Thoughts on the 2020 ALA Youth Media Awards Winners

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 28th, 2020

Not even the pout or pouncing of my adorable puppy could tear me away from my computer screen on Monday morning, when the American Library Association announced the 2020 ALA Youth Media Awards. As always, I spent the announcement time as one part excited fan, cheering for my favorites, and one part frantic bookseller, making sure we had all of the books on hand or on order.

I was delighted to see that the American Indian Youth Literature Awards have been made officially part of the ALA as of this year (they’ve been awarded in even-numbered years since 2006), and the response in the awards hall to the announcement of the Asian/Pacific-American Youth Literature Awards was gratifyingly noisy and enthusiastic. While there’s still so much ground to cover, it’s heartening to see greater recognition and visibility of the multiplicity of stories and creative genius in our culture.

Every year, I’m relieved to see a “smaller” title we love (i.e., a book we aren’t sure has been noticed as much as it deserves) reap deserved rewards. A couple of years ago, it was Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, which was fabulously written and illustrated but seemed to have flown under the radar a little. Not so; it took home four awards. This year, the lovely Fry Bread (which took me right back to my 1970s Arizona childhood) by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martínez-Neal earned a Sibert gold medal as well an AILA Honor.

Sometimes books published early in an awards year suffer, falling from notice in the shadow of newer, ‘shinier’ titles. So it was a huge joy to see Jerry Craft’s fantastic February 2019 release, New Kid, win both the Newbery and the Coretta Scott King Author Awards. Congratulations, Jerry! Our hearts were full with this news.

And while the many honors for The Undefeated weren’t a surprise, they were incredibly gratifying. It’s such a powerful book in both text and art!

The gold medals seemed to fall out fairly evenly distributed between men and women this year. (This is a rough observation, as I had to go by external presentation, not knowing how each person self-identifies. This conversation will also become more nuanced as increasing numbers of trans and genderfluid authors are represented in years to come.) The male-female parity in years past would have indicated a tilt toward men earning proportionally more awards than women given their smaller percentage of the field, but it would be interesting to see recent numbers of men and women in children’s books; the balance seems to be evening up quite a bit.

The award winners are also a diverse group in terms of race and ethnicity. Again, not knowing precisely how everyone identifies affects the data, but the gold medal winners were nearly half authors and illustrators of color. One of the greatest joys of having been a bookseller this long is to see publishing finally start catching up to the brilliant, complex, and richly diverse world in which we actually live.

Publishers taking top honors (gold medals, counting the Alex Awards as all gold medals and excluding lifetime achievement award winners) included presses both large and small. By the numbers: Penguin Random House garnered 9 of the top spots, Macmillan earned 6, Simon & Schuster received 4, HarperCollins 3, Hachette 2, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2, Lee & Low 2, and the following publishers each received one gold medal: Candlewick Press, Charlesbridge, Disney Book Group, Enchanted Lion, IDW Publishing, Minnesota Historical Society Press, Nobrow Press,
Oni Press, Scholastic, Sterling, and W.W. Norton.

When the winners and honors are combined, here’s how the publishers shake out: Penguin Random House 23, Macmillan 15, Simon & Schuster 13, HarperCollins 9, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 7, Chronicle 3, Charlesbridge 3, Disney Book Group 3, Hachette 3, Scholastic 3, Abrams 2, Boyds Mills & Kane 2, Candlewick Press 2,  Enchanted Lion 2, Highwater Press 2, Lee & Low 2, W.W. Norton 2, and the following each received one award: Beacon Press, Entangled Publishing, Greystone Kids, Holiday House, IDW Publishing, Inhabit Media, Lerner, Live Oak Media, Minnesota Historical Society Press, Nobrow Press, North Dakota State University Press, Oni Press, Peachtree, Plough Publishing House, Sealaska Heritage, Sterling, and Zondervan.

As always, these are my own counts. Feel free to peruse the data and make your own observations: Click on this link for a Google spreadsheet of all the books, authors, illustrators, and publishers honored this year.

Congratulations to all of the authors, illustrators, books, and publishers celebrated this year! And congratulations to all of the authors, illustrators, books, and publishers who created amazing works that didn’t happen to win an award. We love you! And a huge thank you to the American Library Association for creating and supporting these awards, making them available for us to stream live on the exciting awards morning, and to the committee members for READING SO MANY BOOKS and then being so thoughtful about them! You are amazing!

And you, dear readers? Did your beloved books receive recognition? Were some of your favorites overlooked? Let us know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on the 2020 ALA Youth Media Awards Winners

  1. Emily Schneider

    You wrote about the ceremony while managing to avoid any reference to the Sydney Taylor Awards, even though you praised the response to the American Indian and Asian/Pacific Awards. I note the lack of overlap between the Sydney Taylor and the ALSC awards. Not only did these wonderful books about the Jewish experience not win any ALSC honors, they were not even the recipients of any “buzz” or suggestion that they were contenders before the awards were granted. (Both Fry Bread and New Kid were repeatedly endorsed as possible winners.) R.J. Palacio’s White Bird is an outstanding graphic novel, and Rachel DeWoskin’s Someday We Will Fly is a masterpiece. I can only appropriate the overused term “erasure” to categorize the mainstream response to some of these books.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      Hi, Emily. I took all of the data from the ALA Youth Media Awards press release, which I guess didn’t contain the Sydney Taylor Award winners? Here’s the link: http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2020/01/american-library-association-announces-2020-youth-media-award-winners.
      Apologies for not noticing the the awards weren’t in the press release; I assumed it was complete. Perhaps other awards were also not included – I’ll pursue.

      1. Emily Schneider

        I’m looking right at the press release. The Sydney Taylor books are there. I’m sure that you had no intention of deliberately excluding these important awards, but you have, and that reflects a certain lack of interest in them. They are listed right before the American Indian Awards and right after the Asian-Pacific Awards.

        1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

          Hi, Emily. Now I’m confused. The awards are in my spreadsheet, and were included in the tallies. Are you taking issue with my not making special mention of them in my post? There were many awards I didn’t specifically mention or highlight in the post, but all were in the spreadsheet roundup. I was taking note of some more recently established awards in the actual body of my post, and mentioning other things that caught my attention. The Sydney Taylor award books are worthy and wonderful, as are the celebrated titles in all of the categories, most of which I also didn’t mention specifically. This wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive look at each award.

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