Saturday, October 24, 2009

Yes, I'm Behind the Times.
Anyhoo, National Book Award Finalists!

Here in Lonely Reader land, news comes through so frequently, that often times, I'm unable to report on it till the perfect storm of updates dies down. And this being award season, it's difficult to keep up with all the award winners, nominees, finalists, lifetime achievement awards, pie eating contests, etc.

But I'm trying, because as I've written before, I'm a nut for awards stuff. If I can really get to know this year's kids contenders, I would like to start some kind of gambling ring around the Newberry and Caldicott awards. Any librarians/ booksellers/ children's lit enthusiasts out there? Let's start betting now! We don't even have to bet money. Let's bet baked goods. I bet a dozen brownies that
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly is at least a Newberry Honors book. Anyone want to take me on?

The National Book Award Finalists have been announced and, surprise surprise, I haven't read any of the nominated books. Bummer. Not that I read a lot of prestige adult books, but I had read most of last year's finalists for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Unlike the somewhat predictable, somewhat mundane choices of the Printz awards and the unreliable quality of the Newberrys - they have to be commended for recognizing Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book last year, but they've made a lot of sketchy choices in the past - the National Book Award for Young People's Literature consistently pays focus to books that get ignored elsewhere. Of course, this is really just a personal preference for the award's track record. If you compare last year's National Book Award finalists with this past year's Printz Award finalists, you'll see that both awards have token categories that need to be filled.

These were the 2008 finalists:
- What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (winner)
- The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
- Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
- The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
- The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks E. Lockhart

Printz 2009 finalists:
- Jellicoe Road by Malina Marchetta (winner
- The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume II by MT Anderson
- The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
- Nation by Terry Pratchett
- Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Each award seems to reserve a spot for a slave narrative, a book focused on black history, or a story of contemporary black culture. There is usually at least one coming of age book. There's usually a survivor tale. There's usually one book written in a non-contemporary time period.

I just think that the National Book Award for Young People's LIterature makes more ecclectic choices, especially with the winner. The Printz nominees from this year were all well, but I don't understand how you pass up four of those contenders for Jellicoe Road, an okay coming-of-age with a distorted narrative that just doesn't work.

In comparison, the NBA from 2008, What I Saw and How I Lied, is that rare WWII book that brings new wealth to an exhausted topic and setting. Blundell was an underdog, due to both her use of period slang and vernacular within text and because this was her first book published under her own name. She had done her time writing Star Wars series novels for kids, and then with the first book that she could really call her own, she wins the National Book Award. You kind of have to love a story like that.

Here is the complete list of National Book Award Finalists - all of them. Believe it or not, I do care about adult literature. I just never have time to read the big books of each year. I'm able to pick up story collections here and there, the odd bit of non-fiction, and occasionally a full novel, but to sit down with expansive, award-geared lit asks too much time than I am capable of giving.

Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage (Wayne State University Press)
Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin (Random House)
Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Jayne Anne Phillips, Lark and Termite (Alfred A. Knopf)
Marcel Theroux, Far North (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

David M. Carroll, Following the Water: A Hydromancer's Notebook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Sean B. Carroll, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt)
Adrienne Mayor, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Princeton University Press)
T. J. Stiles, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Alfred A. Knopf)

Rae Armantrout, Versed (Wesleyan University Press)
Ann Lauterbach, Or to Begin Again (Viking Penguin)
Carl Phillips, Speak Low (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Open Interval (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Keith Waldrop, Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (University of California Press)

Young People’s Literature
Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Henry Holt)
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, Stitches (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

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