaven, 1931: short & sweet, but spoiler alert, the cat dies…

Recommended? Only if you are doing a book report on Japan or Buddhism for school and want a quick folk tale and a heroic cat.



Hitty, Field, 1930

Newbery Review #9, Hitty, 1930: Wooden Doll’s Adventures through 100 years of American History.

Recommended? Only if you really like a doll teaching you US history.



Trumpeter of Krakow, Kelly, 1929

Newbery Review #8, Trumpeter of Krakow, 1929: Medieval Polish Tale: includes female character, with name!

Recommended? If you like medieval alchemy or early modern Poland.



Gay-Neck, Mukerji, 1928

Newbery Review #7, Gay-Neck, 1928: Possibly the most unfortunately named kids book about a beautiful pigeon.

Recommended? If you like poems about the Himalayas and some Eastern spiritualism lessons taught by a pigeon.



Smoky the Cowhorse, James, 1927

Newbery Review # 6, Smoky the Cowhorse, 1927: Black Beauty set in the Wild West.

Recommended? Only if you love horse stories and the west, but can handle a long series of horse mistreatment passages.



Shen of the Sea, Chrisman, 1926

Newbery Review # 5, Shen of the Sea, 1925: 16 Chinese Folk Tales. No more Newbery folktale collections!

Recommended? Nope, there are so many better Chinese folktale collections. There have to be; there just have to be.



Silver Lands, Finger, 1925

Newbery Review # 4, Tales from the Silver Lands, 1925: 19 South American Folk Tales. Favorite Story:#12.

Recommended? Again, probably better collections of stories out there, but I did really like #12 about the night princess and the day prince and the evil witch.



Dark Frigate, Hawes, 1924

Newbery Review # 3 The Dark Frigate, 1924, A demanding read: pirate tale set in 17th century Atlantic World.

Recommended? Only, if you really like pirates and don’t mind reading Shakespeare-like dialogue, so not a lot of kids I know.



Dr. Dolittle, Lofting, 1923

Newbery Review #2: whimsical Dr. Dolittle, 1923, talking animal adventures for the best 1920s Newbery.

Recommended? Yes! especially if you get the more recent editions that edit out the worst of the racist language and pictures.



Story of Mankind, van Loon, 1922Newbery Review #1, Story of Mankind, 1922: like a funny history professor who draws on the board & tells long stories.

Recommended? Maybe for anyone who wants to have a readable Ancient History textbook and has time in their lives for a stroll through a 500+ course on world history. The more recent editions have continued the story to present day with another 500 pages.



Do you have a favorite early Newbery to recommend? How do you recommend books?

newbery books



8 Responses to Books I’m Actually Recommending from the First 25 Newberies

  1. Anne Hays says:

    I like your idea of reminding us of each of the first 25 books. Seeing your comments all together is an interesting primer of the subjects and perhaps an insight into why the books were chosen for the Newberry Medal. My personal favorites would be those books about horses and spunky girls.
    I have reviewed books for publication and I always had a choice so I just didn’t take up space reviewing books I didn’t like. I hope I did that with “respect and a gracious spirit”, things to strive for throughout life. Thank you for the reminder.

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Thanks Grandma Anne! It was fun for me too to go back and read all those blurbs about the books and think about who would really like them. Sometimes I wish that could have skipped reviewing (and reading) a couple too, but think that would have been a little odd given this project, but it’s what I like to do normally. I really like those spunky girl books too. I’m really excited that I just heard about another Ruth Sawyer book (she’s the one who wrote Roller Skates) called Maggie Rose, her birthday Christmas. I’ll let you know if it’s good! Love to you and Grandpa Jim – Amy

  2. Jenn says:

    Congrats on getting through the first 25! I really love your series. I often think to myself that I should make my kids read “classics” and the first place to start is the Newberies. Your reviews help me to shed the guilt of not reading all of them and still read the good ones. Thanks

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Thanks Jenn! Yeah there are a couple great ones to read, but definitely ones you can skip without any guilt! I am hopeful though that the next 25 are going to be a little more consistent (and consistently good!) as the baby boom generation starts to be thought of as a market for children’s books in the 50s. There are pretty amazing books before the Newberies (Little Women, Wind in the Willows, Little Princess) so I’m started to question the idea that there was one particular time in the last 150 years that would be considered a golden age for children’s books–there have always been some wonderful writers who can capture the imaginations of kids. But who knows, maybe the next Newberies will change my mind! Let me know if you stumble on any awesome classics!

  3. Lee says:

    I really appreciate this curated list for reading aloud to my kids.
    PS Adam of the Road is a favorite of mine!

  4. Amy Axelson says:

    Thank you for sharing your reviews of these books! I’ve just requested a handful of them from my library for my kids and me. Our local library’s teen section is full of modern books; seeing your book reviews is so refreshing and helpful.

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Thanks Amy! I’ve actually read more Newberies than I’ve been able to post about recently, and I think there are going to be some good ones coming up to add to the list!

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