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Best of the Decade: A Look Back at Children’s Literature from 2000-2009

Recently Entertainment Weekly put out an issue that looked back over the decade from a popular culture standpoint. It got me to thinking: Why haven’t any of the children’s periodicals, publications, and blogs done the same? 2000-2009 was a terrible decade in a lot of ways, but in terms of children’s and YA literature it was at its most fruitful. Here then is just a quickie recap of some of the highlights.

The Rise of the Children’s Book Phenomenon

usa-269x400-harry-potter-coverHarry Potter, Twilight, and their lesser known but still successful cousins (Wimpy Kid, His Dark Materials, and so on and such) created something we really hadn’t seen prior to the 00s. The phenomenon. In other parts of pop culture, television shows and films like Star Wars or Star Trek inspire their own conferences. What did we have? Well, if you really wanted to join the Lewis Carroll Society or a group of Wizard of Oz fans, you certainly could. But these were long established organizations. They weren’t phenomenons in the sense that the culture felt pervaded by a single book or series all at once.  Harry Potter changed this, and Twilight was soon to follow.

What does the future hold?  As I see it, either HP and Twilight are once in a lifetime occurrences and the rise of the popular children’s series is over, or else we’ll be seeing something entirely new in the future.  Diary of a Wimpy Kid is slated for a movie release (and that’s usually how these books crossover from literary to popular phenomenons) but if the film is bad, it won’t have the same effect.  Hunger Games could also do well in its cinematic incarnation, but it too will have to be well done.  I suspect we’ll see a couple more of these phenomenons in the future, but they’re going to be entirely unexpected, coming from quarters we couldn’t have predicted.

The Rise of YA Fiction

Said NPR recently: "During the past decade young adult literature has seen a number of critical and commercial successes that have rejuvenated the genre, transforming it from the redheaded stepchild of the literary world into one of the most dynamic and exciting niches in publishing. The conventional problem novel, once a staple of YA fiction, is now complemented by a variety of genres and formats. Indeed, YA fantasy and nonfiction were exceptionally strong this past year. Nevertheless, characters that are coming of age and struggling to find their place in the world remain a hallmark and populate many of this year’s best YA titles. They may be marketed to your teens and tweens, but beware: You’ll find yourself reading them just as compulsively."

In the 90s, the publishing industry was all about the picture books.  Then the kids grew up and 2000-2009 saw a sudden spike in interest in young adult publishing unmatched until this time.  And not just in the printed form either.  Suddenly you had Gossip Girls on television, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist (and other YA adaptations) in the theaters, and Alloy Entertainment calling the shots.  Alloy probably wouldn’t be half as successful as it is (see: the New Yorker article for more information on Alloy) were it not for this rise.  YA authors came into their own as well.  They banded together.  They even learned how to use technology to their advantage.  John Green was a great example of this, discovering that not only did he have a talent for creating webvideos with his brother Hank, he could also build a fan base that numbers in the millions as a result.

What does the future hold?  No age group lasts forever.  Eventually the YA numbers will start to go down as this new generation grows up and starts having kids of its own.  Then picture books will start to rise once again.  And the circle of life continues.

The Rise of the Graphic Novel

graphicnovels-773208I’m not saying there weren’t graphic novels in libraries in 1999.  What I’m saying is that there weren’t half as many as you might find now.  The reason for the change?  I’m still trying to figure that out (though Oz and Ends has a great theory here).  You can’t say it’s all due to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, because that little number didn’t come out until 2007.  You can’t say it was because Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese was a rare graphic novel finalist in the National Book Awards, because that didn’t happen until 2006.  No, I guess the real cause, as best as I can understand it, goes back to Maus.  It wasn’t for kids.  It wasn’t even for teens.  But when Maus won a Pulitzer in 1992, people took notice.  Then came the rise of manga.  Bookstores figured out before libraries how popular this Japanese comic form was.  And when manga started selling and publishers started creating their own GN imprints (Graphix, Yen Press, etc.) librarians got in on the act as well.  The result?  Comics in libraries everywhere.  There are probably a few holdouts here and there, but for the most part you can’t escape them.

What does the future hold?  Probably even more being printed and purchased.  Is there a statute of limitations?  Undoubtedly.  But now that webcomics have proven that you can provide free content online and still sell books (thanks, Wimpy Kid!) we have a bulletproof response to folks who say the way of the paper book is soon to be over.

The Rise of Blogging and Other Online Media

cybilsCertainly I’m biased, but blogging has started to change how books are published and who receives them.  Marketing departments across the board are scrambling to figure out who’s influential, who has pull, and whether or not blogs even sell books at all.  Without studies, we are without facts on the matter.  What is important, however, is how well organized these blogs have become.  From the Kidlitosphere and their conferences and awards (The Cybils) to the simultaneous, but very different, rise of the mommy bloggers and their love of the giveaways, folks are finding and forming their flocks.  On the publication side of the equation, across the board publishers have been scrambling to figure out how to use online media effectively.  They’ve created recording studios for web videos.  They’ve started making book trailers.  They participate in online book giveaways and organize blog tours.  The aforementioned John Green is just the start of the web video phenomenon as well.  We’ll see other clever folks (like Amy Krouse Rosenthal or Dan Santat) finding new ways to get their books known.

What does the future hold?  Bloggers will start learning how to organize more effectively.  The split between mommy bloggers and children’s literature bloggers will come into sharper focus as time goes on.  Publishers, for their part, will begin to get a handle on how to use this new market, for good or for ill.  Rules, spoken and unspoken, will start to appear.  Choices will be made.  Oh, brave new world.  I predict that book trailers will also start to become more professional as well.  Publishers may even start requesting that their authors not make their own.  Hard to say.

The Life and Death of the Children’s Periodical

If there’s a trend we do not want to see continue, this would be it.  In the past decade Riverbank Review and Kirkus Reviews both met untimely ends.  Riverbank Review’s publication lasted from about 1999 to 2003.  If you missed it, the periodical was a quarterly publication that offered, "children’s book reviews, essays by and about children’s books authors, interviews, and other features for readers interested in high-quality books for young readers."  Kirkus Reviews, in contrast, was founded in 1933 and closes out this decade by ending in 2009.  In both cases, these were highly regarded publications that finished too soon.  Surely more will rise and fall in the coming years.  Let us hope there’s a bit more of a rising than falling action.

The eBook or Lack Thereof

As of this writing, eBooks have been making strides in the adult market but have yet to significantly change the way in which we interact with children’s and YA literature.  This seems slated to change in the coming decade, but I’m willing to bet we won’t be able to predict how.  For now, attempts have been made at everything from iPhone apps to digital books.  Bear in mind the unfortunate death of Lookybook, though.  Nothing is as simple as it seems.  As publishers attempt to figure out the best ways to make use of online resources they’ll also try to figure out how to make eBooks work.  Expect this nut to be cracked sometime in the near future.

And now, the bests . . .

Best Newbery/Caldecott Speech Pairing : Brian Selznick & Laura Amy Schlitz

DSCN1951I’m sure librarians enjoy fighting over the best individual speeches of a given year.  Were you moved to tears more quickly by this person or that person?  A speech is a time for an author or an illustrator to really shine.  A time for them to explain their process, their inspirations, their life, their work.  But the speeches are individual moments.  We’ve yet to have a Newbery/Caldecott co-win, and honestly it would take a pretty spectacular book for that to occur.  So in the meantime, the Caldecotts and Newberys are singular efforts.  But sometimes, just sometimes, the attendees of the speeches are lucky.  They were lucky in June of 2008 when Brian Selznick and Laura Amy Schlitz were paired to speak about their books The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! respectively.  First came Brian.  His book had broken boundaries, melding text and image in such a way that his win was almost contentious.  What is a picture book?  Could this count?  What are our definitions of the form?  So out comes Brian with a multimedia presentation to begin his speech.  When that ended he spoke, pulling from the audience the very body of Remy Charlip, his muse and inspiration.  And if a couple people were worried that Ms. Schlitz would have to follow such a show, they needn’t have.  Following Brian came Laura, hidden mike, no podium.  She then proceeded to tell us a story.  Her speech, memorized.  It was the purest essence of storytelling, out in front where everyone could see.  She captured the hearts and minds of the room and suddenly we had it.  Brian culled from the future of storytelling, Laura from the past, and both of them were present and brilliant all at once.  Best. Speeches. Ever.

One of the biggest names to pass away was probably William Steig.  He died on October 3, 2003 at the grand old age of 96.  Not too shabby.  
More of a shock was Paula Danziger.  She died July 8, 2004 and was only 60 at the time.  
Edward Gorey also passed away on April 15, 2000 at the age of 75.  
Madeleine L’Engle died September 6, 2007 at the age of 89.
Coleen Salley died September 16, 2008 at the age of 79.
Karla Kuskin died August 20, 2009 at the age of 77.
Helen Creswell died September 26, 2005 at the age of 71.
Lloyd Alexander died May 17, 2007 at the age of 83.
Milton Meltzer died September 19, 2009 at the age of 94.
Tasha Tudor died June 18, 2008 at the age of 93.
Trina Schart Hyman died November 19, 2004 at the age of 65.
Norma Fox Mazer died October 17, 2009 at the age of 78.
Robert Cormier died November 2, 2000 at the age of 74.
Virginia Hamilton died February 19, 2002 at the age of 75.
Robert McCloskey died June 30, 2003 at the age of 88.
Paul Zindel died March 27, 2003 at the age of 66.

Children’s book editors Ann Reit, Craig Walker, and Craig Virden also passed away.  And on the librarian side of things we lost the amazing Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz just this past January 2009.  Feel free to mention others who died between 2000-2009 and I will update this post to include them.

The Top Breakout Character and Creator:  The Pigeon and Mo Willems

MoWillems-birdinthehat-9x7_5Genius is never recognized in its time.  Bull.  Some genius isn’t recognized during its time.  Other folks, like Mo Willems, are recognized with perfect clarity from moment one.  In 2003 we met The Pigeon in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  Since that time his world dominance has been swift and sure.  There are Pigeon sequels.  Mo expanded a little and introduced us to additional characters like Elephant, Piggy, Leonardo, and Knuffle Bunny.  Detractors say his kind of popularity can’t last, but how wrong they are.  Mo Willems is our successor to Dr. Seuss, and we may as well get used to it now. 

And that’s that.  I’m sure there are other trends that appeared in this decade, but that’s all I can think of off the top of my head.  Be sure to read The decade’s 10 big ideas in education on the Scholastic blog On Our Minds to get another perspective.

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. Monica Edinger says:

    Great post which generated a response from me, “Reflecting on the Noughties.”

  2. The increase in self-publishing and children’s non-fiction were fantastic additions. Hadn’t remembered them. Excellent call.

  3. Great post, Betsy.
    As for this decade’s deaths, I’d like to mention Madeleine L’Engle (2007) and Coleen Salley (2008).

  4. Sergio Ruzzier says:

    I’m sad to remember Karla Kuskin’s death, just this past summer.

  5. To me the kidlit event of the new millenium has been “Holes.”

    There was also the Lemony Snickett phenomenon, which had something to do with my own decision to write a book.

    Another big change is Wikipedia as a place to accumulate information about authors and books, which used to be out of reach of many readers, esp. kids.

    As for authors who passed away this decade, two of my favorites for any age are in that number:
    Helen Creswell, 2005
    Lloyd Alexander, 2007

  6. Carter Hasegawa says:

    Yes, wonderful post. Milton Melzer also passed away this year.

  7. JMyersbook says:

    Great overview. Is there a source where we can read Laura Amy Schlitz’s speech?

  8. The printed form doesn’t quite do it justice, but it’s still worth reading. You can find it in the July 1, 2008 edition of Horn Book Magazine. You can find the beginning of it at

  9. Tasha Tudor died June 18, 2008.

  10. Grumpy Library Patron says:

    When Betsy mentioned the Brian Selznick and Laura Amy Schlitz acceptance speeches, I wanted to go view the videos.

    Ok…so I’ve Googled and searched You Tube…nada.
    I used the “Search Box” to search their website…no joy.
    I know that these acceptance speech videos are hiding out there somewhere…

    So where are they?

    Get with it ALA!!!
    After going to all the trouble of presenting and taping these awards…and no posted videos?

    Your home page has a entire sub-category page entitled “Awards & Grants”.
    On this sub-page should be a “sub-sub-category” of “Annual ALA Awards Acceptance Speech Videos and Text(PDF)”. This should lead to a page that lists the Years(2009,2008,2007..etc)…and clicking on a year should take you to a page with all the videos and text of all the speeches for that year.

    I’d assume(hopefully) you have these videos archived on one or more CDs (floating around somewhere) to give to your web jockeys to organize into some meaningful fashion.
    If your site doesn’t have the capabilities(for streaming), then post them on You Tube or some equivalent.

    Even the most rudimentary “mommy blogger” now has the capability to upload videos to “Free Video Hosting Sites” and “embed” them into their blogs.

    And since Betsy Bird is definately Not a Mommy Blogger(but a consummate pro)…she can show your web guys how to upload videos, where to find the embeddable html…and finally–how to “Cut-and-Paste”.

    Come on ALA…get with the program…

    And if this is just “too darn hard”, then create another SLJ blog entitled “Annual ALA Awards Acceptance Speech Videos and Text”. Then find a “mommy blogger volunteer”(Betsy is busy enough already), give her access rights to create posts, and send her a set of the CD’s.

    …end rant…:)

  11. Another notable death this decade: Trina Schart Hyman

  12. Re: ALA’s website and acceptance speeches – I cannot help but agree. It would make sense to even record them and put them out on DVD. Imagine a collection of Newbery/Caldecott Speeches 2000-2009. I would buy copies of that for my library in a heartbeat. I was never able to determine if the speeches of Laura and Brian were ever recorded, though. There was a camera pointed at them, and it projected their faces on several large screens so that folks in the back could see them. Whether it recorded them as well, the world may never know.

  13. Also author Norma Fox Mazer passed away in October 2009

  14. Greg Holch says:

    Very nice post. Let us not forget the children’s book editors who are no longer with us, starting with Ann Reit, Craig Walker, and Craig Virden.

    Also, I believe there was a world of children’s books before Harry Potter, especially in children’s series including Choose Your Own Adventure, Sweet Valley High, Sweet Dreams and Wildfire, the Point Thrillers, the Baby-Sitters Club, and Goosebumps. These were all huge phenomena “back in the day” (which wasn’t so long ago.)

  15. I’ll play devil’s advocate. I kind of like having the speeches not available. Not everything reduces well to the MPEG-4 format, or PDF, or Quicktime, and some things are better missed and heard about than known through tinny little digital versions.

  16. Jessica Leader says:

    Thanks for this overview. While most “Top xx of the Decade” will include things like the Mission Accomplished sign and Tiger Woods’s Big Affair, it’s a thrill to read one that I actually care about!

  17. It is my humble opinion that American Born Chinese was a finalist for the NBA, but not the winner. Winner was The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Volume I: The Pox Party.

  18. Still Grumpy says:

    Anon said:
    “I kind of like having the speeches not available. Some things are better missed and heard about than known through tinny little digital versions.”

    You’re kidding…right?
    Lets just throw out all your baby pictures…or your family videos. It’s really enough to describe how red your hair was as a baby, or the smile when you slid into homeplate, or when you started crying when they put you on Santa’s lap for the first time…no need to see it in some crappy baby picture or amateur family video.

    These awards are actually kind of a big deal in the life of the authors and librarians who were able to scrape up enough cash to attend either the awards banquet, or the ALA convention where the winners were announced for the first time…not to mention the entire publishing, bookselling, and book reading worlds. And right now authors, books, libraries, and publishing houses need all the support they can get.

    And Anon…I’m not talking about someone holding up their cellphone to capture a video. I’ve seen some of the videos the librians have tried to make from their seats. They are definately not acceptable from a quality (visual or sound) standpoint.

    I recommend you go out to the website. From 2004 to 2007 the Horn Book Awards had audio recordings that are now posted on their website. And for 2008 and 2009 the Horn Book Awards have full videos (I think it’s a single camera up in the balcony, maybe a zoom or two and a camera move to keep the speaker in the frame, no fancy production…who needs it).

    I’d rather have something like this that Horn had in 2008 and 2009, than have nothing.

    Who ever is in charge at the ALA needs to address this post haste. And if it’s a matter of money, I’m sure that there are dozens of people who have the microphones, proper video equipment and expertise to do it gratis.

    And if the AV(audio visual) company who’s providing the big screens and blowing up the faces has a problem with someone else recording separately, (because they want to further gouge you)…then go find another AV company.

    Or dicker with the AV company to provide the recordings gratis, or for a nominal fee, to use as you see fit(without restriction). Then be sure to point out the fact that you will give them lifetime credit(free advertising) on the page where the videos are finally posted for that year…or give them credit that they facilitated the recording in the event some angel actually does it.

    Let’s face it, it’s cheap advertising and generates tremendous goodwill for the AV Company. In fact you may have AV companys actively seeking the business with favorable terms.

    In 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, I could see where you needed to shell out big bucks for video recordings…but not today.

    It’s mind boggling if the ALA can’t come
    up with past recordings. They need to get on the stick and see what they have…put the word out to see what others have…and get what’s there archived. Then from this point forward they need to address this issue.

    Of course maybe Anon is right…
    Maybe nobody really cares…

  19. Going back to Greg’s point about previous popular children’s books, lots of things were popular before Harry Potter. However, I’m defining phenomenon as the kind of thing where folks line up at midnight for the latest edition. Where you see references to the books on popular television shows, magazines, and other books. Lots of things have been relatively big. Nothing on this scale.

    If it has a conference, it is a phenomenon.

  20. I think the firing of dozens of top childrens book people will have a long lasting effect on the quality of books AND
    the ethos of the community.

    Nobody mentioned Spiderwick? Kate Di Camillo? The tough, sexy, drugged punk faerie community embodied by authors like Block and Black? The sexless vampires and werewolves? The 20th anniversary of HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES and all the Lamdas it has engendered. (Pun intended.) And then there are all those darn dinosaurs which EVERYONE is writing these days.


  21. @Still Grumpy:

    With all due respect to the Caldecott/Newbery speeches, they’re not the same as my family pictures. And I know they’re a big deal in the publishing world, because I’m in the publishing world, thanks. I just think that great Selznick speech, among others, would be reduced beyond recognition on the computer screen. This, I hope you will grant me, is very different from not caring. I rather think it’s a sign of respect to recognize the speech as a thing that happens in a certain space, on a certain evening, that can’t be captured by a lens.

    Having said that, you make a good point about the HB speeches. I watched and enjoyed a couple of those this year and was glad to have access to them.

    I suppose I just don’t want people ever to mistake the YouTube version for the real thing, but maybe that’s not a reason not to have access to anything.

  22. Not so Grumpy. says:


    I agree with you completely that You Tube is a poor second to being there, and will never capture the true essence of the moment.
    And with our preoccupation with Ipods and earbuds, it’s nice to take a step back from the techno bombardment(which I think you may be alluding to).
    But I also think it is nice to at least have something for those who weren’t present to fall back on.

  23. I acknowledge anon’s comments on sound quality, but over 300 librarians in Melbourne, Australia gave David Levithan an outstanding ovation for his speech against homophobia ‘Kill the Vampires’ in 2007. It can be heard at and go to Downloads. John Green in 2009 was almost as good. Go insideadog – a great website for YA stuff.

  24. I still get teary when I think about the loss of Madeleine L’engle’s passing. She was such a gifted person (as were all of those you mentioned, she’s just a personal favorite of mine.) Thanks for acknowledging the great contributors we’ve lost, I think someone else mentioned all the crazy media coverage we give to stories lik Tiger Woods and what not, when we should be recognizing the work of these outstanding writers. Instead you hardly hear of their passing at all.

  25. Willems is greatly overrated. He’s no Dr. Seuss.

  26. Let us remember the iconic, Virginia Hamilton. There are few African American writers who enjoyed her success and longevity. She passed February 19, 2002.

  27. two more notable deaths: Robert McCloskey in June 2003 and Paul Zindel in March 2003

  28. Donny Bailey Seagraves says:

    Wonderful post! Thanks for writing it.

  29. This is a wonderful post, and I would also like to add to the list of children’s/ya authors who’ve passed in this last decade: Joan Lowery Nixon, who died in 2003 and was a very prolific mystery writer.