Investigating the Newbery and Caldecott Book Awards

As our first project, Who Win With Book Awards (WWWBA) investigated diversity and inclusion within the winners of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals for children’s literature. These medals are the most distinguished awards presented to children’s books, and studies have shown that after the winners are announced, book sales can increase up to 1,000%. Not only is the general public purchasing but so are public and school libraries. Honorees are highlighted on ALA websites and accompanying book lists, and librarians will often feature honorees in their display areas and programming.

Children (and their caregivers) become exposed to these works that may or may not help them to understand and handle situations that deal with diversity in religion, race, gender, etc. And these books, for better or worse, usually stay on library shelves much longer than other books due to their status as honorees. As one library’s head of children’s collections states, “I don’t weed Newbery and Caldecott winners…I feel like if you win the Newbery or Caldecott, you kind of have immortality as a book. I just won’t do it.”

Since the Newbery and Caldecott Medal and Honor Books are so popular amongst the public and librarians, the questions this project set out to answer included: Do these books provide an accurate representation of diverse backgrounds and subject matter? If so, has this been a recent development? And are there any trends of note in the honorees?

The project team investigated these questions by collecting the biographical data and subject matter of all Newbery and Caldecott ‘Honorees’ (both Medal Winners and Honor books) and using Tableau Public to create a digital visualization of their findings. Librarians and educators can use the visualizations to argue for more funding to purchase a wider array of books which fully encompass the experience of their patrons, since our findings suggest that awards-winners lack diversity of representation for authors, illustrators and protagonists.

About the Newbery Medal

First awarded in 1922 to encourage original creative work in the field of books for children, the Newbery Medal is awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. The author must be a citizen or resident of the United States, and the book must be published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year.

About the Caldecott Medal

The Caldecott Medal was created to honor the artist of the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children. First awarded in 1938, the artist must be a citizen or resident of the United States. The artist can also be the author of the book, and the illustrations must be original works of the artist.