For Teachers

Newbery Medal Winners: African-American Literature

By The Room 241 Team October 22, 2012

Since 1922, the American Library Association, or ALA, has awarded one book per year the distinguished Newbery Medal, which recognizes an exceptional children’s book. The award was implemented to encourage creative children’s books and has become one of the most honored distinctions a publication can receive. Notably, all books that have received the award remain in print.

While the Newbery Medal goes to the ALA’s top children’s book, the committee that awards medal also recognizes great books in any genre (not just children’s) via the Newberry Honor Book award. Although the Newbery Medal has been criticized for a lack of diversity, a variety of African American-related books have won either the Newbery Medal or the Newbery Honor Book award.

Here is a collection of African-American literature recognized through the Newbery award.

“After Tupac & D Foster” (Jacqueline Woodson): An Honor Book winner in 2009, this teen read follows an African-American girl and her single mother who see rapper Tupac Shakur as a musical and cultural icon. The book covers themes such as homosexuality, jail, Tupac and throwaway kids. It’s a somewhat heavy read, but critically acclaimed in the way it handles significant issues.

“The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights” (Russell Freedman): An Honor Book of 2005, “The Voice that Challenged a Nation” follows the journey of African American vocalist Marian Anderson and illustrates the limits imposed on black performers during her peak in the 1920s. Anderson became a symbol for all African American artists, and in 1939 she performed for Eleanor Roosevelt, symbolically breaking color barriers.

“Bud, Not Buddy” (Christopher Paul Curtis): A Newbery Medal Winner in 2000, “Bud, Not Buddy” tells the story of an African-American boy growing up in Flint, Michigan. It’s one of the few Newbery Medal winners that focuses on a minority protagonist.

“Feathers” (Jacqueline Woodson): An Honor Book of 2008,  “Feathers” tackles a variety of issues, including the case of a boy who appears white, but is not white. “Feathers” is a coming-of-age story where the protagonist learns to see things in a different light as the book progresses.

“Elijah of Buxton” (Christopher Paul Curtis): An Honor Book in 2008, “Elijah of Buxton” tells the story of an 11-year old boy living in a settlement of runaway slaves in Canada. The book tackles heavy issues on slavery (for instance, Elijah’s parents were slaves) and growing up in a world of hardships.

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