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If you wanna be a writer you gotta be a reader.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Year in Review: Youth Literature

My tenure as a judge for the National Book Awards, 2011, ends today.  It was a fabulous, exhausting and  remarkable experience.  Along with four other judges (Ann Brashares, Nikki Grimes, Marc Aronson, Matt de la Pena), I read 278 books over the summer.  Our panel gradually narrowed the entries to about thirty, then ten, and then the five finalists

While the five finalists--make that six, what with the now infamous confusion of "Chime" with a non-contender by a similar title--got all of the attention, there were other  noteworthy books that got our panel's full attention, but didn't quite make the cut.  It was painful, letting go of books I greatly admired, but compromise was in order as we had a job to do:  pick a winner.

So below is an informal list of the "contenders"--books that all of the panelists came to know well, and to wish well beyond 2011:

Between Shades of Gray*
Chime  (finalist)
Inside Out and Back Again  (NBA Youth Lit winner)
My Name is Not Easy    (finalist)
Flesh and Blood So Cheap (finalist)
A Plague Year
A Girl Named Faithful Plum
The Babysitter Murders
Bird in A Box*
Black, White, Other*
Dragon Castle*
Eliza's Freedom Road
The Flint Heart*
The File on Angelyn Stark
How to Save A Life
The Near Witch*
Paper Covers Rocks*
Okay For Now  (finalist)
Saving Zasha*
Skate Fate
5000 Years Of Slavery
Small Acts of Amazing Courage
Vietnam:  I Pledge Allegiance
We All Fall Down

*books that got lots of discussion.  Highly recommended.


  1. Very generous of you to share this list. I would not have known otherwise that the judges paid special attention to The Babysitter Murders. Being mentioned here is a wonderful way to cap off my year. Best wishes.

  2. I in particular liked The Baby Sitter Murders a good deal. It has a central irony that was compelling--a main character who, when being honest about the thoughts she has, brings great trouble upon herself. Congrats for penetrating so deeply into territory (teen girl babysitters) usually full of cliches'.

  3. Did you say you read 278 books? That's remarkable even if they were slim volumes.

  4. Yes, 278. Up in the morning and at 'em. Speed reading for fluffy titles such as Disney tie-ins, but a serious look at serious novels and nonfiction. The reading took place over several months....

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