Debating Decades: Cast your votes in our survey of the best Newbery (and non-Newbery) books of the 2010s
Our main focus on Heavy Medal is to look at the best books of the current year…but sometimes it’s fun to take a look backwards. So this fall we’re doing a set of polls for each of the past three decades. We’ll look at the 2010s, 2000s, and 1990s, and ask participants to weigh in on the best books of those decades. We start today with 2010 – 2019.
You’ll get three sets of books to vote on:
- The Newbery Medal book from each year
- A single Newbery Honor book from each year. Almost every year had more than one Honor book (1991 and 1999 were the exceptions). So Emily and I narrowed it down and picked one Honor for each year (neither of us picked the books from our Newbery years).
- One book from each year that was not a Medal or Honor book, but could have been. Again, Emily and I picked for the poll (again, not from our own years)
Vote for one from each category.
But wait…we made it even more complicated! Each list of ten books has three columns, so you can evaluate the books from three different points of view:
- Personal Favorite: This one should be easy. Just pick your personal favorite from each list.. Whether they’re your favorites now as an adult, or maybe were your favorites if you read them as a child. Whichever feels right. I think of this as wearing your “Reader’s Hat.”
- Children’s Favorite: Now think about which book is most popular with kids from each list. You can consider books you recommend to kids, books you see getting checked out most, or, if you don’t work with kids, books that you think children would respond to most avidly. This is the “Librarian/Teacher/Parent Hat.”
- Highest Quality: Here’s where you try to put aside your personal response and those of children and look strictly at literary quality. The “Critic’s Hat.”
Emily and I will demonstrate that three-hat thought process by looking at the past three years, (which won’t be part of our poll). We’ll look at the three Medal books and the 12 Honor books from 2021-2023. Emily, what would your Personal Favorite be from that range?
I’d say THE LAST CUENTISTA! I just think it did a great job of hitting all the criteria and it took some common themes in a totally new direction. And of course last year’s MAIZY CHEN’S LAST CHANCE… because I was so sad it didn’t make our Heavy Medal List and then it WON AN HONOR! WOOOO
If I had to pick one (and I do…that’s the whole point), I’d pick SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES. I especially liked the way the different stories connected, and also: it really was scary. A close second is ALL THIRTEEN…I love that that Committee picked two Honor books by the same author: both so different, and both deserving.
So those are our favorites. Emily, what books do you think are most popular with young reader?
Of course NEW KID, because it’s NEW KID. I’ve seen a lot of love from kids for TOO BRIGHT TO SEE. The combination of LGBTQ representation and spookiness seems to be a hit. Also THE LAST MAPMAKER is a big favorite of all my fantasy readers.
I’m not as in touch with what kids are reading nowadays, being an on-call librarian and all. So I just looked titles up to see what’s checked out today and sure enough, NEW KID is the leader, with over 60% of copies checked out. The next two are MAIZY CHEN’S LAST CHANCE and THE LAST MAPMAKER…not sure if that’s because they’re newer titles, or just that popular? Okay, this wasn’t the most scientific bit of research…
Newbery members pay attention to their own reaction as readers and, when they can, get feedback from child readers. But in the end, the Newbery Medal is “for literary quality.” Emily, can you pick one title from the past three years of Medal and Honor books that you’d rate first?
This is fun, it’s like picking THE NEWBERY WINNER OF THE DECADE!! Umm I feel like I need to reread all these books now. I’m going to stick to THE LAST CUENTISTA for reasons listed above. And now I want to reread it.
I feel like to do this question justice, we really should re-read all of the books. But since I don’t have time to do that, I’ll rely on memory, and I’m pretty sure I thought that FIGHTING WORDS was an especially strong book in Newbery terms.
And given the wishy-washiness of my answer, I should emphasize that an exercise like this is meant as a conversation-starter, a bit of nostalgia, and mostly for fun. We should all remember that the real Newbery Committees put way more time, thought, and effort into their very important decisions. So we’re not trying to second-guess…just have some fun with Newbery history.
This was definitely harder than I thought it was going to be… and it was only the last three years…. This will be a trip through my childhood… (maybe I shouldn’t remind Steven that I was born in 1990… This was also weird revisiting my (and Steven’s) committee years. #Throwback to intense feelings about books! And of course trying to get Steven to give me the inside scoop (which he wouldn’t).
It really was challenging. It reminds you how each book on these lists is a unique creation, and it’s not easy task to compare and choose among them.
We’re looking forward to learning how the polls fall out. We’ll start with the most recent: 2010 – 2019. We’ll give you a few weeks (until October 20) to answer the polls. Then post results next month, October 27.
Here’s the link to the poll, Happy voting!! As always, feel free to post questions, thoughts, and opinions in the comments below.
Filed under: Newbery History
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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