The Newbery and Caldecott Medals, awarded by the American Library Association, are the most prominent and esteemed awards in the field of children's literature in America. These awards, first bestowed in 1922 and 1938 respectively, have honored both literary and artistic quality in books for children and in so doing have provided models and standards which reflect the influences of a changing society, as well as changing literary and artistic criticism. Though standards for evaluating the literature of children have been altered throughout the years, a review of past winners offers, at minimum, a statement of what was deemed acceptable and "most distinguished" at the time of the award. With 109 of the Newbery Medal and Honor Books, and 42 of the Caldecott titles out of print, it is obvious that all the choices have not withstood changes of literary or artistic tastes.
Since we have no statements to reveal why these works were chosen as Medal or Honor Books, other than the fact that they were considered the "most distinguished" in a given year by a select committee of the A.L.A., we can only theorize regarding the reasons. It is a difficult task to determine which works still function as distinguished pieces of literature and illustration without considering the other literature of the time and without imposing our own contemporary biases on the books. It would, therefore, seem more appropriate to view the works in terms of what they tell us of the field of children's literature in any given year or decade. The following articles view the Newbery and Caldecott Medal and Honor Books of different years in a variety of ways.
The initial article, "What If?" by Ruth Jane Roberts, deals with the first Newbery winner, The Story of Mankind; this comparative re-evaluation is based upon a re-reading, undertaken some fifty years after the author's initial encounter, and investigates what still makes the work a meaningful literary experience. Animals of the Bible, the first Caldecott Medal winner, is the topic of Linda Peterson's article, "Dorothy Lathrop and the Caldecott Medal Tradition," which discusses the work in terms of its subject matter, illustrations, and format, utilizing Peter Spier's Noah's Ark as comparison. "Seeing ourselves in others" is the theme Jan Alberghene develops in relation to Dobry and other life-in-other-lands books published in the 1930s. Hughes Moir examines the 47 Newbery Medal and Honor Books of the 1950s from the premise that if a society and its literature are inseparable, then the books of a period "serve as significant artifacts of that time in the social history of the group." Rona Glass focuses on two couples that appear in fantasies of the 1960s: Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe, of A Wrinkle in Time, and Taran and Princess Eilonwy, of The Black Cauldron and The High King. Linda Burns, in "The Similar Seventies," offers an overview of the wealth of folk tale and traditional titles in the Caldecott Medal winners of the last decade, while Marjorie Reinwald Romanoff provides an analysis of the subject matter and the form of the picture book in her article on Donald Crews' Freight Train (1979 Honor Book) and Truck (1981 Honor Book). Using the Newbery Medal Books of the 1970s as examples, Barbara St. John explores the idea that "children's books reflect the society which produces them." In her essay "The Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-1981," (excerpted from the forthcoming G. K. Hall publication Newbery and Caldecott Medal and Honor Books: An Annotated Bibliography by Linda Kauffman Peterson and Marilyn Leathers Solt), Marilyn Solt summarizes by genre the characteristics and trends of the first sixty years of the Newbery books. "The Caldecott Trends: 1938-1981," also excerpted from the forthcoming Hall publication, concludes the section with a discussion of the types of literature included in the Caldecott titles since 1938.
Regardless of the approach to the Newbery and Caldecott titles utilized in these articles, it is obvious, after perusing a complete list of Medal and Honor Books, that the majority comprise a distinguished body of works that continues to have an influence on the art of...