Introduction to the 1990s Newbery Medal Winners
During the 1990s, the economy in America was thriving, the stock market was on the rise, and consumerism was back with a vengeance. Technology affected, in one way or another, the lives of virtually every American. People used the computer to communicate with family and friends and to make purchases. The Internet became the fastest and most efficient means of obtaining information. American society was changing: Legislators began to pay attention to diverse groups of people such as the handicapped; environmental issues became popular concerns; and finally, the needs of children were beginning to be addressed.
The Newbery Medal winners of the 1990s are a reflection of the society in which they were written. Because people are using computers more, they tend to be more isolated from others than they were during previous decades. As a result, a recurring theme in the novels that won the Newbery Medal Award in the 1990s, regardless of the time period in which they were set, is the interdependence of people. In Number the Stars (1990), Ellen and her family would not have escaped communist Denmark without the help of Annemarie's family; Maniac, in Maniac Magee (1991), would not have a family if strangers had not taken him in; in The Giver (1994), Jonas realizes that people are not really living if they are not sharing their emotions, thoughts, and feelings with each other; Salamanca might not have come to terms with her mother's death if she had not had a good friend named Phoebe to mirror her own feelings in Walk Two Moons (1995); Beetle would not have survived long without the Midwife in The Midwife's Apprentice (1996); Nadia, Noah, Julian, and Ethan are connected as The Souls and as teammates for the Academic Bowl in The View From Saturday (1997); in Out of the Dust (1998), Billie Jo needs her father; and finally, in Holes (1999), Stanley and Zero must depend on each other to survive.
All the winners of the 1990s Newbery Medal have addressed issues related to diversity and the need that exists for acceptance of diverse populations — the experiences of Jews in a communist country, homelessness, prejudice that exists between blacks and whites, poverty, the elderly, adolescents who are considered outcasts or who are "different" from peers, and the handicapped. A common goal of these authors is to open the eyes of their readers to differences that exist throughout the human race and to suspend judgement until "they have walked two moons in another person's moccasins."
The environment plays a major role in novels such as The Giver (1993), Walk Two Moons (1994), Out of the Dust (1998), and Holes (1999). These novels portray the influence that a particular environment can have on people, their ability to persevere, and the appreciation for rain, trees, hills, or grass.
Because the needs of children began to be emphasized during the 1990s, it became clear that children's feelings related to grief as a result of death or some other loss were important to portray in order to "normalize" the feelings. 1990s Newbery Medal winners that included this theme are Number the Stars (1990), Maniac Magee (1991), Missing May (1993), The Giver (1994), Walk Two Moons (1995), and Out of the Dust (1998).
Other significant themes that appear as a common thread in the 1990s Newbery Medal winners are friendship and family, particularly nontraditional families, courage and bravery, and the dilemmas that adolescents encounter as they struggle to become adults.
All of the winners of the 1990s Newbery Medal are written for children in middle grade levels, and the protagonists are all around the age of twelve. Out of the Dust (1998), a novel that is written in free verse, is the only winner that is poetry. The Giver (1994) is the only winner that is written about a futuristic society.
The Newbery Medal winners of the 1990s are novels that portray a remarkable diversity, yet all speak to universal themes and subjects that are relevant to adolescents. The talents exhibited by the authors are truly outstanding and worthy of the prestigious Newbery Medal Award.