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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Leave ’em in Stitches: Thoughts on the 2009 National Book Award nominees

Well the big news of yesterday (I’m usually 24-hours behind when it comes to this kind of thing) was the recently posted NBA nominees, particularly those in the youth portion. Take a gander:

NBA Nominees, Young people’s division
from Publishers Lunch:

Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Henry Holt)
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

As usual the nominees tend to skew teen.  It’s rare that a middle grade title make the list, and rarer still a picture book.  Still, I had some thoughts on this most recent batch of nominees.

First off, I’m thrilled to see Laini Taylor included, as I love her.  Phillip Hoose too is an excellent choice.  I have not read Heiligman or Williams-Garcia (too teen) but I have heard good things.  It’s the matter of Mr. Small that baffles me.  Roger Sutton put it best when he said, "I’m a little surprised by the Small in this category as I don’t think it was published as a children’s book and was not sent to us for review."

Roger’s not the only one.  Indeed the title was not published as a children’s book and so people got to talking.  Now as my mother said to me, "Well, when Octavia Butler was asked why Kindred was shelved in science fiction, she said ‘If I wrote a biography of my mother, they’d shelve it in science fiction’." And to people not paying attention I suppose that David Small (a children’s author/illustrator) and the format (graphic novel) might be confusing.

Yet the crew picking the books didn’t consist of adult authors slumming in the children’s trenches.  We’re talking Kathi Appelt, Coe Booth, Carolyn Coman, Nancy Werlin, and Gene Luen Yang.  Fine, fabulous people who have opinions I know and respect.  So why the surprise nomination of this and not, say, When You Reach Me?

Galleycat was on the case and dug up something interesting:

"There was a question among the judges [in the young people’s literature category]," Harold Augenbraum , the executive director of the National Book Foundation , told us when we called asking about the nomination, "but it ultimately depends on where the publisher nominates the book, and this is where [ Norton ] nominated it."

"We always intended to submit Stitches in the young people’s category," confirmed Erin Sinesky Lovett , Norton’s assistant director of publicity. "We knew it would appeal to a YA audience as well as an adult audience."

Ah.  So Norton submitted in the Young People’s category because they knew it could also appeal to teens.  Uh-huh.  Well, darlings that’s all well and good and certainly I like the book very very much.  But LOTS of books for adults could appeal to teens, if that’s how you want to skew it.  Seems to me Norton was taking advantage (A) of the fact that there was a graphic novelist on the panel and (B) of the fact that a graphic novel would have a better chance on the young people’s list than the.. uh… old people’s list.  But that doesn’t mean it belongs there.  Every year I hope that ONE book on the list would be appropriate for a 10-year-old.  Sometimes I’m rewarded.  Sometimes I’m disappointed.  This year, I’m a little disappointed.

I’m also beginning to understand why people are beginning to clamor for a new tween award these days.  Thanks to @mitaliperkins for that link.

And for some perspective, be sure to read the Collecting Children’s Book piece on the history of young people’s literature and the NBAs.  Read too the Chasing Ray post on her own reasons for why Stitches really and truly should not have been included (I agree with her 100%).

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. The other thing to remember with the National Book Award is money.

    Publishers have to pay a hefty entrance fee to submit at all and an even heftier promotional fee if the book is a finalist and pay to bring the author to New York if the book is a finalist. It’s a lot of money, not all publishers can afford it, and not all publisher can afford it for every book. So there are going to be gaps in what gets nominated because there are going to be gaps in what gets submitted.

  2. Why on earth does the world need yet another children’s book award? The more there are, the less each means (barring the Newbery and the Caldecott, of course). Enough!

  3. Bonnie Doerr says:

    Maybe the reason we could use another children’s book award is because there are so many wonderful children’s books in so many different categories/genres. This is a GOOD thing, yes?

  4. We once had a similar discussion on this blog when the Cybils were first announced. Someone asked why the world needed another shiny sticker to muck up a book’s cover. An illustrator replied that if the world wanted to cover her books in shiny stickers from top to bottom she wouldn’t mind a jot.

    As not all book awards are created equal, I’ve no personal problem with new ones being created. Awards like Newbery, Caldecott, and the NBAs get the most attention. Others get far less. Meanwhile I live in the hope that ALA would create a graphic novel award. Every year it draws closer.

  5. How wonderful! Congrats to all the nominees.