UP!–John Newbery: The Man Behind the Medal

Born in England on July 9, 1713, at the age of 16, John Newbery left his home town and parents’ farm to work for a printer. So was his first step into the world of publishing. In 1737 he became co-owner of a publishing company. At that time, the books typically given to children were tedious and lesson-filled, or handed-down folktales written for adults. These were considered “tall” tales, so thought of more for children. Books such as Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe were among them, though young children weren’t capable of reading at that level. Newbery eventually came up with the groundbreaking idea to publish books designed specifically for children by making the books fun to read. It was risky and he could’ve ultimately lost his business if the idea failed, but he was confident children would like them. He was right.

Little Pretty Pocket-Book - cover

In 1744, Newbery created and published what is considered the world’s first children’s book. It had a very lengthy title, especially in comparison to the books in today’s market: A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, intended for the Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly with Two Letters from Jack the Giant KillerAt that time, any book for a child would have to include a lesson of some kind, whether educational or moral. “Pocket-Book” included them all. The book was written and marketed partly with the purpose of encouraging children to see the benefits of good behavior vs. bad. It also included the alphabet. Each upper and Pocket-Book - inside pageslower case letter had its own page, each with a rhyme and moral, though I wasn’t able to correlate why each rhyme was on its particular page. The book ends with a variety of fables, poems and proverbs. It was so popular in England, it was re-published in Colonial America. Then, in 1765, Newbery published his house’s most successful children’s book Little Goody Two Shoes. 

(These 4 book illustrations were obtained through Wikimedia.)

Little Pretty Pocket-Book - illust. - letter k  Little Pretty Pocket-Book - illust.  Little Goody Two Shoes

Newbery MedalNewbery Honor Book

At the suggestion of Frederic G. Melcher, in 1922, the American Library Association established the first medal for children’s books. Due to the fact that John Newbery was the “father” of books published for children, it was obvious the medal should bear his name: The Newbery MedalNot only did he publish the first children’s book, but he established children’s literature as a genre within the literary market, alongside adult fiction, nonfiction and poetry, of which Newbery’s company also published.

Books, in general, but especially children’s books, are my passion. If it weren’t for the innovative thinking and confidence of John Newbery, this beloved format may not have blossomed into what we know it to be today. I know I’m grateful 🙂 And, just as an interesting aside, a bit of trivia: while researching, I was especially interested to learn that it was in Newbery’s “A Little Pretty Pocket-Book”, the English game “Rounders” was first called “Base-Ball.”

As an aside, in 2013, when attending the New York Public Library’s event, “The ABC of It,” I had the pleasant surprise of seeing an original “A Little Pretty Pocket-Book”! Elation! 😀

Entrance - street signNewbery - Pocket Book






For up-to-date lists of: Newbery Medalist and Honor Books


John Newbery and the Story of the Newbery Medal


John Newbery and the Story of the Newbery Medal by Russell Roberts Part of the “Great Achievement Awards” series published by Mitchell Lane Publishers 2004



John Newbery, Father of Children's Literature


John Newbery: Father of Children’s Literature by Shirley Granahan. Published by Abdo Group 2009. This is a well-written biography which contains many beautifully-rendered sketches and paintings, along with stunning photographs.



John Newbery and His Books


John Newbery and His Books: Trade and Plumb-Cake for Ever, Huzza! by John Rowe Townsend. Published by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group Inc. 1994



John Newbery and His Successors


John Newbery and His Successors 1740—1814, A Bibliography by S. Roscoe. Published by Five Owls Press 1973

24 thoughts on “UP!–John Newbery: The Man Behind the Medal

    • Aileen, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I know I found it all very fascinating when I was reading all this to do the post. I’ll have another one that’s been waiting in the wings that I loved, too (but these bios are very time-consuming, just like my Q&As), about Robert McCloskey. What a talent! 🙂


  1. Donna, Wonderful post! You wrote 1937 when he stepped into publishing. My guess is that should be 1837. I have a fantasy that one of my books will have that very pretty little sticker. Or any sticker for that matter. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Robin! And especially for alerting me to the typo 🙂 I’m a stickler for accuracy, but when there are so many moving pieces and revision, you know what happens 😉 I hope you end up living that fantasy, my dear. As for me, I know my work won’t be getting Newberys or Caldecotts lol It’s just not that kind of stuff!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like it when you teach me things, it is hard to believe that Children’s books were not a recognised genre at one time! And how the genre has evolved with so many magnificent books, from Bow Island to the Weirdstone of Brasingamen, Bruno and Sylvie and the wonderful Riddles of Epsilon…the man deserves more recognition!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love learning things, too, even though my brain doesn’t retain a lot of it anymore! lol So glad you got something out of this, Ste J 😀

      In the U.S. the award named after him is probably the most prestigious. What’s sad is most of us don’t look into the background of the medals/awards we’re familiar with. I’d always wondered, but never took the time out to learn about it ’til I decided to do this post! So glad I did. I hate being ignorant about stuff like this, especially since kidlit is such a huge part of my life!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for this great post about John Newberry, Donna Marie. Look where his innovation got us with a market so rich in wonderful picture books. We have much to be thankful for! I love picture books. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve had this tab up open for days, and just got a chance to read. I really love your informative writing style. I can’t believe the original name of the pocket-book! I hope that long picture-book titles become vogue someday soon, because I think they’re hilarious!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Nicole, and thanks again for your wonderful compliment to me on your blog recently 🙂 It means so much!

      As for the titles, I can tell you, there’s one that comes immediately to mind and is on the longer side is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. This book is amazing! And so is the documentary film William Joyce did, too. Talk about an amazingly talented man! If you haven’t seen either yet, oh, you MUST 😀 😀 😀


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