How are award winning books chosen?

Today’s column is a report from JoAnn Jonas a board member of the Children’s Reading Alliance and the host of EarlyWord -Author Chat, a podcast at

Recently she attended the American Library Association (ALA) meeting in Atlanta.

“As a children’s librarian, this is the highlight of the year, reading all the current children’s books, and discussing with our peers which are the “best”.  I have had the honor of serving on the Newbery, Caldecott, and Wilder awards committees and it was truly the highlight of my career, to be a small part of “making history” in children’s books.  This is both a joyful responsibility and a challenge.

One of the things I learned from serving on these committees is that the decision is a group decision, and often we have to sacrifice our personal “favorite” to the wishes of the group.  To reach our final decision we all end up compromising and allowing ourselves to be convinced that the “winning” book is truly our best choice for all the reasons discussed.

The committees that choose the awards consist of children’s literature experts, librarians who have experience in evaluating the text and the art work of children’s books.  Through a confidential process they discuss, evaluate, re-read and finally vote on the selections that they have discussed.  Only one winner is chosen in each category….always a hard vote, but hopefully at the end of the process everyone on the committee can support the decision.

For a complete listing of the books that were awarded this year please visit:

This year’s winner of the Newbery Award for Distinguished writing in children’s literature is “The Girl Who Drank The Moon” by Kelly Barnhill.  This fantasy book for older readers is a story of magic and wonder.  Kirkus reviews says, “An elderly witch, a magical girl, a brave carpenter, a wise monster, a tiny dragon, paper birds, and a madwoman converge to thwart a magician who feeds on sorrow. Guaranteed to enchant, enthrall, and enmagick. “  Fantasy, ages 10-14.

The Caldecott Award is given to the book with outstanding illustration in a picture book.  This year’s winner is “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat,” illustrated and written by Javaka Steptoe.  Horn Book Review says: “Picture books about artists are tricky. Should the illustrator mimic the subject’s style, or instead attempt to capture his or her essence? Steptoe does a little of both in this introduction to Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the most visionary — and misunderstood — artists of his generation.”  And Kirkus Reviews adds: “Steptoe interprets Basquiat’s style… Vibrant colors and personal symbols channel the “sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL” paintings, incorporating meticulously attributed collage elements and capturing the artist’s energy and mystery. Stellar bookmaking—a riveting portrait of a young artist.”  Biography, for older children to adults.

The “most awarded” book of the year was “MARCH: Book Three” a graphic novel written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell.  It won the Coretta Scott King Author Award, Michael L. Printz Award, YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, and Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award. The GoodReads Review:

“The stunning conclusion of the award-winning and best-selling MARCH trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world.”  Graphic Novel, history, for Young Adult readers

One of the highlights of this conference for me, besides the cheering and joy at the Youth Media Awards announcements, and the March for Social Justice in Atlanta that weekend, was having the honor of meeting Congressman Lewis and having him sign my book!  He was in Atlanta to participate in the Women’s March, but also attended many programs at ALA and was there to accept his award for his book March: Book Three.  This book won 4 major awards, a first in the history of ALA awards!

Just as with the Academy Awards, many of the award books are not the “popular” favorites, but works with a lasting “quality” and ‘worth.’ I hope you will take a look! “