The Newbery Medal is the most prestigious award given for American children’s literature. While the books must be published in the United States, they do not need to be set there.
Many of the authors of these books were either from the country they wrote about or spent a significant amount of time there. They were all originally written in English.
For the fourth installment of this series on FREE Newbery Award books, we are excited to share books set in Europe, but outside of the U.K. Part 3 covers books set in the U.K. and Ireland.
Newbery Award winners usually stand up well to the passing of time. Because they are so well written, they are enjoyable reads for adults as well.
I always include a link to U.S. Amazon.com because they provide the cover art, but I’ve also included links for each of the FREE books that allow you to download them directly with no log in from most countries.
The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly
Newbery Medal, 1929
The plot of The Trumpeter of Krakow is so wonderfully complicated I’m just going to leave it to Wikipedia to explain, but suffice to say that when words like “jewels”, “pogroms”, “Russians”, and “philosopher’s stone” (reminiscent of Harry Potter) pop up, you’ve got a winner!
There is also an option for some real sleuthing as it appears that Eric P. Kelly may have concocted the “legend” in the novel himself, which became so well known that it became accepted as legend!
Have fun with that.
Between the novel itself and the background and history, you should be able to keep some kids busy for a while.
Link to The Trumpeter of Krakow at Faded Page (Canada). This book is not yet in public domain in the United States.
Who was Edward P. Kelly?
Kelly was an English professor who also spent years working in Poland with the Polish army and other endeavors.
Spice and the Devil’s Cave by Agnes Danforth Hewes
You’ll want to read Spice and the Devil’s Cave when your kids are studying explorers…it features Vasco de Gama, Bartholomew Diaz, and Ferdinand Magellan.
Online text of Spice and the Devil’s Cave at University of Pennsylvania’s A Celebration of Women Writers
Who was Agnes Danforth Hughes?
Hughes was an American born in Tripoli, Lebanon (then part of Syria) to a medical missionary couple and grew up speaking Arabic. As an adult, in addition to being an author, she became a minister herself, which was unusual for a Protestant woman at the time.
Who was Lyn Ward?
Lyn Ward is credited with helping to invent the graphic novel with his wordless “novels in woodcuts”. He also won Caldecott Awards for two of his children’s books.
A Day on Skates by Hilda van Stockum
Newbery Honor Book, 1935
This is a lovely book about a winter class picnic in Friesland, in the north Netherlands.
This book would make a great early chapter book for kids around ages 7 or 8 or a read aloud.
Why do you say “The Netherlands” instead of Holland?
Also, quick tutorial on why you should refer to this country as “The Netherlands” and not “Holland”, with a thank you to my Dutch friend…you know who you are…for educating me on this.
Anyway, Dutch is fun because so many words are similar to English, as you will learn from the video.
Who was Hilda Van Stockum?
Van Stockum was a Dutch woman born in Rotterdam, Netherlands but was living in the United States by 1935.
Her most famous book is The Winged Watchman, which is about the Dutch Resistance’s use of windmills as signaling devices during World War 2.
The Quaint and Curious Quest of Johnny Longfoot by Catherine Besterman
Newbery Honor Book, 1948
The Quaint and Curious Quest of Johnny Longfoot is based on a Polish folktale and is about the value of being thrifty. It’s a comedic adventure story with talking animals, and unlike a lot of Newbery books, better for younger elementary school kids.
Online version of The Quaint and Curious Quest of Johnny Longfoot at a Celebration of Women Writers
The Defender by Nicholas Kalashnikoff
Newbery Honor Book, 1952
The Defender is the story of a Lamut man who is ostracized when he is accused of being a sorcerer who can talk to rams.
If that is not enough to make you want to read this book, then I don’t know what else to say.
It’s also a chance to learn about a unique culture and traditional lifestyle I doubt many Americans know much about.
Because of the plot line, it’s also great extended reading for with one of the numerous books about girls accused of being witches that are usually set in either the U.K. or colonial, northeastern United States.
Even in Virginia, where I’m from, there is a major road called Witchduck Road named for Grace Sherwood, aka “the Witch of Pungo”, which is a part of Virginia Beach.
I appreciate a similar story about a man, for once.
I realize Siberia is technically Asia, but culturally to me it FEELS more like Europe, so I’m including it here, but I would probably include it in a list about Asia as well.
Free online version of The Defender at Hathi Trust.
Who was Nicholas Kalashnikoff?
Kalashnikoff was born in Siberia participated in the 1905 Russian Revolution. After being a political exile for his participation in the Revolution, he was a captain for Russia in World War 1 and a general in Siberian Army in the Russian Civil War. During the 1920’s before moving to the United States, he lived in China. If you want to read more about him, his autobiography (written for adults) is They That Take the Sword.
Runner of the Mountaintops: The Life of Louis Agassiz by Mabel Robinson
Newbery Honor Book, 1940
What’s great about this book is that it is nonfiction, a rarity in the Newbery Award line up, especially early Newberys.
What not so great about Runner of the Mountaintops is its style, which will seem flat to modern readers. Unfortunately, the subject of the book, Louis Agassiz, is not someone you probably want to spend a lot of time on because he believed that there were genetic differences between different ethnicities.
So yes, this book is out of print for a reason, but there is a free version available online.
Runner of the Mountaintops available online at the University of Pennsylvania’s A Celebration of Women Writers
Free and Famous
Not Free but Easy to Find Used and in Libraries
Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska
Set in Spain
Newbery Medal, 1965