Rainbow Rowell, Lois Lowry, Laurence Yep, and Patricia Polacco. These are just a few of the influential names that have been honored with ILA’s Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards in past years and, now, a new class of rising authors has joined their ranks.
This year’s award winners—marking the 40th year of the program—were announced today during the International Literacy Association 2015 Conference in St. Louis, MO. They are:
Winner: Maddi's Fridge. Lois Brandt. 2014. Ill. by Vin Vogel. Flashlight Press.
Honor: One Big Pair of Underwear. Laura Gehl. 2014. Ill. by Tom Lichtenheld. Beach Lane Books; and Cock-a-Doodle Oops. Lori Degman. 2104. Ill. by Deborah Zemke. Creston Books.
Winner: Polar Bears and Penguins: A Compare and Contrast Book. Katharine Hall. 2014. Arbordale Publishing.
Winner: The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Amulet Books.
Honor: Knightley and Son. Rohan Gavin. 2014. Bloomsbury.
Winner: The Industrial Revolution for Kids: The People and Technology That Changed the World. Cheryl Mullenbach. 2014. Chicago Review Press.
Young Adult Fiction
Winner: Beauty of the Broken. Tawni Waters. 2014. Simon Pulse.
Honor: Girl in Reverse. Barbara Stuber. 2014. Margaret K. McElderry Books; and Breaking Butterflies. M. Anjelais. 2014. Chicken House.
Young Adult Nonfiction
No award was recommended in this category this year.
One of the main components of the ILA book awards, which sets it apart from other such recognitions, is that they are reserved for first and second books by authors who display what’s referred to as “unusual promise.”
As such, the awards have marked the beginning of many successful careers. Past winners often go on to influence a countless number of rising authors, along with teachers and students worldwide.
This year’s winners—we feel safe to say—will be no different. The titles, ranging from a children’s book introducing young readers to tough questions of poverty and hunger to a Victorian ghost story and fable about greed (which Disney recently bought the rights to), are sure to find spots on many classroom shelves this upcoming school year—if they aren’t there already.
And multiple awards have already been distributed among them as well as spots on coveted reading lists.
Lauren Aimonette Liang, chair of ILA’s Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards Committee and associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Utah, said it can be hard for teachers to keep up with the new books released each year, but the ILA book awards are a good way to zero in on a more select few.
“This award is a fantastic way for educators to see up-and-coming authors they may want to introduce their students to as well as learn about new books that are out that show extraordinary promise,” she said.
Teachers can count on them to be books students will appreciate, she added, because they are put through a rigorous review process to ensure they are engaging, authentic, accurate, believable, and intriguing.
Along with the announcement of winning titles—and tips on how to incorporate the winning texts in classroom instruction—the crowd also heard from two recipients from 2014: Vince Vawter, author of Paperboy (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2013), and Liesl Shurtliff, author of Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013).
Both shared their story of how they overcame the obstacles of writing, along with thoughtful advice for any aspiring authors in the room.
Vawter shared the personal story behind his book, Paperboy, which was inspired by his own upbringing and his struggles growing up with a stutter.
After spending 40 years in the newspaper business, writing a book was top of list for him upon his retirement.
“It’s a book I’ve thought about writing all my life,” he said, adding it took six years.
He was shocked when just months after it published he was informed it was named a Newbery Honor Book. “I was proud, not because of the award, but because I knew more people would read my story.”
In school visits around the country, he’s been amazed to hear how much children have loved the book and been inspired by it.
One of his top pieces of advice for writers, he said, is to do what he did: Write it how you want it and how you think it should be told.
His book, for instance, doesn’t use a single quotation mark. “What I wanted was the thought of a young person upstairs in his room pouring his heart out on an old typewriter….It creates a very simple, clean page.”
Shurtliff’s childhood also had a large impact on her writing.
She recalled an especially poignant moment in her reading life as a child. She was an avid reader up until the fourth grade, when a teacher scoffed at the idea that she didn’t like the independent reading assignment for the whole class. They teacher asked, How could you not like this book? Everyone loves this book!
“Her response affected my reading identity in a huge way,” Shurtliff said, adding she never spoke up again when she didn’t like a book because she assumed she was just missing something. “I never identified myself as a reader.”
That feeling of shame stayed with her for years, and when she built up the courage to return to reading and write her first book, Rump, she especially struggled with the ending. The thought of having a disappointed reader troubled her.
But she came to understand the importance of choice, and that not every book is for every child; and that’s OK—an important fact any author should remember.
“My goal is to always to create books that delight children,” she said. “I hope they will be among the best books for many, but I welcome the possibility that they might not be for every child.
“We should allow children the freedom to choose what they read,” Shurtliff added. “We should encourage them to express openly about what they read and validate their choices and feelings. And if we do this, we will all read happy ever after.”
Colleen Patrice Clark is the editor of Literacy Today ,ILA’s member magazine.