Award-Winning Literature for Children

Stacy Zeiger
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Navigating the children's section at the library or a bookstore can be a daunting task. With all of the books to choose from, how can you know which ones will entertain and which will turn out to be duds? Focusing on books that have won awards can help narrow your focus. Children's book awards such as the Newbery Medal and Caldecott Medal are given annually to children's books that entertain, inform and provide children with a wonderful reading experience.

Award-Winning Books

If reviewing the lists of past award winners seems a bit tedious, skip the lists, and check out these past award winners. Some of these books are timeless classics, while others have just joined the realm of quality children's books, but are sure to become classics as well.

Infants and Toddlers

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle was named one of the ten best picture books by The New York Times in 1969. The book also won an Institute of Graphic Arts Award for its colorful illustrations of a caterpillar eating its way to become a butterfly.
  • A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka won the 2012 Caldecott Medal. Because it has no words, the book relies on its pictures of Daisy and her ball to tell a story.
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is not an official award winner, but it has sold over 14 million copies, making it one of the best-selling picture books of all time.
  • Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt is also not an official award-winner, but is ranked sixth on the list of best-selling children's hardcover books, delighting babies with its touch and feel concept.
  • Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems is a 2004 Caldecott Honor Book, entertaining children with its humorous graphics as the pigeon pleads to drive the bus.
  • Corduroy by Don Freeman is a classic children's book about a curious teddy bear. It was nominated for an ABA Indies Choice Award.
  • The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister, which includes sparkly graphics and teaches character traits, won a Christopher Award in 1993 and was chosen as an IRA-CBC Children's Choice Book.
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats won a Caldecott Medal in 1963 and was one of the first picture books to feature an African-American character.
  • Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney was listed as an ALA Notable Children's Book in 1996. It has sold over 20 million copies.

Early Elementary

  • Chicka, Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. is a playful alphabet rhyme book that was named one of the Best 25 Books in 25 years from the Parent's Choice Foundation.
  • Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman won a Caldecott Medal for the illustrations of a grandfather's stage adventures.
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff has won multiple state book awards, sold millions of copies and inspired multiple spin-offs, such as If You Give a Pig a Pancake.
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak features a magical world with illustrations that won the book a Caldecott Medal and a story that made it an ALA Notable Book.
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst is an ALA Notable Book.
  • Cloudy with Change of Meatballs by Judi Barrett won multiple state awards for its tale of a small town with weird weather.
  • Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold won a Caldecott Medal, Coretta Scott King Award and Parent's Choice Gold Award for its story and illustrations of a girl who can fly.

Late Elementary

  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg is a Caldecott Medal winner for the beautiful illustrations that accompany the classic winter story.
  • Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg also won a Caldecott Medal and a National Book Award for the story and illustrations about a board game come to life.
  • Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig tells the story of a donkey with a magic pebble and includes pictures that merited it a Caldecott Medal.
  • Crispin by Avi is a fantasy novel that won multiple awards including the Newbery Medal and was named an ALA Notable Book.
  • Holes, by Louis Sachar, tells a story of summer camp and won a Newbery Medal, a National Book Award and a Christopher Award.
  • Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan was named a New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year. The book has become a classic story about life on the prairie.
  • Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary tells the story of a boy's correspondence with his favorite author. It was named an ALA Notable Book and won a Newbery Medal.
  • From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler by E.L. Konigsburg is a popular mystery novel that won the Newbery Medal in 1968.
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, a book about a tomboy and her interactions with Indians, was one of the first Newbery Medal winners.

Popular Awards

Caldecott Medal

Caldecott Medals are given to outstanding illustrated books. Although they are given based on the pictures, the story is often just as good. Books have been awarded the Caldecott Medal since 1937.

Newbery Medal

First awarded in 1922, the Newbery Medal's purpose is "To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children's reading interests, and opportunity to encourage good writing in this field."

Coretta Scott King Award

African-American authors and illustrators for children can receive the Coretta Scott King Award. The award primarily focuses on books related to human values and African-American culture.

IRA Children's and Young Adult's Book Awards

The International Reading Association gives out awards every year for excellence in children's literature to first or second-time authors. Awards are given based on level of reading (primary, intermediate, and young adult).

National Book Award for Young People's Literature

Winning a National Book Award is the dream of many authors. Children's authors can win in the category of Young People's Literature, which includes everything from picture books to novels for young adults.

ALA Notable Children's Books

The American Library Association provides an annual list of the best children's books published that year. Books are organized by age (younger, middle, older) and include all major medal and award winners for the year, along with a few other notable books.

Finding Award-Winning Books

In addition to the award winners above, some authors regularly write and/or illustrate award-winning books. While not all of their books are official winners, the majority of the books these award-winning authors pen are high quality. If you like one book by the author, chances are you'll like many of the author's other books. Start with the authors of the award-winning books above the next time you visit the library or bookstore to begin expanding your collection of quality children's books.

Award-Winning Literature for Children