2015 Kids and Teen Book Awards Announced: The Oscars for Book Nerds!

2015 award winners children teens book long enough

Among we library-geek types, the annual American Library Association announcement of the best kids' and teen books of the year is a big deal. Like bigger than the Superbowl. And way bigger than the Oscars. Of course, librarians form the committees that give the award, so we're generally a bit biased about their qualifications to choose the winners and runners-up. 

The awards were announced Monday morning, and it was a banner year for diverse books, which were awarded major accolades in broad categories. It was also a remarkable year for graphic novels, which showed up in both of the two major award categories! Finally, poetry (including novels told in verse) made a huge showing. This is all very exciting because it means the awards are moving with the times, which makes them relevant and a great place to find awesome reads. 

I'm always interested to see if the books I loved match the winners. It's an ego thing, of course. Let's take a look!

The John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature in 2014 goes to:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

I am so, so VERY EXCITED about this book being named the Newbery Medalist for 2015! Why? Because it's a book that kids actually like! It's written in some slamming fast verse, it's about basketball, and hip-hop, and family, and boys and girls ages 9 to 12 LOVE it! It's the perfect book for kids who love the read and the perfect books for kids who'd rather do ANYTHING OTHER THAN read! Here's the publisher's blurb:

"With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering," announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (He Said, She Said 2013).

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

Here are the two runners-up, which received Newbery Honor awards:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

El Deafo by CeCe Bell

I blogged about both of these AMAZING, WONDERFUL, DIVERSE contributions to children's literature here. Brown Girl Dreaming won so many awards Monday morning (not to mention its National Book Award a few months ago), that you may not be able to see the cover for all the medals that will soon be attached to it! It's written in verse, just like The Crossover. And El Deafo is the first graphic novel (comic) to be recognized in the Newbery category, which is awesome! Both of these are appropriate for kids roughly ages nine to 12.

Moving on to my personal favorite award, the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children: The mold was broken this year with a rare selection of SIX honor books (runners-up), one of which is a graphic novel for teens! This means that graphic art (or comics) is being taken seriously as an illustrative art form in children's literature. I say, about time.

The winner is:

The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

This is another major award winner that is a huge hit with kids. My fourth grade daughter really loved it. Here's why the committee awarded Beekle this prestigious recognition:

In four delightful “visual chapters,” Beekle, an imaginary friend, undergoes an emotional journey looking for his human. Santat uses fine details, kaleidoscopic saturated colors, and exquisite curved and angular lines to masterfully convey the emotional essence of this special childhood relationship.
 
“Santat makes the unimaginable, imaginable,” said Caldecott Medal Committee Chair Junko Yokota.

Above are the six Caldecott Honor winners. I blogged about three of them here, here, and here.

You can read more about the other titles, Viva Frida, This One Summer, and Sam and Dave Dig A Hole, here

My next favorite award is the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, which is the awarded to the finest non-fiction published in a calendar year. I LOVE LOVE LOVE children's non-fiction, which seems to get better and better in terms of availability and quality each year. This year's Sibert Medal goes to:

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

Yep, this one won two major awards! I blogged about it here. Don't miss it! The illustrations will blow you away!

Runners-up for the Sibert Medal are: 

I wrote about the last two pictured above, here. You can learn more about The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, here.

The Theodore Seuss Geisel Award, named for Dr. Seuss, is another medal I pay close attention to, because it's a wonderful place to find books you might not have otherwise heard about. It's given for the best beginning reader published in a calendar year. The winner for 2014 is: 

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant, which I wrote about here. It's a wonderfully funny book all about perspective, which kids ages two to six will enjoy. My son, who is five, had me read it many, many times to him. 

The runners-up are:

Mr. Putter and Tabby Turn the Page by Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard 

Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems.

Both of these easy reader series are among my favorites!

Finally, if you have a teen or you are one of those adults who read crossover teen lit (there are about a million!), you will want to know which books won recognition as great literature for young adults. The complete list is available here. This one won the most prestigious of the teen awards, the Michael Printz Medal for the most outstanding contribution to young adult literature: 

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

This one has been in my to-read pile for about two months, and now I see I must move it up on my never-ending waiting list. I wrote about it here

Here are the runners-up for the Printz Award:

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

The Carnival of Bray by Jessie Ann Foley

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

You can learn why each of these titles was chosen for a Printz Honor medal, here

Later this week I'll write about awards for African-American, Latino, international, and Jewish picture books, as well as those that promote diverse peoples and families! Stay tuned and happy reading.

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Not Your Mother's "Dick and Jane": Beginning Readers that Won't Bore You to Tears

As summer draws to a close, I begin to dance a secret jig in my head at the prospect of reclaiming a teensy bit of precious alone time. Yes, I adore my kiddos, and treasure all that summer brings: Relaxed schedules, no homework, family vacations, and lots of free time are fab, but I'm woman enough to admit the sigh of relief I'll breathe once someone else is in charge of my offspring six hours per day. (God bless the teachers.)

Some of the things I won't miss about summer are sibling infighting and trying to keep everyone entertained, which is no easy feat with three kids of varying ages. One way we've warded off the inevitable I. Am. So. Unbelievably. Bored. that starts up about six days into summer break, and still managed not to break the bank, is by using our local library. As part of the library's summer reading program, we've also attended lots of quality free programming. We built Legos, heard professional storytelling, saw puppets, and even dissected owl scat. The kids also kept track of books they read and completed a bingo-style chart of reading activities, in anticipation of earning prizes at the end of the summer. What a great way to keep the kids' reading skills sharp during the summer break!

Midway through the summer, a blog reader emailed me looking for something to share with her emerging five-year-old reader as a next step after Dr. Seuss. As you all know, Theodore Seuss Geisel is credited with inventing beginning readers (AKA "easy readers") that kids (not to mention parents) actually enjoy. Prior to One Fish, Two Fish and The Cat in the Hat, early readers featured Dick, Jane, and Spot, and read like this:

See Spot.

Oh, Spot.

Funny, funny Spot.

Sometimes Sally showed up to add the excitement.

Jane said, "Oh, look!

See it go.

See it go up."

"Up, up," said Sally.

"Go up, up, up."

Are you snoring yet? Not only were these murderously boring for kids, but any adult trying to teach a child to read was ready to scratch their own eyeballs out after just ten minutes. Then Dr. Seuss came along in the mid 1960s and made things better, although it took a good decade for his work to be accepted as "educational." But even with Dr. Seuss brightening up the horizon, and writers like Arnold Lobel (Frog and Toad) and Else Minarik (Little Bear) helping out, the majority of easy readers, especially those for very beginning readers, stayed pretty bland for many more years.

Fast-forward several decades and something fantabulous has happened. Staring in the mid-1990s, and especially over the last fifteen years, early readers have become a genre worthy of attention. They're funny, entertaining, exciting, and just as good as regular picture books. They're winning awards of their own. And all while using language that helps kids start to read. My philosophy is that kids learn a lot faster when the process is couched in something enjoyable. Happily, modern easy readers do just that.

If you have a three to seven year old learning to read in your life, there's no need to continue avoiding the formerly boring beginning reader section of your local library or bookstore. And don't worry: As the parent doing the reading until your kid catches on, there are actually more entertaining books than those paperback Barbie and Star Wars tie-ins. (Not that I'm poo-pooing character tie-ins, as ALL reading is GOOD reading, just that maybe you as a parent don't find them to be super-fun in repeated doses.)

So without further prevarication, consider these awesome, exhilarating, different, and funny easy readers for sharing with, gifting, and reading to your emerging reader. And get excited! Learning to read is like opening the door to a whole new Technicolor world for your child, and you get to actually enjoy the storylines in the process! Time to kiss Dick and Jane goodbye.

For Very Emergent Readers (can't read yet, or are just barely starting):

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Mo Willem's Elephant and Piggie series (The BEST thing to happen to beginning readers in many, many years!)

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Tedd Arnold's Fly Guy series

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Olivier Dunrea's Gossie and Gertie series

Alyssa Capucilli's Biscuit series

Up! Tall! And High! by Ethan Long

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The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli

ball

Ball! by Mary Sullivan

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toon books

Toon Books (Publishes awesome graphic early readers): 

sillylilly

Silly Lilly (two titles) by Agnès Rosenstiehl

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Benjamin Bear (two titles) by Philippe Coudray

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Benny and Penny series by Geoffrey Hayes

For Emergent Readers (who can read some on their own, or for parents who just want to read something fun to any 4-7 year old, with the added benefit of introducing them to easy readers):

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Mouse and Mole series by Wong Herbert Lee

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cowgirlkate

Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa series by Erica Silverman

mrputterandtabby

Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant (My five-year-old son and I adore these!)

henryandmudge

Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant

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lingandting

Ling and Ting series by Grace Lin

penny

Penny series by Kevin Henkes

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Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider

That face right there? The expression that says, "I just figured out the library has more books in my favorite series that I haven't read yet!" That's the face we book people live for.

That face right there? The expression that says, "I just figured out the library has more books in my favorite series that I haven't read yet!" That's the face we book people live for.