Award-Winning Black Authors and The Newbery’s 100th Anniversary

By Jeff B. RSS Mon, February 28, 2022

The John Newbery Award is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2022!

Commonly referred to as "The Newbery", the literary award is given each year by the American Library Association (ALA) to the author and their book considered the best in American Children's Literature of the past year. Beginning in 1922, one award winner is named, and additional exceptional books may be chosen to receive the distinction of being an Honor Title. As of 2021, five Black writers have won the medal and 27 have been honored. Arna Bontemps was the first Black male author to receive the now prestigious literary honor in 1949 for his book, The Story of the Negro. Virginia Hamilton was the first Black female writer to win the medal for her book M.C. Higgins, The Great, in 1975. 

The progress made in celebrating Black authors and recognizing the desire for books that speak to the black experience in America mirrors the growing trend towards diversity, equity, and inclusion in the publishing industry.

Here are some more recommendations of Newbery award-winning or honored Black authors and their books—all available to be borrowed in multiple formats from our catalog.

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom written by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Michele Wood

2021 Newbery Honor Title

Henry Brown wrote that long before he came to be known as "Box," he "entered the world a slave." He was put to work starting as a child and passed down from one generation to the next – as property.  Then hope - and help - came in the form of the Underground Railroad. The author, in poems, narrates Henry Brown's story of how he came to ship himself in a box from slavery to freedom.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

2020 Newbery Medal Winner

Seventh-grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D Williams

2020 Newberry Honor Title

This sensitive and powerful debut novel tells the story of a thirteen-year-old who is filled with self-loathing and must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.

The Undefeated written by Kwame Alexander; illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

2020 Newbery Honor Title

This poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut written by Derrick D. Barnes; illustrated Gordon C. James

2018 Newbery Honor Title

This rhythmic, read-aloud title is a joyful celebration of the self-esteem, confidence, and swagger boys feel when they leave the barber’s chair and helps them not just love and accept themselves but also take a giant step toward caring how they present themselves to the world.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

2015 Newbery Honor Title

The author shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, accessible and emotionally charged, each line is a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

2015 Newbery Honor Title

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.


May this short sample of authors and titles inspire you to explore the large and growing body of award-winning works by Black authors. Ask your friendly neighborhood Librarian for assistance and let the Free Library of Philadelphia be your companion in your journey of discovery.

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