YA Friday: National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

A couple of weeks ago on November 18, 2020, the 71st National Book Awards took place, hosted by author Jason Reynolds. The awards are "by writers to writers". The panelists who determine the award are five "writers who are known to be doing great work in their genre or field".

The National Book Award for Young People's Literature, established in 1996 is one of five annual National Book Awards given by the National Book Foundation to recognize outstanding literary work by US citizens, was announced.

The winner was King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender. Check out their acceptance speech and some previous finalists and winning titles below.

King and the Dragonflies, book cover

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.

It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy—that he thinks he might be gay. "You don't want anyone to think you're gay too, do you?"

But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King's friendship with Sandy is reignited, he's forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother's death.

2020 Finalists

We Are Not Free, book cover
Every Body Looking, book cover
When Stars Are Scattered, book cover
The Way Back, book cover

2019 Winner

1919 The Year That Changed America, book cover

1919 The Year That Changed America by Martin W. Sandler

1919 was a world-shaking year. America was recovering from World War I and black soldiers returned to racism so violent that that summer would become known as the Red Summer. The suffrage movement had a long-fought win when women gained the right to vote. Laborers took to the streets to protest working conditions; nationalistic fervor led to a communism scare; and temperance gained such traction that prohibition went into effect. Each of these movements reached a tipping point that year.

Now, one hundred years later, these same social issues are more relevant than ever. Sandler traces the momentum and setbacks of these movements through this last century, showing that progress isn’t always a straight line and offering a unique lens through which we can understand history and the change many still seek.

2019 Finalists

Pet, book cover
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, book cover
Patron Saints of Nothing, book cover
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All, book cover

2018 Winner

The Poet X, book cover

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

2018 Finalists

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, book cover
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, book cover
The Journey of Little Charlie, book cover
Hey, Kiddo, book cover

2017 Winner

Far from the Tree, book cover

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

2017 Finalists

What Girls Are Made Of, book cover
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, book cover
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, book cover
American Street, book cover