We don’t talk enough, you and I. About the National Book Awards, I mean. Seems to me that the only time we pay much attention to them is when they release their shortlist, and by that point the only thing left to predict is what the ultimate winner will be. It hasn’t quite the same press recognition of a Newbery or Caldecott, but I enjoy the NBAs. They’re one of the few times authors have a chance to give a big award to their peers. There’s much to be said for that, you know.
There are some interesting differences between NBA committees and ALSC committees too. For example, while a person on a Newbery committee is allowed to give their personal opinion on a title, an NBA committee member is not allowed to give so much as a smidgen of an opinion from start to finish. Linda Sue Park, as I recall, when asked during her tenure as to what books she liked would begin with, “Well I was really impressed by . . .” then slap her own hands over her mouth and end with, “hmmm mmm mmm hmmmm mmm.”
Another essential difference is that not all children’s and YA books are considered for the award. In fact, they must be nominated by their publishers and each book must pay a $125 entry fee. Yikes! The result is that it is the publishers who pick and choose what to send it. By this time of year they can no longer send in anything (the deadline has passed) so not only will we be predicting what the committee members like but also what the publishers feel have the best chances.
I’ve been watching the NBA Young People’s Literature nominees for a number of years now and have determined that the kind of books they prefer are titles that are YA, a little more obscure than those with Newbery potential, and out of far right field. In short: Impossible to predict.
Not that we don’t like to try! With the given understanding that I’ve never tried this before, I don’t read YA, and every NBA committee has a different vibe to it, let’s have some fun with this!
In brief, my thoughts on potential nominees would include:
The Boneshaker by Kate Milford –
Clearly this is this year’s Lips Touch sans any actual lips touching. If any book was a shoo-in for serious consideration in the middle grade category, I’d have to hand it to Ms. Milford. In fact, of all the books I list here, Kate’s is the only one that I would actually bet had a serious striking chance at an NBA nomination. Let’s hope the publisher was clever enough to feel the same way (but really what else could they have nominated?). With Kelly and Tor on the committee, at least one fantasy has a shot at getting on the final list. Let’s hope it’s this one.
They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti –
Is it just me or haven’t there been enough big non-fiction titles with buzz this year? Aside from this and the Russell Freedman book about WWI, I’m not seeing a lot of stuff being toted for the non-fiction lovers out there. Now Laban Carrick Hill is the only author on the committee with a serious full-throttle non-fic past, but I think every committee member will eventually have to agree that Bartoletti’s great writing and sheer guts make this a book worth honoring.
Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner –
Ah ha! Now when we start talking about Turner’s book in regards to the Newbery there’s going to be all sorts of discussions over whether or not the book stands on its own without one having read the previous novels, yadda yadda yadda. I like to think that the NBA will skip all of that and just consider the writing. Which, by all accounts (no, I haven’t read it yet and yes, I promise I will) is phenomenal. Five stars went to this puppy in the review journals. It’s a serious contender, and I like to think the folks at NBA are gonna appreciate that. Just sayin’.
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri
I figured it couldn’t hurt to include a graphic novel in here. Y’all know my wont. Sometimes graphic novels do well with the NBAs. Stitches and American Born Chinese, for example. Yummy has the distinction of telling a true story with a great artist and some basic good storytelling. There’s enough complexity for a teen but it isn’t inappropriate for a kid. I wouldn’t call it a sure thing by any means, but I think it at least has a fighting chance.
Departure Time by Truus Matti –
The NBAs get a little random sometimes. They like to shake things up. Mention books that haven’t been part of the casual discourse yet. Now I don’t know if namelos sent in this book for consideration, but if they did then it seems to me as if it would be an ideal Wild Card contender. It’s a little bit mystery, a little bit magical realism, and a whole lotta good.
Illyria by Elizabeth Hand –
Haven’t read it myself, but folks like it. Plus it’s right on the cusp of being almost an adult title. NBA folks love that stuff. They eat it up like ice cream.
Shoot me some of your own thoughts! And to see what the NBAs have come up with in the past, you need only go here or look at the finalists here. The finalists for this year will be announced October 13th.