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Hindsight/The Year is 2020: ALA YMA Wrap-Up

Well, wasn’t that a blast? If you missed yesterday’s announcement of the ALA Youth Media Awards then you’ll be able to find the lovely little round-up of all the winners right here. As per usual there were lots of books I loved, some I thought were so-so, one I outright disliked (I’ll never tell which it was), and tons I never got a chance to read. Here are the highlights for me:

The Newbery Goes to a Comic Book!

We’ve come a long ways from the days of Seduction of the Innocent, have we not? Once, oh best beloved, librarians were taught that comics were brain rotters. Innocent children would read them and then instantly lose their taste for Treasure Island and Moby Dick. So sloooowly over the years they’ve been increasingly touted by librarians everywhere. Helps that they’re kid friendly I know that if I put a comic into my Little Free Library it is GONE by the next day. And now, finally, it has come to pass. A comic has won not just a Newbery or Caldecott Honor, but the Newbery proper! Jerry Craft we owe you and New Kid a debt of thanks.

So what does this mean in the long run? Well, hopefully it’ll mean that we see a lot more comics in the children’s book marketplace. But what I’m really hoping for is that comics get their own ALA Award. Yeah yeah, I know. The awards take about an hour and fifteen minutes to listen to now (I timed it). Don’t care. Sure the occasional comic will win a Newbery, just like the occasional nonfiction title will win, but THEY get their own award! It just makes good clean sense. Give us a comic award. Let us honor not just New Kid but also Queen of the Sea, This Was Our Pact, Red Panda & Moon Bear, and more! Then, instead of having parents coming into our libraries complaining about their kids reading comics, they’ll come in complaining that their kids aren’t reading enough good comics and what can we recommend?

The Caldecott Goes to Kadir Nelson…. FINALLY!

It’s no secret that Kadir Nelson has always been strangely bereft of a gold Caldecott Medal proper. He’s gotten Honors in the past, but never the Award itself. And I’ll admit it. I had my doubts it would happen this year. Not because The Undefeated didn’t deserve its win (it did!) but because I worried the Caldecott committee would decide that the book’s text didn’t interact sufficiently with the art. Phew! The book also got itself a Newbery Honor, which is cool. I was surprised that it was eligible, since it had previously been used in an ESPN commercial, so I just figured that counted as a prior publication. Guess it was sufficiently changed between then and now. Of course, this now means that Mr. Nelson will have to write and give an acceptance speech. I don’t envy him the task.

Also noteworthy, and I’ll need someone to back up my facts here, but I believe this is the first year that this was an all POC Caldecott year. Does that sound right to you? Because that’s how it looks to me.

Men, Women, and Major Awards

There’s been a lot of talk about the rate at which men and women win Newbery Awards and Caldecott Awards. Last year most of the awards were won by women. This year the scale tipped towards the men. We’ll all just chew on that a bit.

Turns Out, People Really Like It When You Announce ALL the Awards

Was it last year that the American Indian Youth Literature award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the Sydney Taylor Award were announced in an odd fashion and NOT during the ALA YMA announcements? As it turns out, even if you add more time to the announcements, that’s okay! People love these awards, and the winners this year were fabulous. I was so happy to see I Can Make This Promise and The Grizzly Mother amongst all the winners. For a second I was disappointed that Fry Bread only got an Honor, but that was before we learned that it had won the Sibert Award for best Non-Fiction! Julie Flett won for Birdsong, and I was sad that she didn’t also win for The Girl and the Wolf, but maybe I was just getting greedy. Looking to the Asian/Pacific American Award, how cool is it that Queen of Physics got honored? I discovered that book really late in the year, but in enough time to put it on my 31 Days, 31 Lists. And I loved the Sydney Taylors but how did I 100% miss The Key from Spain: Flory Jagoda and Her Music, by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer? I’ve already put a hold on it in my library.

RE: Stonewall – PHEW!

Let it be known that if How Aidan Became a Brother hadn’t won the Stonewall, I would have cried big, fat, ugly tears. There would have been gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. It wouldn’t have been pretty. Happily, sometimes there is justice in this world and this is one of those times. You can read my interview with Kyle about this book and why it’s more than just the usual transgender child narrative. Oh, and did you know that Kyle actually wrote other, really amazing picture books with a small press in 2019 as well? Look, if you haven’t seen his books Max and the Talent Show and Call Me Max (to say nothing of Max on the Farm, which is out this May) then you’re essentially missing some of the best books out there.

One surprise with the Stonewall was the win of Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, illustrated by Anshika Khullar and published by Hodder Children’s Books. Usually YMA titles are published in the previous calendar year. In Atta’s case, the book was published overseas in 2019, but will come to American shores in 2020. Remember all those discussions a month or so ago about how the Newbery and Caldecott should open themselves up to books from other nations? Looks like the Stonewall doesn’t have such restrictions. Hence the surprising win.

If We Can Rename the Arbuthnot Then Surely We Can Rename This Award Too

On the Nonfiction side of the equation, I had been hoping for a nice shiny medal to be placed on Deborah Heiligman’s Torpedoed. And it got one, but not in the Sibert category. Rather it was the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults (or, as I like to call it, the YALSAAFEINFYA) that gave her the Honor. Seriously, how has no one renamed this award yet? This award is the Product 19 of book awards. It feels like a bunch of librarians were in a room, couldn’t decide on what to name it, so they gave it the longest name in the world just for kicks. Extra points for giving the proper award to Free Lunch by Rex Ogle, though. Simon Boughton goes over to Norton Young Readers and already they’re wracking up the awards? Not too shabby.

As I mentioned before, Fry Bread was the surprising delight in the Sibert category, but I saw a lot of my other favorites as well. This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy already won a Horn Book-Boston Globe Award, so it was gratifying to see it win this as well. One of the surprises of the day was how often Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes and published by WordSong was mentioned. That one slipped right under my radar. Looks like I’ll need to read it to right a wrong. But it was my darling Hey, Water! written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis that really made my day with its Honor. Actually, I had thought it would win a Geisel. I even wrote about it here. Shows what I know.

It’s Not That Easy Being . . . Wrongdy Wrong Wrong Wrong

Every year I try to predict Geisel winners. Every year I am SO off-base! I don’t even try to write down my predictions on this blog anymore. Honestly the only book that won that I saw coming was Smell My Foot by Cece Bell.

And then you get to the Pura Belpre Awards. I was so sure that My Papi Has a Motorcycle was just gonna sweep the Caldecott this year, or at least Award. Ditto the truly delightful Vamos. Still, they both Honored in the Belpre category, and if Rafael López wins it all, then who can honestly object? The man does amazing work.

Lifetime Achievement and All That Jazz

Loved the three lifetime achievement winners this time around. Let’s see. You have your Steve Sheinkin winning a Margaret Edwards Award, Dr. Rudine Sims winning the not-sure-why-it-was-renamed 2020 ALSC Children’s Literature Lecture Award (and excellent EXCELLENT selection, committee!), Kevin Henkes winning the Legacy Award, and the Virginia Hamilton Award going to Mildred D. Taylor Award. Wow! I wonder if Ms. Taylor ever personally knew Virginia Hamilton. Guess we’ll find out at the speech!

The Most Difficult Award Committee of 2020

I can’t claim to know how hard one committee or another was to work on this year.

Yes I can. There is no doubt in my mind that the Coretta Scott King Award committee must have been up until 3 in the morning. How else could they have gone through the plethora of great books in 2019? And so, of course, it doesn’t really matter what got left behind. There were always going to be books left out, right? Nothing was a surefire winner, though I was a bit shocked to see A Place to Land with art from Jerry Pinkney didn’t get any love from either Coretta Scott King or Caldecott. And where was the beautiful Rise! with art from Tonya Engel or Oge Mora’s Saturday or Daniel Minter’s The Women Who Caught the Babies or, or, or, or….


See what I mean about this being the hardest committee this year?

Caldecott Thoughts

Some last thoughts on the two biggies. First off, what a delight to see LeUyen Pham and Rudy Gutierrez receiving these Honors. In June of 2019 I predicted a Caldecott for Bear Came Along (alongside two of the other Caldecott winners and three of the Newbery winners, interestingly), and then you know what? I was stupid. I lost faith. I should have continued to believe. Particularly after I saw it do so well in Mock Caldecotts around the country. Hey, while I’m thinking of it, if you want to hear LeUyen Pham actually talk about the process of making this book, guess where you can find that little old video? Right here, baby! I’d forgotten that back on May 23rd I’d hosted her conversation with Victoria Stapleton about the process of creating this book.

As for the marvelous Rudy Gutierrez, I can actually pinpoint the precise moment I first fell in love with his art. It was when he created the illustrations for the picture book biography Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey, written by Gary Golio (care to bring it back into print, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt?). Now this was back in 2012, and I was soon to learn that the man keeps busy. As a Collection Development Manager, I’ve found many novels for adults where he’s done the jacket art. With any luck, this nice little medal will mean more of him doing great work on children’s books in the near future.

As for Going Down Home with Daddy, I’m beyond pleased. If you’ll recall, recently I recorded an episode of my podcast with my sister where we discussed two picture books that could potentially win the Caldecott. Originally I was going to do Oge Mora’s Saturday and My Papi Rides a Motorcycle, but neither of my reserves on those books came in in time for the show. So I used my next choices, A Stone Sat Still (which sadly didn’t win anything this time around) and Going Down Home with Daddy. At the end of the episode, Kate and I decide which one has a better chance, and we both agree that it’s Daddy. Go figure. I KNEW it was special!

Newbery Thoughts

I have the hardest time keeping up with all the middle grades out there, but that’s probably a lame lame excuse for not reading Other Words for Home and Genesis Begins Again. To the library! Let’s see if I can beat the holds list.

To see Scary Stories for Young Foxes get an Honor was a real dream come true. So here’s a fun bit of trivia for you. Are you aware that author Christian McKay Heidicker has a middle grade out in 2020 as well, but that it’s under a pseudonym? If you start hearing folks talking about Thieves of Weirdwood by William Shivering, be aware of who Mr. Shivering actually is.

Finally, New Kid. As I mentioned before, it’s the first comic to win the Newbery outright. And so, to finish this all off, allow me to post one more time this comic of Steve Sheinkin (the new Margaret Edwards Award winner) interviewing Jerry Craft (the new Newbery Award winner) about the book. It seems like an appropriate way to close out everything:

Congrats to everyone who won!

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. I agree with you Betsy, that these committees have a hard job. What you write about the Coretta Scott King Awards is true; there were an overwhelming number of wonderful books. I would just add Jonah Winter and Bryan Collier’s Thurgood.
    Awards are a zero-sum game. That’s why I would much prefer relatively long lists of recommended books to a winner-take-all system. Having said that, I am going to go out on a limb and mention my disappointment in the lack of overlap between Sydney Taylor and ALSC winners. It’s one thing to be disappointed about a specific book, such as last year’s Sweep and All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah. You can’t conclude much about individual books. But in general, winners of the Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré are more likely to get at least an Honor than the Sydney Taylors. This year, we had White Bird win a Sydney Taylor, and Rachel DeWoskin’s Someday We Will Fly, one of the best YA books I have ever read, win both a Sydney Taylor and a National Jewish Book Award. It’s not just that they were not recognized by the ALSC, there wasn’t even any buzz about them on most of the blogs and articles. They were not mentioned as Newbery or Printz contenders. The Book Rescuer, also a Sydney Taylor, does not seem to have been in consideration for a Caldecott. Gittel’s Journey, a book about the immigrant experience, did not win an honor. (I know that you have praised some of these books.). I am not advocating an “our own voices” argument; not all Jewish themed books have Jewish authors or illustrators. (Palacio, Innerst, Auxier, and others are not Jewish) I honestly believe that these books are of interest to everyone, not just the Jewish community. Readers might like to pay attention.