1st Edition

Dust Off the Gold Medal Rediscovering Children’s Literature at the Newbery Centennial

Edited By Sara L. Schwebel, Jocelyn Van Tuyl Copyright 2022
    280 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    280 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The oldest and most prestigious children’s literature award, the Newbery Medal has since 1922 been granted annually by the American Library Association to the children’s book it deems "most distinguished." Medal books enjoy an outsized influence on American children’s literature, figuring perennially on publishers’ lists, on library and bookstore shelves, and in school curricula. As such, they offer a compelling window into the history of US children’s literature and publishing, as well as into changing societal attitudes about which books are "best" for America’s schoolchildren. Yet literary scholars have disproportionately ignored the Medal winners in their research. This volume provides a critically- and historically-grounded scholarly analysis of representative but understudied Newbery Medal books from the 1920s through the 2010s, interrogating the disjunction between the books’ omnipresence and influence, on the one hand, and the critical silence surrounding them, on the other. Dust Off the Gold Medal makes a case for closing these scholarly gaps by revealing neglected texts’ insights into the politics of children’s literature prizing and by demonstrating how neglected titles illuminate critical debates currently central to the field of children’s literature. In particular, the essays shed light on the hidden elements of diversity apparent in the neglected Newbery canon while illustrating how the books respond—sometimes in quite subtle ways—to contemporaneous concerns around race, class, gender, disability, nationalism, and globalism.


    Introduction: The Gold Medal and the Ivory Tower

    Sara L. Schwebel and Jocelyn Van Tuyl

    1 The Dark Frigate (1924) and the Use of Masculinity in Early Newbery Culture

    Paul Ringel

    2 Punching Up, Punching Down: Anticolonial Resistance and Brahmanical Ideologies in Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon (1928)

    Poushali Bhadury

    3. Sounding the Broken Note: The Trumpeter of Krakow (1929) and Polish History

    Kenneth B. Kidd

    4 Invincible Nina: Louisa May Alcott and the Depression-Era Feminism of Invincible Louisa (1934)

    Anne K. Phillips and Gregory Eiselein

    5 The Most Scorned of the Newbery Medalists?: Daniel Boone (1940)

    Beverly Lyon Clark

    6 In the Tradition of Cannibal Talk: Call it Courage (1941)

    Mary K. Bercaw Edwards

    7 Of Sultans, Studs, and Stable Boys: Equine and Literary Lineage in King of the Wind (1949)

    Megan L. Musgrave

    8 Double Dutch Nostalgia: The Wheel on the School (1955)

    Anna Lockhart

    9 Lost Cat: It’s Like This, Cat (1964) and the Invention of Young Adult Literature

    Kathleen T. Horning and Jocelyn Van Tuyl

    10 Vision, Visibility, and Disability: Re-Seeing The Summer of the Swans (1971) and The Westing Game (1979)

    Sara K. Day and Paige Gray

    11 The Women’s Poetry Movement and the Affordance of the Lyric: A Visit to William Blake’s Inn (1982)

    Donelle Ruwe

    12 "One Jew, one half-Jew, a WASP, and an Indian": Diversity in The View from Saturday (1997)

    Adrienne Kertzer

    13 Ghosts of Japanese/American History in Kira-Kira (2005)

    Giselle Liza Anatol

    14 Playing to Win the Newbery: Black Boyhood in The Crossover (2015)

    Rachel L. Rickard Rebellino and Rebekah May Degener




    Sara L. Schwebel is  Director of the Center for Children’s Books and Professor of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Child-Sized History: Fictions of the Past in U.S. Classrooms (2011); and the editor of Island of the Blue Dolphins: The Complete Reader’s Edition (2016) and The Lone Woman and Last Indians Digital Archive.

    Jocelyn Van Tuyl is Professor of French at New College of Florida. She is the author of André Gide and the Second World War: A Novelist’s Occupation (2006), which was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities; and the author-translator of André Gide et la Seconde Guerre mondiale: l’Occupation d’un homme de lettres (2017).

    "The lens through which the books are viewed is a fresh one... In a cogent introduction, the editors provide a history of the founding of the Newbery Medal (addressing the relation>ship between the commercial interests of publishers and the gate-keeping fervor of the era’s children’s librarians); the elite nature of the award, at least through the end of the twentieth century; the ramifications of the secrecy surround>ing committee deliberations; the role of “bookwomen” in the children’s literature field; and more."

    --The Horn Book Magazine

    "Dust off the Gold Medal: Rediscovering Children’s Literature at the Newbery Centennial presents discussions revolving around not only the history of the Newbery Medal specifically, but also the wider philosophical debates surrounding the prizing of children’s books and the impact of this recognition on canonicity and value. The picture that emerges is complex and nuanced. […] The book is full of fascinating nuggets of information […] The collection is also effective in the way in which, whilst each chapter takes a specific winner as its focus, it also provides the reader with a sense of the Medal’s historical trajectory. […]  The book contains many [examples of] fascinating complexity, not only around race but also about other issues such as the portrayal of disability […]. The introduction acknowledges a certain uneasiness that cannot be neatly resolved: the book is both ‘a homage’ to the Medal and an expression of the ‘contributors’ collective ambivalence about its legacy’ (12). Dust off the Gold Medal provides an excellent platform for discussion of these knotty, complex issues at a vital juncture for children’s literature."

    --Liz West, University of Reading, IRSCL


    "The essays take a refreshing scholarly approach, integrating research, historical context, and high levels of literary analysis. … Individual pieces provide fascinating and thought-provoking insights related to the featured book and its time. Taken as a whole, the collection provides a valuable exploration of the impact and significance of prize-winning children’s literature from the past century.

    VERDICT: A welcome addition to children’s literature scholarship." 

    --Steven Engelfried, School Library Journal


    "Dust off the Gold Medal is rich and complex: focusing on the Newbery, it provides a fascinating look at changes in tropes and in what constitutes literary merit and child appeal. Finally, it convincingly contextualises these changes in the light of shifts in social and cultural values."

    --Margot Hillel, Australian Catholic University, IRSCL