This past Monday was one of the biggest days of the year for children’s and young adult publishing. It was AWARDS DAY – the day when the various award committees of the American Library Association (ALA) get together at their Midwinter Meeting and announce the recipients of the ALA Youth Media Awards, which rank among the most prestigious children and young adult literary awards in the world. It’s pretty much the Oscars for awesome kids’ books.
The prizes include the Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature; the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children; the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults; the Coretta Scott King Book Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults; the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book; along with many, many other insanely renowned honors.
I didn’t do a big breaking news announcement of “who won what” on Monday because a). this isn’t a breaking news site and b). unlike the Oscar nominations, where I mostly just complain about the quality of the nominees – How did “Life’s a Happy Song” from The Muppets get snubbed for best song? How? HOW?? – I take a much more reactionary approach to the ALA Youth Media Awards.
As I’ve stated before, one of the BIG reasons why I started this site in the first place was because I am always paranoid that I’m missing “the good stuff” – that, out of sheer ignorance or bad luck, I’m missing out on all of the greatest children’s books out there and, without knowing it, am blindly exposing my daughter to a stark universe of underwhelming reading material. (I think I’m eventually going to have to get over that.)
So, while the Oscar nominations don’t really help me discover “new” movies, the ALA Youth Media Awards actually do an admirable job of introducing me to a huge selection of really, really great books for my kid.
Honestly. I’ve met many librarians who serve on these ALA award committees. They’re bright, committed, and incredibly passionate about what they do. If you need reading suggestions for your kid, no matter what their age, these librarians are the smartest people in the room. They’re a kids’ book-loving brain trust and they’re available to you at no cost. TAKE THEIR ADVICE.
Normally, after the annual list of winners are announced, I spend a few days looking over the winners and the runners-up, and I write down the titles that grab my interest and make a shopping list for the next time we hit our local library. And, nine times out of ten, the award-winning books are FANTASTIC. Sure, occasionally, I’ll quibble with an award’s choice, but personal preference is always going to be a factor, but their batting average is extraordinarily high. You can always assume a certain level of quality with the ALA award-winning titles, so these award lists are just a tremendous resource that parents need to take advantage of.
For example, I’ve never read the Caldecott winner for the best picture book of 2011 – A Ball for Daisy, illustrated and written by Chris Raschka – but it’s definitely now on our radar for our next library visit. (And, just FYI, libraries go out of their way to make sure they have ALA award-winning titles).
And two of the Caldecott Honor Books (i.e. the runners-up) – Grandpa Green by Lane Smith (which I’ve already gushed about here) and Me… Jane by Patrick McDonnell (which I’ll be writing about soon) – were two of my daughter’s favorite picture books of last year, so seeing them on this list is a nice validation that a). our tastes are in-sync with the ALA and b). that we’re awesome and have kick-ass taste.
When you get a chance, particularly if you feel that you haven’t read any good new kids’ books lately, take a look at the winners of the ALA Youth Media Awards and let the librarians in-the-know point you towards the latest books that your kids definitely should be reading. You won’t regret it. *
(* BuildingaLibrary.com accepts no liability or responsibility, if you, in fact, regret it.)