NBA — Young People’s Literature

Early Word Kids

Two of the National Book Award Finalists for Young People’s Literature are November titles that many librarians hadn’t read yet (The Spectacular Now and What I Saw and How I Lied). I missed them, too, but got my hands on copies right after the announcement; my takes on all the titles are below.

A distinguished panel of children’s and young adult book authors selected these titles. Daniel Handler AKA Lemony Snicket chaired the committee.  Judging were Angela Johnson whose First Part Last won both the Coretta Scott King Award and the Michael Printz Award, bestselling fantasy writer Holly Black whose recent Valiant garnered the Andre Norton Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, Carolyn Mackler, writer of contemporary young adult fiction with fabulous titles like Guyaholic and Newbery Award winner (Dicey’s Song) Cynthia Voigt.

Having been on the Newbery Committtee, I know how difficult the process is (especially since this list represents ALL of childrens literature for the year; it would be great if there were separate NBA lists for fiction, poetry and nonfiction), so I won’t second-guess on specific titles. However, in a year of amazing fantasy books for kids (The Graceling, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, The Otherside of the Island, Hunger Games and Little Brother), it’s surprising that the genre wasn’t represented.

As in years past, this list skews toward books for older readers; no true middle grade book for ages eight to ten has made the list.

Even so, the short list is a diverse one. My favorites are Chains for its specificity, historical accuracy and unique point of view;  The Underneath for its epic storytelling and regional flavor as well as kid appeal;  What I Saw and How I Lied brought alive the post WWII years viscerally from the scent of perfume to the lipstick colors; and Frankie Landau is a compelling and exciting read.

Chains,  Laurie Halse Anderson,  (Simon & Schuster)

Ages 12 and up

Set during the American Revolution, Chains explores the true meaning of the freedom from the point of view of an enslaved girl of African descent. Isabel is recruited to spy for the Patriots on her Loyalist master with the assurance that she and her younger sister would be emancipated.  Anderson creates a strong sense of time and place- heartbreaking and gripping, we are captivated by Isabel’s struggle for freedom.

  • Hardcover: $16.99; 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing (October 21, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1416905855
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416905851
  • Audio CD; $29.99; Unabridged
  • Reader: Madisun Leigh
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio  (October 21, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1423367308
  • ISBN-13: 978-1423367307


The Underneath, Kathi Appelt,  (Atheneum)

Ages 10 and up

My colleague Elizabeth Bird said it best in her blog Fuse 8,

Appelt in her debut novel has somehow managed to write a book that I’ve been describing to people as (and this is true) Watership Down meets The Incredible Journey meets Holes meets The Mouse And His Child. If that doesn’t make any sense to you it is because you have never read a book quite like this.

The narrative has a hypnotic epic storytelling voice that compells the reader into this dark Texan world of an old hound dog and two calico cats.

  • Hardcover: $16.99; 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum (May 6, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1416950583
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416950585
  • Audio CD: Unabridged, 5 CD’s
  • Reader: Gabra Zackman
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio; (May 6, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0743572084
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743572088

What I Saw and How I Lied, Judy Blundell, (Scholastic)

Fifteen-year-old Evie, doesn’t think of herself as beautiful. Not like her mother who could double for Lana Turner. Evie is anxious for the days when her curves will appear and she can as they say, “fill in a sweater.” Evie’s voice is sharp and crisp as we experience her confusion and discovery in this lyrical coming-of-age story set in the post WWII era.

  • Hardcover: $16.99; 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press (November 1, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0439903467
  • ISBN-13: 978-0439903462

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E. Lockhart; (Hyperion)

Ages 15 and up

Frankie is a high-school sophomore whose dad has been telling stories for years about his prep-school days. As a girl, she is excluded from the school’s secret society yet anonymously Frankie takes on the established order at her exclusive private boarding school.

  • Hardcover: $16.99; 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; (March 25, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0786838183
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786838189
  • Audio CD: Unabridged, 6 CD’s, $60.97
  • Reader: Tanya Eby Sirois
  • Publisher: Brilliance; (June 20, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1423366808
  • ISBN-13: 978-1423366805
The Spectacular Now, Tim Tharp,  (Alfred Knopf)
15 and up
Tharp takes the unreliable narrator to new heights as we see the last few weeks of senior year through the eyes of an out-of–control, self-centered manipulative teen who is never without his flask of Seagram’s V.O. to doctor an extra large convenience store 7-Up.  The narration is bursting with young adult slang and expletives lending an air of authenticity
  • Hardcover: $16.99; 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (November 11, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0375851798
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375851797

4 Responses to “NBA — Young People’s Literature”

  1. Lazygal Says:

    Sorry, I just do not agree with Frankie being “compelling and exciting.” She just didn’t appeal to me as a heroine, and the plot seemed warmed over. Now, I may not be the most discriminating reader, but when the two students I asked for advice both came back with the same response… Sometimes I find that panels vote for books that they think kids will like, or for books that they think kids should like; this is one of them.

  2. Ernie Cox Says:

    The National Book Foundation shows that 274 books were submitted for consideration under the “genre” of Young People’s Lit.

    It would be interesting to know the detailed breakdown of this number – fiction of all stripes, nonfiction, poetry, audience (elementary, middle, YA).

  3. LisaV Says:

    Yes, a breakdown would be interesting.

  4. beth kephart Says:

    I loved reading this past. As the chairman of the 2001 NBA Young People’s Literature panel, I decided rather early on that we’d need to build out criteria and framing so that we could judge, fairly, the many books, the many different genres, that were arriving in boxes. We tried to give a nod to the “best” in each (history, poetry, middle grade story, YA novel), but even then we couldn’t do all we wanted to do with, for example, one particularly glorious picture book.

    It is so hard not to be able to acknowledge all the books that glow.