Flashback Friday: Authors of Newbery Past
This year, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Newbery Medal, an award that has evolved throughout its centenarian existence but has stayed strong to its roots of determining the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature of the year. On the final Friday of each month, we will take break from 2021 and look at past Newbery authors and titles.
I recently took K.T. Horning ‘s (notable children’s literature scholar) ALSC Newbery class and received lots of fun facts and information. It was enthralling to learn about the different legacies of the authors and here are five of my favorite fun facts, all taken from K.T. Horning’s Newbery course.
- E. L. Konigsburg is one of only five authors to have won the Newbery twice, first for FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS BASIL E. FRANKWEILER (1968) and second for THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY (1997). The other double Newbery winners (Joseph Krumgold, Elizabeth George Speare, Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry, and Kate Di Camillo) won their second awards within a decade of their first. But Konigsburg won her second medal nearly three decades after her first. She opened her second acceptance speech with the line: “As I was saying, four days and twenty-nine years ago…”
- Robert C. O’Brien, author of MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH (1972) was notoriously reclusive. He wouldn’t even attend the Newbery banquet to get his award in person, instead sending his editor, Jean Karl, to read his speech. After he died it was revealed that his real name was Robert Leslie Conly and the reason for his reclusiveness was that he worked for National Geographic and was not allowed to publish with anyone else. He used his mother’s maiden name so that he could write and publish children’s books secretly.
- Maia Wojciechowska was born in Warsaw, Poland. A refugee during WWII, she went to France and then the United States and by age 18, claimed to have held a record seventy-two jobs. She held a variety more in the course of her life, including undercover detective, restaurant hostess, masseuse, motorcycle racer, professional tennis player and instructor, ghost writer, and translator for Radio Free Europe. Perhaps her most unusual job was as a matador in Mexico, where she became an expert bullfighter, who was lauded by none other than Ernest Hemingway. Her experience in the bullring informed her book, THE SHADOW OF A BULL (1965).
- Robert Lawson is the only person to date who has won both a Newbery, RABBIT HILL (1945) and a Caldecott (THEY WERE STRONG AND GOOD, 1941). But today he is best remembered as the illustrator of the classic picture book The Story of Ferdinand by Munroe Leaf.
- Will James, the author of SMOKY THE COWHORSE (1927). was quite a character. He was a French Canadian who fled to the U.S. after allegedly killing another man. He posed as a cowboy named Will James and hadn’t been in the U.S. long before he was arrested for cattle rustling. He served a little over a year in prison, and then began to make his living as an artist and writer.
On a personal note, the Newbery author I will always remember is Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (SHILOH, 1992). She went to high school and college in my hometown of Joliet, IL and signed books at my public library. I remember our experience meeting her was very rushed, but I wrote her an e-mail years later thanking her for the ALICE books and she sent a lovely response. The most impactful book of hers for me was HOW I CAME TO BE A WRITER, which inspired me to write in any form, it doesn’t have to be fiction books!
What Newbery author was most influential to you? Let us know in the comments.
Filed under: Newbery History
About Emily Mroczek-Bayci
Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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