Newbery, Caldecott, Printz and More: The Biggest Kidlit Awards

by Bronwen Fleetwood
published in Reading

Award season happens every December-February, and with it comes a wave of happy authors and illustrators who get to proudly pin a medal on their covers.

But what does each award really signify? Who gives them out and who do they give them to? How does a book earn an award?

It’s worth studying up on the different awards because it’ll help you stay on top of what’s happening in the kidlit sector. If you don’t have a lot of time to read, starting with award-nominated and award-winning books is a great idea. Knowing what goes into a great book can help you create one.

Below, an overview of some of the biggest awards for children’s authors. These are juried awards, rather than popular honors that are voted on by the public.

American Library Association (ALA) / Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) / Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Awards

ALSC is a division of the ALA, focused on providing library services to child readers, and YALSA is its teen counterpart. They host some of the oldest and most prestigious awards, like the Newbery and Caldecott. You can find a list of their awards on their website. Some are given in association with other groups.

Belpré Medal (Info)

This award is named for Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library, and is given to a Latinx writer and illustrator “whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth”.

Winners of Note:

  • Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales (2014)
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2013)
  • Esperanza Rising By Pam Munoz Ryan (2002)

Caldecott Medal (Info)

Named for nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, this medal is awarded to the illustrator of the year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children.”

Winners of Note:

  • Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1964)
  • Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg (1982)

Children’s Literature Legacy Award (previously the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal) (Info)

This award goes to writers and illustrators with a body of work that has made “a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children through books that demonstrate integrity and respect for all children’s lives and experiences”. The award was previously known as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, but was changed in 2018 to affirm the organization’s commitment to inclusivity.

Winners of Note:

  • Tomie dePaola (2011)
  • James Marshall (2007)
  • Eric Carle (2003)
  • Maurice Sendak (1983)
  • Theodor S. Geisel (Dr. Seuss) (1980)
  • Beverly Cleary (1975)
  • E. B. White (1970)

Coretta Scott King Book Awards (Info)

This award, named for the wife of Martin Luther King Jr., is given “to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values”. Awards are given for Author, Illustrator, New Talent (Author), New Talent (Illustrator), and Lifetime Achievement. 2019 marks the award’s 50th anniversary.

Winners of Note:

  • March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nathan Powell (2017)
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2015)
  • Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe (1998)

Newbery Medal (Info)

Often considered the most prestigious award in children’s literature, the Newbery is also the oldest award specific to children’s literature, as it was proposed in 1921. It’s named for John Newbery, an eighteenth-century children’s publisher. The award is given to “the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”.

Winners of Note:

  • Holes by Louis Sachar (1999)
  • The Giver (1994) and Number the Stars (1990) by Lois Lowry
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)
  • The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (1923)

Michael L. Printz Award (Info)

Named for Topeka, Kansas school librarian, Michael L. Printz, this award is given to “the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit“. The award was created “as a counterpoint to the Newbery”, which focuses on works for younger children.

Winners of Note:

  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (2016)
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (2015)
  • Going Bovine by Libba Bray (2010)
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (2007)
  • How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (2005)

Stonewall Book Awards (Info)

A set of three awards, one of which is the Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award, given for “exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience.” The award is named for the historic Stonewall Inn in Manhattan.

Winners of Note:

  • The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (2018)
  • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan (2017)
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (2017)
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (2015)

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award (Info)

Named for the legendary Dr. Seuss (which was the pen name for Theodor Geisel), this award is given to “author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers.”

Winners of Note:

  • You Are (Not) Small, written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant (2015)
  • There Is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems (2008)

We Need Diverse Books’ Walter Dean Myers Award (Info)

Awards that “recognize diverse authors (or co-authors) whose works feature diverse main characters and address diversity in a meaningful way.” This award was inaugurated in 2016 and as of 2018 includes two categories, Teen and Younger Readers.

Winners of Note:

  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2019)
  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (2019)
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2018)
  • Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford and Eric Velasquez (2018)
  • March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nathan Powell (2017)
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2016)

William C. Morris Award (Info)

The Morris is awarded to a debut author of young adult fiction (ages 12-18). The award was first given in 2009 and is named for publisher William C. Morris who was passionate about marketing children’s literature.

Winners of Note:

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2018)
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2016)
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (2015)

Golden Kite Awards (Info)

Given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) to recognize excellence in children’s literature. There are five categories: Fiction Young Reader and Middle Grade,  Fiction Young Adult, Nonfiction, Picture Book Text, Picture Book Illustration. This is the only award judged by a jury of peers—i.e. other children’s authors and illustrators. Must be a member of SCBWI.

Winners of Note:

  • The Christmas Boot, written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (2016)
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (2000)
  • Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (1995)
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (1991)

There are lots of opportunities for children’s authors to be recognized, and this article just scratches the surface. Browse the nominees and make sure to add some of these excellent books to your reading list!

Bronwen Fleetwood writes fiction for young adults, and nonfiction for writers. Bronwen studied creative writing at Eugene Lang,The New School for Liberal Arts, has acted as leader of the Princeton Writing Group, and as a Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month. Bronwen currently lives on the Whale Coast of South Africa, between the mountains, the sea, and a lake. You can connect with her at

Enjoyed this article?