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National Book Award Nominations

The National Book Award finalists were announced yesterday with some surprises that sent the children’s book community into a tizzy.  The NBA finalists always tend to skew older, favoring YA to children’s books by a two to one ratio, and this year is no exception.  Thus, it’s not that surprising that WHEN YOU REACH ME, A SEASON OF GIFTS, and THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE were passed over; it’s a little more surprising that WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson, MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD by Francisco Stork, and FIRE by Kristin Cashore were.
Still, I think this is an excellent shortlist with lots of balance and some pleasant surprises thrown in for good measure.  CLAUDETTE COLVIN and CHARLES AND EMMA have both been mentioned here as Newbery contenders and I hope we will continue to discuss them more fully. I haven’t read LIPS TOUCH yet, but will do so shortly.  I will say that I’m intrigued by the combination of fantasy, romance, short stories, and illustrations.  I liked JUMPED, but not nearly as much as Williams-Garcia’s previous books like EVERY TIME A RAINBOW DIES and NO LAUGHTER HERE (which was a personal Newbery favorite several years back).  Then, too, her forthcoming ONE CRAZY SUMMER is already generating Newbery buzz for the following year.  
CHARLES AND EMMA, LIPS TOUCH, and JUMPED are all published for 12 and up, the upper range of the Newbery audience, but while the audiences for nonfiction and fantasy tend to be defined more by interest than they are by age, the contemporary high school setting of JUMPED somewhat hinders our perception of it as a children’s book.  STITCHES, too, faces perception problems–if not outright problems with the Newbery criteria–but these are complex and fascinating, and worthy of their own post.         
If you’re disappointed that your favorite children’s book didn’t get a nod from the NBA judges, not to worry, that may actually be a good thing for its Newbery chances as the two awards rarely overlap.  Since the creation of the Young People’s Literature category in 1996, only HOLES has managed to win both the National Book Award and the Newbery Medal.  THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION was a Newbery Honor book, while other winners like WHEN ZACHARY BEAVER CAME TO TOWN, HOMELESS BIRD, THE CANNING SEASON, THE PENDERWICKSand THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN were completely passed over.  Six finalists have won Honors: A GIRL NAMED DISASTER, WHAT JAMIE SAW, A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO, CARVER, AN AMERICAN PLAGUE, and THE UNDERNEATH.  (This summary is not as thorough as Collecting Children’s Books, but here’s a trivia question to make up for it: Which of these books won their Newbery Honor prior to their National Book Award nomination–and why?)
While the National Book Award judges just made their nominations public, it’s also possible that the top-secret Newbery nominations have been made, too.  As committee members read throughout the year, they suggest books to one another, but these are little more than titles and (possibly) very brief annotations, and there is really no substantive discussion of titles until January.  In October, however, each committee member will nominate three titles.  In December, each will nominate three more for a total of six.  These are more formal and are accompanied by a written statement of support.
If the suggestion process allows members to communicate their immediate responses throughout the year, the nomination process encourages them to begin to weigh the merits of the various books under consideration in a more reflective manner.  The nominations are unweighted and there can be some strategy involved.  I may, for example, know from the suggestion process that there is lots of support for WHEN YOU REACH ME and while I like the book and think it is quite possibly the best fiction, I may really want to send a strong message about other books, possibly the nonfiction, maybe an easy reader, poetry, a picture book.  I may choose to use my three October nominations on them.  I could still nominate WHEN YOU REACH ME in December–or I could nominate more underappreciated gems.
I’m still mulling over which three titles I’d nominate, but in the meantime I’d love to hear which three would top your list.
Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. Monica Edinger says:

    Didn’t they change the process to three sets of nominations? Thought I saw that somewhere.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I just checked the manual and they do in fact have three listed–October (3), November (2), and December (2) for a total of 7. Interesting. Is this the first year with the change or did it take effect last year?

  3. Interesting. Laini Taylor’s other book, SILKSINGER, is the one I’d been raving about. Our library system hadn’t even ordered LIPS TOUCH until this nomination. What a boost for a relatively new (and very deserving) author!

  4. Jonathan Hunt says:

    No bites on the trivia question, huh? The NBA judging period is actually from November to November. WHAT JAMIE SAW was published in December of 1995 and won a 1996 Newbery Honor. Later in the fall it was named a finalist for the 1996 National Book Awards. Since the other overlapping books were published earlier in their respective years, the NBA nomination came first, followed by Newbery recognition.

  5. Jonathan, perhaps you can explain why people seem to be obsessed with this aspect of publishing/writing? It seems rather counterproductive.

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