100 Years of the Newbery: “Publicity of the Best Kind”

Clara W. Hunt, chair of the Children’s Librarians Section, had noted that the Newbery Medal provided children’s literature with “publicity of the best kind.” But ALA did not always rely on the Newbery’s popularity to capture the public’s attention. Publicity around the Newbery Medal has drummed up excitement amongst librarians, readers, and the public for the past century. Often this has meant events, press releases, newsletters, radio programming, television broadcasts, and newspaper and magazine articles. Even the medal’s donor, Fredric Melcher, was part of the pageantry by holding press conferences at his New York office to announce the awardee of the Newbery Medal. However, some publicity ideas were more daring than press conferences and radio programs. The two stories of Rachel Field and Misty the Horse highlight a couple out of the box stunts.

Rachel Field and Milton J. Ferguson. Ferguson announced to Field that “Hitty” have been chosen to receive the Newbery Medal. Los Angeles Conference, 1930.

In celebration of Rachel Field, the first female author to win the Newbery, for her book Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, she was flown into the ALA Conference in Los Angeles. Not a common feat in 1930. Field’s publisher, the Macmillan Company, chartered the flight.

While Field was in the air, she had esteemed librarian visitors. The Bulletin of the American Library Association describes the event: “A bit of air history was made in connection with the ALA conference this year when an airplane carrying Rachel Field, winner of the Newbery medal, was met 10,000 feet in the air … by two other planes carrying Milton J. Ferguson, California state librarian and representatives of the Section for Library Work with Children of the ALA, the Los Angeles Public Library, the Los Angeles County Library and the press…” (1)

Over headsets, Ferguson spoke to Field about her Newbery award as the other occupants listened in, though the planes drowned out parts of their conversation. Field was then greeted by the chair of the Section for Library Work with Children, Effie Power, once she arrived at Los Angeles’ Grand Central Air Terminal. Coming in by airplane, Field had made a grand entrance into the ALA Conference, however she would have to wait until the end of the conference for her medal. (2)

The medal presentation was made during the last general session of the conference, instead of during the Section for Library Work with Children’s session. This spoke of the popularity of Field’s book and the occasion of her award. Power acknowledged the need for the change in venue, “The popularity of this feature of our program was our undoing. It appears that we enticed catalogers from subject headings and small town librarians from publicity, to rooms crowded to overflowing. Something had to be done about it.” (3)

Field got to bookend the conference with a dramatic entrance and her Newbery medal. And while flying in loud airplanes was probably not the most practical way to speak to an award-winning author, it did make for a great stunt and truly marked the occasion of the first female awardee.

Effie Power with Newbery medal, Los Angeles, 1930.

Not all publicity efforts were universally well received, as was the case of the appearance of Misty the Horse at the 1949 Midwest Regional ALA Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1949, Marguerite Henry received the Newbery for her book, King of the Wind: the Story of the Godolphin Arabian, but it was the subject of her Newbery runner-up book, Misty of Chincoteague, that ended up on display. Misty the Horse made a visit to the conference’s exhibit, arranged by Henry’s publishers, the Rand McNally Company.

“Misty” – Story Book Heroine – Librarian for a Day

The announcement of Misty’s visit was made in the October 1949 ALA Bulletin, a month before the regional conference, by ALA’s Executive Secretary, John Mackenzie Cory. Cory wrote that Misty would make a personal appearance in observance of Henry’s Newbery Medal. The following month, Henry and Misty graced the cover of the November ALA Bulletin with the caption “‘Misty’—Story Book Heroine—Librarian for a Day.” Further information in the ALA Bulletin noted that Misty was attending the Midwest Regional ALA Conference and present at the Rand McNally booth on November 11.

It would stand to reason that Misty’s invitation and appearance at the conference was cleared by the Children’s Librarians Association (CLA), the ALA unit that awarded the Newbery Medal. However, this was apparently not the case, according to Virginia Chase, a previous chair of the Newbery-Caldecott Awards Committee and member of CLA.

Incensed by Misty’s debut at the conference, Chase wrote to Helen Kinsey, of ALA’s Booklist publication, to express her shock and to reassert CLA’s position on the horse: “In case you wondered if CLA has lost its wits by having Misty there, you will be interested to know that the CLA Board to the last man decidedly voted against the horse and was assured by Headquarters that she would not appear. This first I knew she was coming was when I read in Mr. Cory’s memo in the October Bulletin … I hope no one else at Headquarters thinks we wanted the horse or even lifted a finger to get her there.” (4)

Letter from Virginia Chase to Helen Kinsey, November 21, 1949.

Kinsey wrote back with both reassurance for Chase and gentle praise for Misty: “The matter of Misty’s being there will not, I’m sure, be held against CLA. It seemed well understood how CLA stood on the matter. In any event, I would say that Misty was a huge success, enjoyed by everyone, apparently, except the Macmillan crowd (who had a perfect right to be annoyed). Even Mr. Cory remarked on Misty’s attendance meant in the way of publicity for both ALA and Grand Rapids [Public Library].” (5)

Even though Chase and the Macmillan crowd were irked by Misty’s appearance, Kinsey was able to put a positive spin on the attention the horse brought to ALA and the Grand Rapids Public Library.

While today ALA still celebrates and publicizes the Newbery award, unfortunately ALA has fewer ponies in attendance at conferences and no longer flies planes side by side to tell authors about their Newbery award.


Blog post adapted from “The Newbery in the Archives: 100 Years of Letters, Photographs, and Stories,” presented at The Newbery Medal at 100, November 5, 2021.


  1. “Culled from a Conference Note-Book,” Bulletin of the American Library Association 24, no. 7 (July 1930): 275-279.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Papers and Proceedings of the Fifty-Second Annual Meeting of the American Library Association, (Chicago: American Library Association, 1930), 487.
  4. Virginia Chase to Helen Kinsey, November 21, 1949, Awards File, 1934-2009, Record Series 24/2/8, Box 4, Folder: Newbery Medal, 1948-49.
  5. Helen Kinsey to Virginia Chase, December 1, 1949, Awards File, 1934-2009, Record Series 24/2/8, Box 4, Folder: Newbery Medal, 1948-49.
Updated on