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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

The Phoenix Award: Quite Possibly the Least Known Award in Children’s Literature

When I was a mere slip of a lass learning my library rules like a good little MLIS student, I decided that I needed a thorough grounding in the great children’s books of yore.  So I made lists.  Lists and lists and lists of different kinds of children’s books to read. There was a Newbery list.  A Caldecott list.  A dystopian children’s literature list (and this was in 2002).  And there was also a Phoenix Award list.

The Phoenix Award does not get a lot of attention in a given year.  I think I can explain why that is.  You see, unlike other awards that are just gaga over the shiny and new, the Phoenix Award rewards the musty and old.  The award is bestowed annually to, “a book originally published in English twenty years previously which did not receive a major award at the time of its publication.”  Previous winners have included everything from Weetzie Bat to Howl’s Moving Castle to The Devil’s Arithmetic.

Sadly, the official page for the Phoenix Award is badly out of date.  To see the most updated list you’ll have to turn to Wikipedia, of all things.  There you will find a truly fantastic list of great children’s books.

Bestowed by the Children’s Literature Association, I would like to see a phoenixlike rebirth of this award once more.  When it is bestowed the press is positively silent.  Blogs do not discuss it.  Twitter remains mute.  Even reliable listservs like child_lit rarely note its passing.  I say, revivify it!  It serves a magnificent purpose, after all.  Think of all the children’s books you love that never got their due.  Alabama MoonA Drowned Maiden’s HairThe Lost ConspiracyHere Be Monsters.  Each one, a beauty.  Each one, someday eligible.  Were they to win they would at last receive some kind of belated due.

While we’re at it, let’s give some attention to the aforementioned Children’s Literature Association.  Here we have a group that should be better known to the greater online children’s literary community.  They are fantastic individuals and they deserve greater notice.  Academia and blogging have never been natural companions, but it seems to me that only good could come from an official ChLA blogger, should such a thing come to pass.

My $0.02.

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. someone get those people a facebook account and on twitter STAT!

  2. Hear, hear, Bets. We get too freakin’ enamored of the new, and don’t celebrate what has come before nearly enough in literature (except the canon, which is stuck in what has come before, but don’t get me started on *that*). I’d never heard of this, and would like to hear more.

  3. Yes, Drowned Maiden’s Hair. Westmark (and its sequels. Or maybe that should be Kestrel, and its companions). The Forestwife (and HOLY CRAP! I just looked on GoodReads and it has two sequels I never knew existed! Eeeee!). More, many more.

  4. What a great award! Just knowing the Phoenix Award is out there makes me think of all those great books I never got around to reading because something new and exciting caught my eye. Maybe it’s time to do a little digging into the past to find some gold!

  5. Alabama Moon! A big favorite of mine, which is getting new life in my household as I read it aloud to my two spellbound kids. One of whom, I might add, would never have picked it up of her own accord as she has a strong preference for girl protagonist books.

  6. I just saw “Blithe Spirit” for the first time and was reminded of “Maiden’s Hair”, which held me in thrall from beginning to end (unlike Noel Coward).

  7. Hmm. I think the problem for me is that, as of right now, the Phoenix Award is going to books published in 1990. And what was I reading in 1990 at the ripe ol’ age of 13? Nothing award-worthy, I’ll tell you that. So, perhaps a shout-out is due to librarians with more experience than I.

    For one thing, I like the idea of disgruntled librarians shaking their fists at the Newbery committee and shouting, “What?!? You didn’t pick One Crazy Summer?!? Well, wait until 2030, and then we’ll see what’s what!”

  8. Jenny Schwartzberg says

    I agree that the Phoenix Award should be promoted. For that matter, why doesn’t everyone pitch in each year with a list of 20 year old books that should be recommended for the Phoenix? The more the merrier to send along to ChLA to vote on.

    I also agree more people should know about ChLA. I love going to its conferences and I find it enormously frustrating that more people don’t turn up at them. They have such great panels on all aspects of children’s literature. The conferences are open to anyone who wants to come and pay the relatively modest registration fee. It also moves around each year, so locals could drive in to attend!

  9. What a wonderful award. Thanks for the heads up. I’m adding it to our news column right now….

  10. Mark Flowers says

    Absolutely love the idea – thanks for bringing this award to our attention. Two thoughts:

    1) anyone notice that the first and most recent Phoenix awards went to the same author? Weird.

    2) Betsy, Betsy, Betsy: “Wikipedia, of all things”?? I seriously hope this is simply surprise that wikipedia noticed the award, and not a knock against one of the greatest stores of human knowledge since Alexandria. (note: I’m serious).

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Fear not, Mark. My husband is Wikipedia’s finest proponent. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t use it myself. Yet as a librarian, I must view it with a quizzical, calculating, mildly jaundiced eye. Just professionally, you understand.

  11. I love this award! I wish there could be MORE of them. What about old Newbery Honor books? Does getting an Honor count as getting a major award and disqualify them? Because so many Honor books end up being forgotten, too, since they didn’t get the big medal. I’d love to see bunches of lists of old books that people need to know not to throw out! But I suppose I’m just making it harder to draw the line.

  12. Carl in Charlotte says

    If you go to the ChLA site and look under the “Awards”, you’ll see the most recent list. We were lucky enough to have c ChLA conference here in Charlotte last year and I was lucky enough to go. Was a blast!

  13. The Phoenix Award is great! I love second chances!

    However, just to put in a plug for my own favorite award here, have you looked at the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award?

    The award was instituted in 1971, and at that time was all books for adults. Starting in 1992 they began to give out one award for fantasy for adults and one for fantasy novels for children.

    They also have given the award to entire series. In 2008 they gave the award to the Harry Potter Series.

  14. In New Zealand, we have our own version – the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award.
    I check for the Phoenix Award every year to include the latest winners in the Storylines year book.

  15. Carl in Charlotte is right that the wiki site is really not used anymore. The official site for all things Children’s Literature Association is The full list is there.

    Thanks for the great publicity. It has always been publicized but seems to be less covered than the awards for new books. It would be great if we could get SLJ and other appropriate journals to shout from the rooftops each year as we make the announcement.

    And if you’re not yet a member of ChLA, it’s remarkably easy to join!