100 Scope Notes
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So You Want to Win the Newbery? (Part I)

The only way to win the Newbery Medal, of course, is to write the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children and then sleep with The Story of Mankind under your pillow until the winner is announced (some people do weird things to bring good luck).

But, you know, what else?

Today and tomorrow we’ll take a look at two factors that have no bearing on which book will win, but are fun to pick apart in hindsight – publication month and starred reviews. Shout out to my co-worker Niki (@daydreamreader) for the inspiration.

First, a couple notes. Today I decided to include data from just the past 30 years of winners (1983-2013). The further you go back, the harder it is to get details on publication date. For this reason I had to go with an even more narrow window for the starred review comparison tomorrow.

When thinking about the most common publication month for Newbery winners, I had a prediction – that it would be in the fall. I wasn’t sure, but it seemed children’s publishing had a touch of the Oscars syndrome – where studios wait until fall to release their strongest award hopefuls. If true, this is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If publishers think fall is the best time to release a Newbery contender, more strong candidates are published in that season, resulting in more fall release winners.

Enough with the speculation – what does the data show?

Shocker! Out of nowhere, April is the month when the most Newbery winners were released (in the last 30 years). September did have a strong showing so I don’t feel totally off-base with my fall month prediction. And how about June and December, eh? Not one medal to their names. December makes sense – it’s so late in the game – but June was a surprise.

Did you have a prediction? How’d it fare?

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. How does this compare with the total number of books released? I’d wager (a little bit, anyway) that your graph correlates pretty well with how many books are published those months overall (especially non-holiday books).

    • Travis Jonker says

      That’s a good question, Colleen – I’m not sure how to find that daa, but it would be interesting to see how those two things lined up.

  2. Colby Sharp says

    I remember you and I having a conversation about this on our way to the Anderson’s breakfast in 2012:)

  3. Your chart would closely resemble, methinks, a chart of the number of books published each month in a given publishing year. Most books are published in the spring and fall, which could explain why most Newbery awards are given to books published in April and September.

    • Travis Jonker says

      So perhaps it’s more of a volume thing than anything else – interesting.

      • Of course, quantity doesn’t guarantee quality; more books coming out in a given period doesn’t mean the best will be among them. I’m just positing that publishers tend to put out the books they’re most proud of in the two seasons. Clearly there are exceptions. The January statistic shows that. (Hey, I have a book out this January. Hmm…)

  4. Benji Martin says

    I remember being surprised that Moon Over Manifest won after being published so late in the year. I think it was abNovember book. Then I read it, and was no longer surprised.

  5. Travis Jonker says

    That one was released pretty late. And I agree that that added to the surprise.

  6. I don’t know where you could find the numbers across publishing houses, but I can tell you that when I was working in-house, I learned that books just did not get released in June or December. June because the summer had started, school was over, it was too late to get people’s attention… December for similar reasons, but also because books shipped in December might not make it onto shelves until January due to the holiday. The usual windows for two-season houses (which is what hardcover publishers do–paperbacks may be released all year round) were February- April and August-October, with a few titles arriving early or running late…

    • Travis Jonker says

      Thanks, Harold – it’s interesting to see the different factors that play a part in how the numbers come out.