Emily Jenkins, Cynthia Kadohata, Lisa VonDrasek

This year I was a judge for the
Young People’s Literature category of the National Book Awards. In fact, I was
chair—which means, really, that I sent organizational emails to the other
members of the committee. I also got to stand on stage and give the award to
Cynthia Kadohata for The Thing About
which was a wonderful experience. 
The workings of the committee are
confidential, but I thought I’d give you all a little sense of how the National
Book Awards process works—without revealing any secrets. 
I was asked to be on the committee
by the NBAwards’ Executive Director. In 2013 there were two new elements to how
the YPL awards worked: we would be making a long list of ten books and then a
month later, a short list of five finalists. A month after that, approximately,
we would choose a winner who would be announced at a gala event in New York. In
previous years there had been no long list. The second change was that the
committee would consist of three writers, one librarian and one bookseller. In
previous years the committee had been all writers. 
Our group was me, Cecil Castelluci,
Deb Caletti (writers), Peter Glassman of NYC’s Books of Wonder and Lisa
VonDrasek, who heads up St. Paul’s amazing Kerlan collection of children’s
literature—and whom many of you know from your visits there or her lecture last
We had 289 books to read, and it was
up to us as members of the committee to figure out how the reading and decision
process would work. I was given contact information for three previous
chairpeople, and they talked to me about the way their committees had worked,
and what they had learned from the process. That was incredibly helpful, and
our own Gary Schmidt was one of those previous chairs. 
The books began arriving in quantity
over the summer, and I cleared my schedule for pretty much nothing but reading
for 4 or 5 weeks of that. We announced our long list in October—and I was happy
that Hamline’s Gene Yang, Anne Ursu and Kate DiCamillo were all on the list—but
their association with Hamline had of course nothing whatsoever to do with the
committee choosing their books. All personal connections to the authors were
left behind when the judges discussed the work, as is always the case with the
The NBA is different from the
Newbery, Printz, Caldecott and other awards given to children’s literature in
that those awards announce ahead of time—and have a ceremony later.  There
is no suspense in the moment of the awards ceremony. At the National Book Awards,
all five finalists come to the event and the winner is a secret until announced
from the podium.  All the finalist books get a silver sticker on their
jackets—the winner gets a gold. All five finalists also receive a medal and a
plaque in a ceremony the night before. At the evening of the event, the winner
gets a statue —which is darn heavy. 
Nationalbook.org has videos
of the finalists reading from their books, photographs of the event, interviews
with all ten long list authors. Go check it out.