Awards for Excellence in Children's & Young Adult Literature

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson explores the many prizes awarded annually and semi-annually to authors of children's and young adult literature. We will take a broad look at the national (American) prizes, and then discover awards and medals offered for multiculturalism.

Get a Leg Up!

As librarians, it is important to keep up to date with books that have been recognized nationally for excellence. Becoming familiar with award winners will give you a step up. Not only will you expand your own bibliography, you will also discover why certain books and authors rise to the top of the charts, with valuable examples of children's and young adult narrative, representations of cultural experience, treatises of social justice. The American Library Association (ALA) and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the ALA maintain lists of award winners in a variety of areas. Let's take a look at the awards and explore some of the most prominent winners!

Major National Awards

When compiling your list of award-winning books, the major national awards will be a good place to start. These include the prestigious Newbery Medal, the National Book award for Young People's Literature, the Caldecott Medal, and the Printz Award.

Newbery Medal

The ALA and ALSC award the Newbery Medal every year for excellence in children's literature. Some recent and notable winners include:

  • Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (2008)
  • Louis Sachar's Holes (1998)

Shelf of Books that have Received the National Book Award
newbery medal

Fun fact: In addition to inspiring the film of the same title (starring Shia LeBeouf and Sigourney Weaver), Sachar also won the National Book Award for young people's literature for Holes.

National Book Award - Young People's Literature

For over 50 years, the National Book Foundation has presented National Book Awards for best fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young adult literature. Some recent and notable winners in the YA (Young Adult) section include:

  • Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (2007)
  • Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)

Fun Fact: Selznick also won the Caldecott Medal for Hugo. Named after Randolph Caldecott, this medal is awarded by the ALA for excellence in illustration for children's' picture books.

National Book Award
national book award

Printz Award

The ALA's magazine, Booklist sponsors the Printz Award, a prize for excellence in children's literature. Gene Luen Yang won the award in 2007 for his graphic novel American Born Chinese (2006).

Awards Based on Race, Gender, and Social Issues

In recent years, many more awards for children's and young adult literature have emerged to recognize diversity in a globalized society. Awards for books that raise awareness for underrepresented populations and cultures include the American Indian Youth Literature Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, the Pura Belpre Medal and the Jane Addams Children's Book Award.

  • American Indian Youth Literature Award is awarded every other year. The American Indian Library Association honors young adult literature written by and about Native Americans. Sherman Alexie won this award for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007).

Sherman Alexie

  • The eponymous Coretta Scott King Award was named after the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. This award honors young adult novels written by and for African Americans. It is presented every year for books that explore African American culture.

Fun Fact, prolific author Walter Dean Myers has received the Coretta Scott King Award five times: Slam (1996), Now is Your Time: The African American Struggle for Freedom (1991), Fallen Angels (1988), Motown and Didi (1984), and The Young Landlords (1979). He received a lifetime achievement award in 2010.

  • The Pura Belpre Medal honors the work of Latina/o authors for children's and young adult literature that represents authentic Latino culture.

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