With more books being published annually for teens than ever before, adults who are new to young adult literature often wonder where to begin in their reading. Bookstore displays and bestseller lists acquaint readers with the most popular titles, but discovering the great range of books published each year for teens—and finding the very best books—can be more difficult. Readers are more likely to become interested in young adult literature and motivated to read it if they have a way to see just how many high-quality books are available to them.
Young adult literature book awards, presented annually by librarians, bloggers, newspapers, review journals, foundations, and professional organizations, help to make the breadth and depth of young adult literature visible. Because book awards honor the year’s best books across a host of different categories, they expose readers to the diversity and richness of young adult literature and to individual titles they probably wouldn’t read or hear about otherwise. Book awards help readers to navigate the field, stay current in their reading choices, and regularly renew their thinking about what constitutes excellence in books for young people.
The most well-known book awards honor titles considered to be the best literary works of the year. But book awards can also help readers to discover exemplary books across a variety of genres and formats, from mysteries to graphic novels, nonfiction to audiobooks. Book awards can introduce readers to texts by and about people from diverse backgrounds as well as texts that take a thoughtful look at various social issues. Beyond books deemed the best in literary terms across various categories, book awards can help readers identify titles that stand out for their literary merit combined with their appeal to teens, or for teen appeal alone. The sheer number of young adult literature book awards reflects the vast range of reading options available to teens.
It’s important to point out that book award committees cannot recognize every good YA book published in a given year. The choices made by award committees are sometimes hotly contested, and deserving books may be passed over. Just because a book wins an award does not mean it is the right book for a particular reader. Despite these caveats, however, being familiar with a range of YA book awards and staying abreast of winning titles provides newcomers to the field with a reliable way to discover many of the best books young adult literature has to offer.
In the sections that follow, the three of us—a college professor, a high school teacher, and a middle school teacher, all avid readers of young adult literature— offer an overview of young adult literature book awards. We begin with awards for general literary merit, followed by awards that honor excellence in particular genres or formats. We then move to awards that celebrate various forms of diversity, and we end with awards that recognize the intersection of literary merit and teen appeal. (For a summary of awards in each category, see Figure 1.) Our goal is to provide readers who are new to young adult literature with a systematic way to explore the field. By tracking annual winners of teen book awards, readers can continually expand their knowledge of quality books for teens.
Awards for General Literary Excellence
Michael L. Printz Award http://www.ala.org/yalsa/printz-award
William C. Morris Award http://www.ala.org/yalsa/morris-award
Boston Globe–Horn Book Award http://www.hbook.com/resources/boston-globe-horn-book-awards/
National Book Award http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2012.html
Los Angeles Times Book Prize http://events.latimes.com/bookprizes/
Genre- and Format-Specific Awards
YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award http://www.ala.org/yalsa/nonfiction-award
Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/sibertmedal
Scott O’Dell Award http://www.scottodell.com/pages/ScottO’DellAwardforHistoricalFiction.aspx
Edgar Award http://www.theedgars.com/
Andre Norton Award http://www.sfwa.org/tag/andre-norton-award/
Eisner Award http://www.comic-con.org/awards/eisners-current-info
Great Graphic Novels for Teens http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/great-graphic-novels-teens
Odyssey Award http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/odysseyaward
Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/amazing-audiobooks-young-adults
Batchelder Award http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/batchelderaward
Awards That Celebrate Diversity
Coretta Scott King Award http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/coretta-scott-king-book-awards
Pura Belpré Award http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/belpremedal
Sydney Taylor Book Award http://www.jewishlibraries.org/main/Awards/SydneyTaylorBookAward.aspx
Schneider Family Book Award http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/schneider-family-book-award
Stonewall Book Award http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/stonewall-book-awards
Rainbow List http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/rainbow-project-book-list
Lambda Literary Award http://www.lambdaliterary.org/complete-list-of-award-recipients/
Amelia Bloomer List http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/amelia-bloomer-book-list
Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards http://www.janeaddamspeace.org/jacba/index_jacba.shtml
Awards for Literary Merit and Teen Appeal
Best Fiction for Young Adults http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/best-fiction-young-adults
Cybils Awards http://www.cybils.com/
Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award http://www.alan-ya.org/page/walden-award
Awards for Popularity and Teen Appeal
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/quick-picks-reluctant-young-adultreaders
Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/popular-paperbacks-young-adults
YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten http://www.ala.org/yalsa/teens-top-ten
Alex Awards http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/alex-awards
Indies Choice Book Awards http://www.bookweb.org/btw/awards/ICBA.html
Figure 1. Book awards across categories
The most important and well-known award for young adult literature is the Michael L. Printz Award . Introduced in 2000 and administered by YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, the Printz honors the book that best exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. As the first book award given solely for literary merit and solely to books published for teens, the Printz helped to usher in a new era of innovation and artistry in YA writing and publishing. (For background on the creation of the Printz, see Aronson, 2001a and Cart, 2007 , for an overview of winning titles in its first decade, see Hunt, 2009 .) Books that win the Printz tend to be the most talked about and celebrated of all YA award winners. They also tend to be the most debated. (For a discussion of titles that evoked considerable controversy and debate in the early years of the award, such as An Na’s A Step from Heaven and Aidan Chambers’s Postcards from No Man’s Land , see Campbell, 2003 and Cart, 2010 .)
While several other organizations give annual awards for literary excellence, the Printz is the most influential. Like the Newbery Award, given for distinguished contribution to literature for children, the Printz Award is helping to create a new canon of young adult literature classics. It is also helping to raise the profile of winning authors. John Green has been viewed as a major talent ever since his first novel, Looking for Alaska , won the Printz, and his second novel, An Abundance of Katherines , was named a Printz Honor book one year later. David Almond, M. T. Anderson, Margo Lanagan, and Markus Zusak have also been lauded as two-time Printz honorees.
A newer ALA award for literary excellence in young adult literature showcases the talent of debut authors. Introduced in 2009 and also administered by YALSA, the William C. Morris Award honors the best book written for young adults by a first-time, previously unpublished author. Like the Printz, the Morris is a high-profile award. Each year it draws new YA authors into the spotlight and provides readers with an easy way to discover new talent in the field. Kristin Cashore, the highly-acclaimed author of ambitious YA fantasy novels, was honored by the first Morris Committee with Graceling. John Corey Whaley made an even bigger splash when he won the Morris and the Printz in the same year with his debut novel Where Things Come Back.
Other awards for literary merit in books for young people are given by committees representing newspapers, review journals, and foundations. Of these, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award has been around the longest. Administered by Horn Book Magazine since 1967, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards recognize excellence in children’s and young adult literature across three categories: picture book, fiction, and nonfiction. Winners in the fiction and nonfiction categories can be books published for teens, such as Tim Wynne-Jones’s Blink and Caution or Steve Sheinkin’s The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery , but the committee often skews toward younger readers by honoring middle-grade titles such as Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me and Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary .
The same age group variability occurs with the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature , which was added to the list of literary awards given by the National Book Foundation in 1996. Winning titles tend to alternate between works of fiction written for older teens, like Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied , and middle-grade books such as Katherine Erskine’s Mockingbird . Occasionally nonfiction and graphic novels are honored, such as Albert Marrin’s Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy and David Small’s Stitches: A Memoir . The most decorated graphic novel in recent years, Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese , was named a finalist for the National Book Award and went on to win the Printz. In general, however, the list of National Book Award winners has been dominated by works of contemporary realistic fiction.
In 1998, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize Program also added a category for young adult literature to its existing repertoire of awards. More often than the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature tends to go to a work of fiction for older teens—past winners include M. T. Anderson’s Feed , Melvin Burgess’s Doing It , and Coe Booth’s Tyrell —but middle-grade books like Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls and nonfiction titles like Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos’s Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science have also been recognized. Having multiple awards for literary excellence is important. Literary merit is a subjective concept, and different committees may come to wildly different decisions on the year’s best books. Often there is no agreement among committees at all. A title that wins one award can be ignored by another, as was the case with Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian , which won both the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award but was passed over by the Printz Committee. There are benefits to this pattern of disagreement: readers get to hear multiple opinions on the year’s best books, and ultimately a greater number of quality titles receive recognition.
As our discussion has shown, YA award committees that focus on literary excellence typically gravitate toward works of contemporary realistic fiction. Thus, book awards focused on excellence in specific genres and formats provide an invaluable complement to awards for general literary excellence. Awards given to outstanding works of nonfiction, historical fiction, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy encourage readers to broaden their knowledge of young adult literature across a range of genres. Awards given to graphic novels and audiobooks encourage readers to explore books published in what may be unfamiliar formats. Through an award honoring a work of children’s or young adult literature published in translation, readers can also discover titles written by authors from other countries.
Of these awards, the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award is the newest. Introduced in 2010, it honors the most outstanding YA nonfiction book of the year. Because past committees for this award have recognized such a diverse array of titles—including Ann Angel’s biography, Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing ; Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s social and cultural history, They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group ; and Sally M. Walker’s introduction to forensic anthropology, Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland — readers of these books will find themselves exploring topics that stretch across an impressive variety of subject areas and disciplines.
Another nonfiction award that’s good for readers of young adult literature to know about is the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal , awarded since 2001 by the ALSC (Association of Library Service to Children, a division of the ALA) to the most distinguished informational book for children. Typically the Sibert honors informational books for younger readers, but some years a title published for teens is honored with both the Sibert and the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. When Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts: Thirteen Women Who Dared to Dream won the Sibert, it was also named a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Honor Book. Phillip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice toward Justice was named an honor book by both committees that same year. In fact, one of the most acclaimed books for young people published in years, Claudette Colvin also won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was named a Newbery Honor Book, a Jane Addams Honor Book, and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults.
Several awards highlight excellent works of genre fiction. The Scott O’Dell Award , given by the O’Dell Award Committee since 1982, honors a meritorious work of historical fiction published in the previous year for children or young adults. Winning titles span historical periods from the recent to distant past. Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer looks at the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains offers an account of slavery at the time of the American Revolution , and Matt Phelan’s The Storm in the Barn presents a portrait of life during the Dust Bowl years.
The Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery , presented since 1989 by the Mystery Writers of America, has honored the best mystery for teens written in the past year. The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy , introduced in 2006 by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as part of their Nebula Awards, recognizes outstanding science fiction and fantasy novels written for the young adult market. Like the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, both the Edgar Award and the Andre Norton Award recognize young adult literature as one category within a larger set of awards. This act of inclusion helps draw attention to books for teenagers within the wider landscape of publishing. Genre awards also help readers of young adult literature to see titles that have been honored by other committees as genre exemplars in their own right. The Edgar committee honored A. S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz as an outstanding mystery, while the Andre Norton committee honored Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker as a compelling work of science fiction. These genre honors came after each book had already been recognized for general literary excellence by the Printz Committee.
Awards for graphic novels have helped to raise awareness of the many high-quality books written in this visual format. The Eisner Awards , administered by the San Diego Comic Convention since 1988, honor graphic novels in many different categories. A category for Best Publication for Teens was added in 2008. In recognition of the quality and popularity of graphic novels among young people, YALSA began compiling an annual list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens in 2007. The list, which ranges from 40 to 70 titles per year deemed both good-quality literature and appealing reading for teens, includes works of both fiction and nonfiction. To help readers find the very best works among all the honorees, the Great Graphic Novels committee also publishes an annual Top Ten list. Through the Eisner Award and the Great Graphic Novels list, readers will discover memoirs like Raina Telgemeier’s Smile , works of documentary nonfiction like G. Neri’s Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty , and stories of political history like Nick Abadzis’s Laika .
Another award that recognizes excellence in a particular book format is the Odyssey Award, introduced in 2008 to honor the best audiobook produced for children or young adults. Because the Odyssey Award is administered by both ALSC and YALSA, winning titles run the gamut from children’s picturebooks to young adult literature. A number of teen novels celebrated for their general literary excellence have been honored by the Odyssey Committee, including Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go , Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races , and Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution . Nonfiction books for younger teen readers have also been honored, such as Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball .
Before the Odyssey Award, YALSA produced an annual list of quality audiobooks. Introduced in 1999, the list was originally called Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults; in 2009, it was renamed Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults . In 2011, the committee also began producing a Top Ten list to identify members’ favorite audio titles of the year drawn from the longer list of 20 to 30 titles. Through the Amazing Audiobooks lists, readers will encounter quality audio versions of popular young adult novels like Beauty Queens by Libba Bray and Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan.
Finally, since 1968 the ALSC has presented the Mildred L. Batchelder Award to the publisher of the best children’s book in translation. Batchelder winners and honorees are books that were originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States. Most Batchelder titles are books for younger readers, but occasionally the Batchelder committee honors a book published for teens. Two recent examples are Nothing , written by Janne Teller and translated from Danish, and Tiger Moon , written by Antonia Michaelis and translated from German.
Awards for general literary quality and genre excellence do not necessarily foreground or even include titles that represent the diversity of human experience. The fact that no African American had won a major children’s literature award by 1969 led to the creation of the Coretta Scott King Awards . Administered by EMIERT (Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table of the American Library Association), the Coretta Scott King Awards are presented to African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults that reflect the African American experience. To recognize literary merit in works by and about Latino people, the ALSC established the Pura Belpré Award in 1996 to honor Latino and Latina writers and illustrators whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in literature for children and youth.
Though critics like Marc Aronson have decried the proliferation of awards that are tied to the author’s identity (see Aronson, 2001b , a widely discussed article in Horn Book Magazine ), these awards do guarantee that every year, titles depicting the life experiences and literary contributions of African American and Latino people will be noticed and celebrated. The Coretta Scott King Awards have honored some African American authors multiple times. Repeat recognition by CSK committees has added to the literary stature and fame of already-distinguished African American authors such as Christopher Paul Curtis, Sharon Draper, Sharon Flake, Nikki Grimes, Angela Johnson, Walter Dean Myers, Kadir Nelson, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Jacqueline Woodson. At the same time, the Belpré Award has helped introduce readers to talented Latina authors who write for teens, such as Guadalupe Garcia McCall, author of Under the Mesquite ; Margarita Engle, author of The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle ; and Judith Ortiz Cofer, author of An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio .
On a similar note, the Sydney Taylor Book Award, presented annually since 1968 by the Association of Jewish Libraries, recognizes outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Unlike the Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré Awards, however, authors do not have to be Jewish to win. Awards are presented to books for younger readers and older readers. In 2007 a category was added to honor books for teen readers. While each winning book explores Jewish identity in some way, the Sydney Taylor Award leads readers to titles that explore this identity directly, such as Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Eishes Chayil’s Hush , as well as indirectly, such as Dana Reinhardt’s The Things a Brother Knows .
Other ALA awards recognize books that represent a particular kind of life experience. The Schneider Family Book Award , administered by ALA and introduced in 2004, goes to books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience. Awarded each year to a middle school novel as well as a book for teens, the Schneider Award honors stories of teens with a host of disabilities, including deafness (Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John), autism ( Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork), and stuttering ( Tending to Grace by Kimberly Newton Fusco).
The Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award , administered by ALA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table and first given in 2010, honors books of exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/ transgendered experience. Stonewall Award winners and honorees illuminate the lives of gay teens (Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy by Bil Wright) as well as transgender teens ( Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher) and teens who are questioning ( Pink by Lili Wilkinson). Another source for quality LGBTQ literature is the ALA’s Rainbow List , an annual book list of recommended LGBTQ fiction and nonfiction titles for young readers created in 2008 by the ALA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table. Like other ALA lists, the longer set of approximately 30 recommended Rainbow List titles is anchored by a Top Ten List that highlights particularly noteworthy LGBTQ books, such as Chris Beam’s I Am J and Lauren Myracle’s Shine .
Outside of ALA, the Lambda Award for Literary Excellence in LGBT Children’s/Young Adult Literature has celebrated young adult literature about the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience since 1990. Books now considered classics in the LGBTQ YA canon have been honored with the Lambda Award, including David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy and Julie Anne Peters’s Luna . However, in 2010, Lambda changed its award criteria, and now only books written by authors who self-identify as gay, bisexual, or transgender are eligible for consideration. (Ellen Wittlinger, a Lambda Award Winner for Hard Love , discussed her disappointment with the policy change in a 2010 essay written for Horn Book Magazine , “Too Gay or Not Gay Enough?”)
In order to promote the best feminist books for young readers ages birth through 18, the ALA also produces the Amelia Bloomer List. Introduced in 2002 and administered by the Feminist Task Force of the ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table, the Amelia Bloomer List includes both fiction and nonfiction and is divided into books for younger readers, middle readers, and older readers. With its focus on feminist content, the Amelia Bloomer list often honors quality books for teens that have not been recognized by any other YA award committee, such as Eve Ensler’s I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls around the World and Susan Kim and Elissa Stein’s Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation .
One last set of book awards promotes the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and equality of the sexes and all races: the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards . Presented annually since 1953 by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Jane Addams Peace Association, the Jane Addams Awards honor books for older children as well as younger children. Sometimes the Jane Addams Awards honor titles that have been recognized by other committees, such as Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again , which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was later named a Newbery Honor Book. Other times the winning titles are less well known but still deeply deserving, such as Karen Blumenthal’s Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, the Law That Changed the Future of Girls in America .
Discussions of book awards focused on literary merit frequently circle back to the question of whether or not teens will actually read the books being honored. Some teen advocates insist that award committees have a responsibility to consider teen appeal as part of their criteria. The Printz Committee, among others, has held firm to the principle that literary merit is and must remain its sole focus in award deliberations. (For a thoughtful and provocative discussion of the debate over quality versus popularity, see Aronson, 2001a . However, there are several options available to those in search of book lists and book awards that do take teen appeal into account. Since 1966, the ALA has produced an annual list of books that offer quality literature as well as reading appeal for teens. For many years, this list was called Best Books for Young Adults. Titles included books published for teens in a variety of genres and formats, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short story anthologies, and graphic novels. In addition, the committee considered books published for adults.
Due to the exponential growth in YA publishing (according to the Library and Book Trade Almanac [Bogart, 2012] , 4,905 YA titles were published in 2011) and the creation of many new ALA awards for YA titles in recent years, the BBYA committee was restructured in 2010 and renamed Best Fiction for Young Adults , though the decision was met with protest by many YA advocates and ALA members. Now the annual BFYA list provides recommendations of approximately 90–120 works of young adult fiction that stand out for their literary merit and their proven or potential appeal to teens. A Top Ten list helps readers to identify titles that committee members felt were most distinguished in the previous year. Once again, such lists ensure that readers will encounter quality novels that may not have been recognized by other award committees, such as Shawn Goodman’s Something Like Hope and Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life .
Another source for books that combine literary merit and teen appeal is the Cybils Awards , given annually since 2005 by the children’s and young adult book blogging community. Cybils committees offer their picks of the year’s best books for both middle-grade and older teen readers in a whole host of categories, including general fiction, nonfiction, fantasy and science fiction, and graphic novels. Because the Cybils Awards recognize excellence across so many categories, they offer readers in search of high-quality genre fiction another valuable source of book recommendations. Most relevant for teens are the Cybils Awards for young adult fiction, young adult fantasy and science fiction, young adult graphic novels, and nonfiction for middle-grade and young adult readers. The Cybils Awards sometimes recognize books that have been included on other award lists, such as Candace Fleming’s Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart , which made the Amelia Bloomer List, and A. S. King’s Everybody Sees the Ants , which was chosen as a Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults. But the Cybils also do a good job of finding and celebrating lesser-known works, such as Sophie Flack’s Bunheads and Suzanne Jermain’s The Secret of the Yellow Death: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing .
One last award that considers literary merit alongside teen appeal is the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award . First given in 2009 and administered by ALAN, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE, the Walden Award stands out from other awards in this section because in addition to literary quality and teen appeal, winning titles must demonstrate a positive approach to life. Readers looking for an alternative to darker young adult literature will find a diverse array of offerings on the list of Walden winners and honor books. Past Walden committees have recognized works of contemporary realistic fiction such as Steve Kluger’s My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park , horror novels such as Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist , and works of fantasy such as Kristin Cashore’s Fire.
- Cybils Award finalists announced
- Scott O’Dell Award announced
- Edgar Award finalists announced
- Sydney Taylor Book Awards announced
- Amelia Bloomer List announced
- American Library Association awards and lists announced
(Printz, Morris, YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction, Sibert,
Odyssey, Batchelder, Alex, Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpré,
Schneider, Stonewall, Rainbow List, Best Fiction for Young
Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, Great
Graphic Novels for Teens, Amazing Audiobooks for Young
Adults, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)
- Cybils Award winners announced
- Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalists announced
- Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner announced
- Indies Choice Book Awards announced
- YALSA Teens’ Top Ten nominations announced
- Edgar Award winners announced
- Jane Addams Book Award winners announced
- Lambda Literary Awards announced
- Andre Norton Award announced
- Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards announced
- Eisner Awards announced
- Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award announced
- National Book Award finalists announced
- YALSA Teens’ Top Ten announced
- National Book Award winner announced
- YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award finalists announced
- William C. Morris Award finalists announced
Figure 2. Award year calendar
Because some teens need help connecting with books of any sort, the ALA devised a final set of awards that honor books solely for their popularity and teen appeal. Adults who work with struggling readers or nonreaders will want to take a special look at the awards and lists featured in this section.
Working from the premise that teens who do not see themselves as readers might read if they found material that appealed to them, in 1996 the ALA created a list of Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers . Selected on behalf of teens who do not like to read, titles included on the Quick Picks list are presented as works that teens will pick up on their own and read for pleasure. The Quick Picks list is the most creative and varied of all ALA award lists, featuring works of fiction and nonfiction about gangs, zombies, sports heroes, ghost hunters, fairy tales, and gross facts, among many other topics. Coming of age stories such as Walter Dean Myers’s Dope Sick are included along with series books, graphic novels, memoirs, and beauty guides. Like most other ALA committees that produce award lists, the Quick Picks committee creates a Top Ten list of the most highly recommended titles drawn from the 80–120 books it typically recommends.
In addition to Quick Picks, since 1997 the ALA has also produced an annual list of Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults . These backlist titles—that is, works that have already been published in hardcover but are now widely available in paperback—represent a broad variety of accessible themes and genres and are recommended for teen pleasure reading. Popular Paperbacks are presented in four themed lists that change from year to year. Examples of previous lists include Zombies, Werewolves & Things with Wings (2011), Books That Don’t Make You Blush (2006), and Flights of Fantasy: Beyond Harry and Frodo (2003).
One award that involves teens directly in honoring works of young adult literature is YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten Award . Presented since 2003, this award begins with teens nominating their favorite books of the year and then voting online for the winners several months later. YALSA archives each year’s list of 25 nominees as well as the ten winning titles. The Teens’ Top Ten is a great place to find books that developed a strong following among teens but might not have appeared on bestseller or other award lists. Some winners are works written by new authors such as Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall , Allie Condie’s Matched , and Gayle Forman’s If I stay , while others are novels by well-loved YA veterans such as Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, and John Green’s Paper Towns . Occasionally a book that has received one or more major YA literary awards is also selected for the Teens’ Top Ten. E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks was named a finalist for the National Book Award, a Printz Honor Book, and the winner of the Cybils Award for best young adult novel before it made the Teens’ Top Ten list. In addition to the Teens’ Top Ten, a number of states run their own teen book award voting programs, such as the Thumbs Up! Award in Michigan and the Bluegrass Award in Kentucky.
Because many teens have reading interests that extend beyond young adult fiction and nonfiction, in 1998 the ALA created a special set of awards to honor books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 to 18. The Alex Awards are given annually to ten books selected from the previous year’s publishing. Past Alex Awards have gone to memoirs such as Liz Murray’s Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard , novels like Emma Donoghue’s Room, and works of narrative journalism like Brooke Hauser’s The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens .
Outside of ALA, the American Booksellers Association also gives an award for works of young adult literature with strong popular appeal. Known during the 1990s as the American Booksellers’ Book of the Year (ABBY) Award and in the early 2000s as the Book Sense Book of the Year Award, since 2009 the I ndies Choice Book Awards have honored books in a variety of categories—including young adult literature—that independent booksellers most enjoyed handselling in the past year. Like the YALSA Teens’ Top Ten, booksellers across the country vote on a list of nominees in order to arrive at a winning title in each category. Past young adult literature Indies winners include Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.
Young adult literature book awards provide readers with a systematic way to discover exemplary books for teens. Unlike traditional book lists that fall out of date almost as soon as they are created, annual lists of young adult literature award winners allow readers to continually refresh their knowledge of quality titles. (For a calendar that lists book awards according to the month they are announced, see Figure 2.) Because there are so many different kinds of awards, readers can take a purposeful approach to building their knowledge, seeking books that represent certain genres, reflect particular life experiences, and meet the needs of specific teens.
Readers can develop more nuanced knowledge by looking for books that cross award lists. For example, a handful of books each year are named both Best Fiction for Young Adults and Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. These books, such as Matt de la Peña’s We Were Here and Coe Booth’s Bronxwood , stand out as quality literature that is particularly well suited for teens who don’t like to read. The same goes for books that are recognized by award committees focused on different age groups, such as the Newbery and the Printz Committees. Books such as Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion and Virginia Euwer Wolff’s True Believer , honored by both committees, serve as valuable reading options for tweens. And when a book is recognized for literary excellence by multiple award committees—such as Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith —it deserves special notice for being one of the best our field has to offer.
Just a little over ten years ago, few awards existed to recognize literary excellence in young adult literature. Since the introduction of the Michael L. Printz Award in 2000, YA publishing has exploded, as has the number of YA book awards. Book awards do not provide the final word on the best young adult books of the year, but they do motivate people to discuss, debate, and read books they might not encounter otherwise. Discussions of book awards push readers to mount arguments about the merits of their favorite titles and to read those titles more critically. On awards day, any book can win, and any author’s life can be changed. Our lives as readers can be changed as well when we discover some of the most artful books young adult literature has to offer.
Jennifer Buehler is an assistant professor of English Education at Saint Louis University and the host of Text Messages, a monthly podcast on young adult literature produced for www.readwritethink.org . A former member of the ALAN Board of Directors, she served on the first Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee and chaired the 2012 ALAN Award Committee.
Daria Plumb teaches English and social studies at Riverside Academy in Dundee, Michigan. She has served on the ALAN Board of Directors, the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Formation Committee, the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee, and is currently chairing the ALAN Merchandising Committee. Her book, Commando Classics: A Field Manual for Helping Teens Understand (and Maybe Even Enjoy) Classic Literature , was published by VOYA Press in 2012.
Jennifer Walsh teaches middle school language arts at Forsythe Middle School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In addition to serving as department chair, she is a past member of the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee and the ALAN Elections Committee. Jennifer reviews young adult literature on her blog, Eclectic Reader. Her book, They Still Can’t Spell? Understanding and Supporting Challenged Spellers in Middle and High School , was published in 2003 by Heinemann.
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