The Alan Review
Current Editor
Wendy Glenn wendy.glenn@uconn.edu
Volume 38, Number 3
Summer 2011


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Joan F. Kaywell

The Top Young Adult Book Picks from This Decade 1999–2009

Every decade, Ted Hipple would ask young adult (YA) literature experts to identify their favorite books. Using the United States Postal Service, he would send letters, tally all of the responses, publish the results, present those titles at a National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) convention session, and distribute a handout at an Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN) workshop. Since Ted passed away in 2004 and because I was asked the last couple of times to participate in his survey, I decided to replicate the survey—with some modifications—in his honor.

The Question

Although admittedly unscientific, on March 16, 2010, I posted this question on the Adolescent Literature Forum of the NCTE Ning: “In your opinion, what are the 10 best Young Adult (YA) books published between 1999 and 2009, with 1 being your favorite and so on?” The following day, I emailed all members of ALAN the same question. In both forums, I requested that members forward my email request to all the YA enthusiasts they knew in order to get as many responses as possible.

The Method

From then until April 15, 2010, individuals could name their favorites. My question was forwarded by ALAN members and posted on several message boards, including Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) and other communities on the NCTE Ning. Respondents were asked to provide three bits of information: the name of the book, the author of the book, and their own professional role as a user of YA literature—university professor, secondary teacher, media specialist, or author.

All submissions were checked via Internet to establish the copyright date of the first edition of each book. Those respondents who identified a book outside of the 1999–2009 range were given an opportunity to modify their submissions. The data of those who did not respond to the request to revise were discarded.

Numerical points were distributed according to the rankings given. If a person listed the book in 1st place, that book received 10 points; 2nd place, 9 points, and so on so that the book in 10th place received 1 point (see Appendix 1: Example of Scoring System Using My Ranked Selections). Another count was done by simply tallying one mark each time a title was mentioned in a person’s top ten list, regardless of ranking.

The Results

In short, responses were obtained from 197 people: 70 university professors (see Appendix 2: Professors’ Picks), 63 secondary teachers (see Appendix 3: Secondary Teachers’ Picks), 44 librarians (see Appendix 4: Librarians’ Picks), and 20 authors (see Appendix 5: Authors’ Picks). In all, 456 young adult titles were mentioned. The following titles led the list; each appears with its earned score representing the points received:

Mentioned in Top Ten (no points for ranking)

Discussion

When Ted Hipple published the results of his 2004 Best Young Adult Books of All Time survey in Don Gallo’s Young Adult Literature column in the January, 2005, English Journal, only 149 different novels were named from 78 respondents. Extrapolated from the full report, these were the top ten at that time, with the parenthetic number representing the votes each received:

(Incidentally, in 1987, Ted Hipple conducted a very similar survey, and the top three in that survey were The Chocolate War, The Outsiders, and The Pigman by Paul Zindel.)

Of all those titles, only Speak was listed on both Ted’s 2004 list and my 1999–2009 list; perhaps the comment made by this respondent captures why:

“. . . Certain books such as Speak are so powerful, memorable, and life-altering that they will always remain among my favorites. I can still remember the first time I read Speak. I was blown away by the author’s deftly written prose and the way she blended humor and pathos throughout the story. Her skillful weaving of The Scarlet Letter and an English class and Melinda’s own experiences was—and still is—impressive.”

Beyond Speak, one can only wonder which of the books mentioned in Ted’s survey would replace some of the top picks from this current list—if any at all!

It was also interesting that the top four books of this decade were the only books listed on all four groups’ top ten lists, and even then, all groups did not agree on the rank order.

It was humorous that every time someone listed Twilight in their top ten, it was also accompanied by an apology of some sort. The following comment represents the predominant sentiment of those who included books from the Twilight series in their top ten:

“I chose these books as my top ten not just because I liked them. In fact, there are some I liked better on a personal level that I did not add to the list. I chose the Twilight series, for example, because of my students’ reactions to them. Anything that instills a love of reading in today’s teens deserves some recognition.”

Several people hated being limited to “just ten,” and some even included an addendum with “Honorable Mentions.” Among them is another series endorsement:

“Honorable Mention: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (OK, the whole Harry Potter series is among the most fun reads—and I think that Ms. Rowling changed who was reading in middle school, so for that alone, I love her).”

The serendipitous comments by people who wanted to justify their selections (since I included no criteria for selecting the best books of the decade) were wonderful:

Conclusion

Obviously, with technology, more people have the opportunity to participate, but the increase in the number of YA titles mentioned is astounding, especially since Hipple’s survey asked for the Best YA Novels of All Time up to 2004 and mine limited people to one decade of 1999–2009. Another difference is that Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese is the first graphic novel to make the top ten list. When the survey is next conducted, will there be another kind of YA book that gets nominated—perhaps an ebook, interactive book, or a book with a role-playing game? Finally, what does make a good book good? Ted would say this Latin phrase, “De gustibus non disputandem est,” which, loosely translated, means, “There is no argument when it comes to taste.” As for me, I can honestly say that I have not read every book that was mentioned in the survey, and it is evident that YA literature has come into its own. If you’re like me, you have a lot of new books to read. Enjoy!

Note: For a copy of the complete list, email me at kaywell@usf.edu. I’d also like to thank USF students Jenn Gilgan and Courtney Pollard for their assistance in compiling the data.


Joan F. Kaywell is a full professor of English Education at the University of South Florida. She is past president of NCTE’s Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) and is currently serving as its membership secretary; she is a past-president of FCTE (twice) and is currently serving as its executive director. Dr. Kaywell has edited two series of textbooks and has written two books: Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the Classics: Exploring Critical Issues in Today’s Classrooms (2010) and Adolescents at Risk: A Guide to Fiction and Nonfiction for Young Adults, Parents, and Professionals (1993). Letters of Hope (2007) is her first trade book and is available from Philomel. Visit http://www.coedu.usf.edu/kaywell for more information.

Appendix 1: Example of Scoring System Using My Ranked Selections

  1.    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999) 10 points    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
  2.    Copper Sun by Sharon Draper (2006)   9 points    Copper Sun by Sharon Draper (2006)
  3.    Sold by Patricia McCormick (2002)   8 points    Sold by Patricia McCormick (2002)
  4.    Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (2009)   7 points    Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (2009)
  5.    Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)   6 points    Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
  6.    Unwind by Neal Shusterman (2007)   5 points    Unwind by Neal Shusterman (2007)
  7.    City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare (2007)   4 points    City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare (2007)
  8.    Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen (2001)   3 points    Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen (2001)
  9.    Deadline by Chris Crutcher (2007)   2 points    Deadline by Chris Crutcher (2007)
10.    American Born Chinese Gene Yang (2006)   1 points    American Born Chinese Gene Yang (2006)

Appendix 2: Professors’ Picks

Top Ten Professors’ Picks with Points (n = 70)
  • 303    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
  • 271    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
  • 264    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
  • 171    Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
  • 130    American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (graphic novel, 2006)
  • 120    Feed by M. T. Anderson (2002)
  • 106    Monster by Walter Dean Myers (2000)
  • 102    Looking for Alaska by John Green (2005)
  •   90    Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher (2002)
  •   75    Sold by Patricia McCormick (2002)
Mentioned in Top Ten (no points)
(NOTE: Two in bold not included in top ten.)
  •  40    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
  •  36    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
  •  34    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
  •  27    Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
  •  24    American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (2006) graphic
  •  21    Monster by Walter Dean Myers (2000)
  •  18    Looking for Alaska by John Green (2005)
  •  15    Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher (2002)
  •  15    Feed by M. T. Anderson (2002)
  •  14    The First Part Last by Angela Johnson (2003)
  •  11    The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing I and I I by M. T. Anderson (2008)
  •  11    Sold by Patricia McCormick (2002)

Appendix 3: Teachers’ Picks

Top Ten Secondary Teachers’ Picks with Points (n = 63)
  • 264    Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
  • 165    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
  • 140    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
  • 116    Unwind by Neal Shusterman (2007)
  • 104    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
  •  72    13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (2007)
  •  70    Deadline by Chris Crutcher (2007)
  •  68    Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (2000)
  •  65    The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (2005)
  •  64    Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (2009)
Mentioned in Top Ten (Teachers’ lists - no points)
(NOTE: Four in bold not included in top ten.)
  •  37    Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
  •  23    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
  •  22    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
  •  16    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
  •  15    Unwind by Neal Shusterman (2007)
  •  13    13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (2007)
  •  12    The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (2005)
  •  12    Monster by Walter Dean Myers (2000)
  •  12    Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (2005)
  •  10    Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (2000)
  •  10    Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (2009)
  •    9    Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher (2002)
  •    9    Deadline by Chris Crutcher (2007)
(NOTE: 15 Harry Potter series if added all together)

Appendix 4: Librarians’ Picks

Top Ten Librarians’ Picks with Points (n = 44)
  • 190    Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
  • 124    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
  •  98    Looking for Alaska by John Green (2005)
  •  92    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
  •  54    The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (2002)
  •  48    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
  •  44    Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (2005)
  •  35    13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (2007)
  •  35    Monster by Walter Dean Myers (2000)
  •  33    How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (2004)
Mentioned in Top Ten (Librarians’ lists - no points)
(NOTE: Two in bold not included in top ten.)
  •  26    Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
  •  18    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
  •  16    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
  •  14    Looking for Alaska by John Green (2005)
  •  11    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
  •    9    Monster by Walter Dean Myers (2000)
  •    8    The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (2002)
  •    8    Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (2005)
  •    7    13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (2007)
  •    6    Feed by M. T. Anderson (2002)
  •    6    The First Part Last by Angela Johnson (2003)
  •    6    How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (2004)

Appendix 5: Authors’ Picks

Top Ten Authors’ Picks with Points (n = 20)
  •  89    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
  •  37    Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
  •  36    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
  •  35    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
  •  29    Feed by M. T. Anderson (2002)
  •  25    The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (2000)
  •  23    Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (2000)
  •  19    The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008)
  •  19    Godless by Pete Hautman (2004)
  •  18    The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing I and II by M. T. Anderson (2008)
Mentioned in Top Ten (Authors’ lists - no points)
(NOTE: Two in bold not included in top ten.)
  •    9    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
  •    6    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
  •    5    Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
  •    5    Feed by M. T. Anderson (2002)
  •    4    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
  •    4    Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (2000)
  •    3    The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing I and II by M. T. Anderson (2008)
  •    3    The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008)
  •    3    Crank by Ellen Hopkins (2004)
  •    3    Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (2005)
  •    3    The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (2000)

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