Lois Lowry, whose novels consistently blow us away, is one of only five authors who have been awarded the Newbery Medal twice — once for Number the Stars in 1990, and again for The Giver in 1993 (two more of her doubly awarded peers are also on our list!). Lowry does not shy away from disturbing or difficult topics — the Holocaust, dystopian futures, terminal illness — but instead addresses them head on with grace and captivating ability. Two decades later, we’re still arguing with our friends over whether Jonas dies or finds salvation at the end of The Giver. The question, like the book, still feels urgent, which is how we know she’s one of the best.
Another two-time Newbery Medal winner, E.L. Konigsburg is also the only person to have won both a Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor (which is basically the award’s honorable mention) in the same year — for the first two books she ever wrote, no less: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth , both submitted at once to her no-doubt thrilled publisher. A full 29 years later, in 1997, she won the medal again for The View from Saturday , another classic. Her work effortlessly describes the interior lives of children trying to discover their own personalities, perhaps because she has based many of her characters on her own children and students, who were, she says, “softly comfortable on the outside and solidly uncomfortable on the inside.” Perhaps one of the reasons that her work is so enduring is that that quality never quite completely goes away.
Probably the most popular classic fantasy series in children’s literature, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia has sold over 100 million copies and been published in 47 languages. The magical world of Narnia captivated children so intensely that one reader we know tells of crying uncontrollably at the end of the last book, desperate to be able to get to the fictional realm, certain that she believed enough. The now-obvious Christian allegory aside, these books are wonders of imagination that cement Lewis’s place among the best children’s lit authors of all time.
Speaking of C.S. Lewis — Philip Pullman is considered by some to be the “Anti-Lewis,” and His Dark Materials to be a direct rebuttal to The Chronicles of Narnia. We have found it in our hearts to love both (though we admit, we love Pullman best), and we think his books — captivating works of imagination filled with intelligent, passionate characters — are destined to go down in history as classics.
Sure, it may be derivative, and it may not, as her detractors cry, be the most elevated of literature, but there’s no denying that J.K. Rowling has inspired millions of kids and adults alike with her Harry Potter series. Plus, we’re sorry, the stories, rife with wordplay and creative worldmaking, are just undeniably good — and they were especially wonderful for kids who got to grow up alongside Harry as his adventures got darker, weirder, and more dangerous, just like their own imaginations.
Of course we couldn’t forget the author of what might be the most well-known work of children’s literature across the globe, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland . Obsessed with wordplay and weird to the bone, Carroll was an odd egg, but we wouldn’t have it any other way — his innovative brand of literary nonsense became a phenomenon that has inspired countless reinterpretations, and his 1865 novel (1865!) is still a modern-sounding, popular work today. Can’t beat that.
We won’t list the many awards and lifetime achievement recognitions of the much-lauded Madeleine L’Engle here, and if you’re reading this list, you’ve probably read something by her and don’t need any extra encouragement from us, but suffice it to say that A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels are some of the best things to happen to children’s literature in the history of time. 50 years later, they’re still essential, inspiring, and completely strange. We love it.
Paterson, author of classics like The Great Gilly Hopkins (which won the National Book Award), Bridge to Terabithia (which won the Newbery Medal), can also boast of winning the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award, sometimes called the “Nobel Prize for children’s literature.” The eighth most frequently challenged book of the nineties, Bridge to Terabithia is a difficult but essential part of the modern canon of children’s literature, and should not be missed.
The author of more than forty books (and one of the founders of kids magazine Cricket), Alexander is best known for his spectacular five book series The Chronicles of Prydain , whose final installment, The High King, won the Newbery Medal in 1969. Drawing on Welsh mythology, overflowing with wit and charm, these books were some of our favorites, and inspired countless other children as well. After all, what Assistant Pig-Keeper (or nerdy 10 year old, which is basically the equivalent) doesn’t wish to grow up to be a hero?
Judy Blume, it seems, got us through just about everything. From Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (which is probably technically a YA novel — Blume excels at both), she always manages to capture the trauma and joy and utter ridiculousness of being a kid like no one else.