BY Meredith Flory
The sheer magnitude of what has been published for children throughout the years can be overwhelming to parents or children in a bookstore or library, and book awards can be a helpful tool for finding favorite classics and currents. Perhaps the most famous of these awards is the Caldecott Medal for picture books—an award that’s been presented since 1938 and has gone to such now-beloved children’s classics as Make Way for Duckling, Where the Wild Things Are, The Snowy Day and The Invention of Hugo Cabret, all of which adorn my own children’s bookshelves.
Kim Isminger, a middle school media specialist in Evans, shared with me how the lists from the American Library Association (ALA) and the Georgia Children’s Book Award (GCBA) are important in making selections for the library at her school and in her home. “I’ve seen the impact that reading exciting, well-written books has on my children—and now my grandchildren—as they have all developed a love of reading,” she says. “If a book doesn’t grab a child and pull them into the story, they will often walk away from it. When my son, who did not begin reading until 4th grade, read through Hatchet by Gary Paulsen with me, he was hooked, and he’s been a reader since then.”
Isminger adds that award-winning books are an easy choice because, “the fact that they are considered for one of these awards usually indicates that are considered by educators and librarians to be well-written, quality literature for children, and that assumption is proven by the timeless popularity of most of the titles and way they continue to fly off the library shelves.” For example, Hatchet was written and awarded a Newberry Honor in the ‘80s, but continues to be a beloved tale of wilderness survival.
Award Winners Are Chosen Through a Stringent Process
Leslie Olig, an elementary school media specialist who has worked in both Richmond and Columbia Counties is currently serving on the GCBA Committee. She learned about the GCBA when she worked with a team of students competing in the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl, one of the activities surrounding GCBA selection. As a member she’s seen the intensity of the process, and shares that, “through our nomination and selection process we consider anywhere from 40 to 60 contemporary titles and only 20 make it to the final list. We narrow it down to a manageable size—remembering that it is a booklist for readers in the upper elementary through early middle grades.”
She was surprised at the volume of quality literature that is available for children, and conveys that as a committee member she has to “think about many different genres, cultures and formats to make sure that the final list is well-rounded.” When asked about the importance of state awards when larger, national organizations also release lists, she explains how this allows Georgia children to become involved in the process. “The children of Georgia vote and compete on the nominees we bring to the table which, in the end, results in one state winner. That winning author is invited as a guest at the annual convention. What a joy to involve Georgia’s children in such an exciting prospect.”
Book award lists are a great place to start for holiday gift giving ideas. Isminger says that in addition to the resources for book awards listed below, a program called Novelist is available through Galileo in Georgia and Discus in South Carolina, that helps parents and children choose books that are similar to those they have already read and enjoyed and that a librarian at your child’s school or the public library is a good resource for using this and other programs available online.
As an educator, Olig says that she can’t help recommending books to not only her students, but to people in bookstores and other places, and that “I have been reading the nominees and winners of the Georgia Children’s Book Award for the last six years and they are always the books I recommend to students and teachers.”
A Selection of Book Awards for Children and Young Adults
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the ALA, has several book awards each year, and the criteria, past winners and other information can be found at www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants. Notably, they include the following.
The Caldecott Award: The Caldecott is only awarded to American picture books and places an emphasis on the importance of the art and illustrations in choosing a distinguished book.
The Geisel Award: Named for the author most commonly known as Dr. Seuss, this award chooses outstanding books for beginning readers. Engaging, and often comical, the list of winners for this award is a great place to look for a newly independent reader in your household. Mo Willems is a frequent honoree and a favorite in our household.
Newberry Medal: This award honors the most distinguished contribution for children’s literature, focusing on the text, rather than illustrations, and is therefore often a book appropriate for slightly older children. Mildred Taylor, Jacqueline Woodson and Sharon Creech are some of my favorite authors that have been honored by the committee.
The Young Adult Library Association (YALSA), also a division of the ALA, offers several awards to honor outstanding books, films, graphic novels and other media each year. The Margaret A. Edwards Award is among these awards, honoring an author for their body of work intended for a young-adult audience. Their website gives a complete listing of past and present award winners in each category at https://www.ala.org/yalsa/.
The International Literacy Association awards up-and-coming new authors in both fiction and non-fiction each year for three age ranges. Go to www.literacyworldwide.org to learn more.
The Aesop Prize is awarded by the American Folklore Society to a new publication that best incorporates folklore into its story telling or illustrations. One 2016 winner is a graphic novel that uses folklore from Mexico and the Southwest United States, LowRiders to the Center of the Earth. www.afsnet.org.
The Jane Addams Peace Association awards a children’s book medal each year to a text that best teaches issues of social justice and equality. www.janeaddamspeace.org.
The Children’s Book Choice Awards, presented by the Children’s Book Council, is selected by children, and offers information and ways for children to participate at www.ccbookawards.com.
Many states have book awards, and Georgia is no exception, offering the Georgia Children’s Book Award. For more information go to https://gcba.coe.uga.edu/.
Many other organizations offer children’s book awards based on professions and interests, ethnicity, social issues, geographic location or specific literary criteria and lists of these prizes can be found online or through your librarian.
This article appears in the December – January 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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