Read This Now

Read This Now

ALA’s award-winners represent the best for library collections.

For decades, the American Library Association, through its divisions and roundtables, has recognized outstanding works of literature with its prestigious book and media awards. This year’s class of winners offers a host of diverse experiences, from eerie to inspirational, and from whimsical to historical. They also represent a perfect starting point for librarians looking for the most bang for their buck in selecting titles for their library collections.

See ALA’s Awards and Grants page for more ALA book- and media-award winners, as well as booklists of excellent titles for specific audiences, and AL Focus for video of award committee chairs discussing their selections. And see below for the full report of RUSA’s Outstanding Reference Sources.

John Newbery Medal
First presented in 1922, the John Newbery Medal is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. The 2009 winner is Neil Gaiman for The Graveyard Book (HarperCollins Children’s Books), a tale of an orphan marked for death and his spirit protectors. “The Graveyard Book was just exciting,” Newbery Committee Chair Rose Treviño told American Libraries. “It’s a delicious mix. It’s kind of creepy, it’s sometimes terrifying and haunting, and at times it’s just hilarious. And then there are so many surprises.”

Randolph Caldecott Medal
The Randolph Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. The 2009 winner is The House in the Night, illustrated by Beth Krommes, written by Susan Marie Swanson (Houghton Mifflin). Detailed black-and-white scratchboard illustrations illuminate bedtime verse to reassure young children of the warmth and comfort of home and family, even in the darkness of night. “With her clear artistic vision, Krommes has created visual poetry,” said committee Chair Nell Colburn.

Dartmouth Medal
The Dartmouth Medal recognizes a reference work of outstanding quality and significance. “This year we awarded the Dartmouth Medal to Greenwood’s Pop Culture Universe,” committee Chair Jeff Schwartz told AL, noting that this is the first time an online-only source has won. “This was the most outstanding electronic source of the year,” he added, citing its interactive, Web 2.0–inspired features.

Coretta Scott King Book Awards
The Coretta Scott King book awards recognize African-American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults. The 2009 author award went to Kadir Nelson for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (Disney–Jump at the Sun). “The Coretta Scott King jury was very impressed with Kadir Nelson’s debut as a writer,” jury member Darwin Henderson told AL. “We felt that this was a true piece of storytelling in the African-American oral tradition and that Kadir Nelson’s words fit the tone of the illustrations.”

Floyd Cooper won the 2009 illustrator award for The Blacker the Berry by Joyce Carol Thomas (Amistad). In the book, Cooper uses an oil wash subtraction technique to portray the diversity of African-American children in pictures accompanying Thomas’s poems. “The committee was very excited to see the consistency of the paintings of the children within that book,” Henderson said. “There was a sense of joy, and there was a sense of radiating happiness and children celebrating who they were as African Americans.”

Schneider Family Book Awards
The Schneider Family Book Awards honor authors and illustrators for the artistic expression of the disability experience for child and teen audiences. Awards are presented for three reading levels. The winner in the birth-through-grade-school division is Robert Andrew Parker for Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum (Schwartz and Wade). “That book is a beautifully illustrated biography of the young years of jazz musician Art Tatum, who was born with very low vision and became blinder as he got older,” said committee Chair Marti Goddard. “It’s a wonderful, affirming story of music and his life.”

Leslie Conner’s Waiting for Normal (HarperCollins) was the middle-school category recipient. While the book is about a girl with learning disabilities, “the most important part about Waiting for Normal is that the normal that she’s looking for is a stable home and a stable family life,” Goddard said. “Through the book we see the resiliency and creativity of a wonderful girl finding her way to a safe place.”

The teen winner was Jonathan Friesen for Jerk, California (Speak), the story of Sam’s cross-country journey of self-discovery. “He takes back a name that he lost with a bad stepfather, and as he goes on a quest to learn about his own father from whom he inherited Tourette Syndrome, he finds a lot of strength,” Goddard said.

Pura Belpré Award
The Pura Belpré Award is presented to a Latino/Latina author and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience for children. The author award went to Margarita Engle for The Surrender Tree (Henry Holt), which tells the story of Cuba’s 19th-century fight for independence from Spain in free verse poetry. Committee chair Claudette McLinn described Engle’s work as “a hauntingly beautiful story of the struggle of freedom of the Cuban people.”

Yuyi Morales won the illustrator award for Just In Case (Roaring Brook Press), a book he also authored. “It’s a whimsical, beautiful story—part ghost story—about the events of the journey of Señor Calavera as he picks up gifts for Grandma Beetle,” McLinn said.

Sophie Brody Award
The Sophie Brody Award recognizes outstanding achievement in Jewish literature. This year’s winner is Peter Manseau’s Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter (Free Press). “It’s a sweeping historical epic that spans centuries in Russia, Poland, Israel, and the United States,” committee Chair Barbara Bibel told AL. “It’s a fabulous interwoven story of a Yiddish poet and the young American-Irish Catholic author who translates his work.”

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal
Kadir Nelson also won the Sibert Medal for We Are the Ship, awarded to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book for children of the year. “Nelson speaks in an everyman language that is personal and just riveting,” Sibert committee Chair Carol Phillips told AL. “He worked for eight years on this book, and it’s evident in every word that he writes and every picture that he draws.”

Stonewall Book Awards
The Stonewall Book Awards honor books of exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered experience. The Barbara Gittings Literature Award went to Evan Fallenberg’s Light Fell (Soho Press), the story of a father of five’s reconnection with the family he had left 20 years earlier.

Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861–2003 (Viking) by William N. Eskridge Jr. received the Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award.

Odyssey Award
The Odyssey Award is given to the producer of the best audiobook for children or young adults. This year’s winner is Recorded Books for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, written and narrated by Sherman Alexie. “Alexie is really the only person who could do this book,” committee Chair Pam Spencer Holley told AL. “It’s got all his foibles and interesting way of speaking.”

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award
The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award recognizes the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English. This year’s winner is Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems (Hyperion). “What we’re looking for is a book that inspires emerging readers and helps them want to read,” committee Chair Joan Atkinson told AL. Traits that do so include humor, interesting and challenging but not difficult language, a good story, bright colors, and type that children can interpret easily, and “the winning book had all of the above,” Atkinson said.

William C. Morris Award
New this year, the William C. Morris Award honors the outstanding book for young adults published by a debut author. The winner is A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Arthur A. Levine Books), a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin set against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution, in which Charlotte Miller bargains with the malevolent Jack Spinner to save her family’s mill. “It’s beautiful writing, it’s wonderful character development, and it’s an absolutely fascinating story,” enthused committee Chair Bonnie Kunzel.

Carnegie Medal
The Carnegie Medal recognizes the best video producter for children. This year’s winner is Weston Woods Studios for March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World, Christine King Farris’s remembrance of the 1963 March on Washington and her brother Martin Luther King Jr.’s preparation for and delivery of his “I Have a Dream” speech. “Because it’s a personal memory, it brings the whole event alive to children today,” committee Chair Margaret Tice told AL, noting Michael Bacon’s outstanding music and Lynn Whitfield’s stirring narration.

Michael L. Printz Award
The Michael L. Printz Award recognizes the best young adult book of the year. This year’s winner is Jellicoe Road (HarperTeen) by Melina Marchetta, a tale of how young Taylor Markham discovers clues about her past—and reluctantly becomes the leader of the school faction in a local territory war. “We have no idea what the history or the origin of this war is or if the reasons have warped over time, and neither does Taylor, so we all learn together, the reader and the characters,” committee Chair Mary Arnold told AL.


The times, they are a-changing: Almost all of this year’s Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) Outstanding Reference award winners are available as e-books. Much can be said in favor of e-books, but some of us will miss the multisensory experience of using a good encyclopedia in print. The new-book smell, the crisp ink on paper, the heft of a heavy volume in your hand, the opportunity to delve serendipitously into the contents cannot be matched by words on the screen. We are in a period of transition and this year’s Outstanding Reference Sources reflect this change. Below, the committee highlights three of this year’s winners.—Theresa Mudrock, 2009 chair, RUSA Reference Sources Committee

Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. Edited by Kenneth Womack. 4 vols., 1,292 pages. Greenwood Press (978-0-03-1333738-3), $399.95 print.
Focusing on works since 1980, this set serves as a starting point to contemporary genre literature and is intended for the general, high school, and college reader. The seventy-five signed essays cover the popular literature and reading of today in such traditional categories as mysteries, science fiction, and travel writing; in ethnic writings, such as Arab American and Native American; in new reading trends, such as Christian, chick lit, and ecopoetry; and in what Womack calls “transcultural” forms of literature—beyond the book—such as film adaptations, graphic novels, and zines. Each entry includes a definition, history, trends and themes, contexts and issues, reception, selected authors, and bibliography. Rounding out the set is a list of contemporary authors by genre and cumulative index.

The Encyclopedia of Taoism. Edited by Fabrizio Pregadio. 2 vols., 1,551 pages. Routledge (978-0-7007-1200-7; 978-0-203-69548-7 e-book), $305 print; $305 e-book.
This comprehensive, scholarly, thoroughly indexed encyclopedia is divided into two sections. The first section of 196 pages contains a stellar overview of Taoism with short essays falling into categories such as Sacred Scriptures and Texts; Sacred Sites; Views of Society; and Taoism Outside China. The second section contains approximately 800 alphabetically arranged, focused, short essays on important people, terms, divinities and more. Attached to each entry are references taking the reader to a superb master bibliography of 102 pages. Written by 46 scholars around the world, there is no reference work on Taoism comparable to the Encyclopedia of Taoism in breadth and scholarship.

Encyclopedia of the First Amendment. Edited by John Vile, David Hudson Jr., and David Schultz. 2 vols., 1,218 pages. CQ Press (978-0-87289-311-5), $275 print.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and petition, and this encyclopedia covers the ways in which these rights have been challenged and affirmed in American life. The traditional A-to-Z arrangement is supplemented by seven introductory essays. Scholarly yet accessible, entries range from a couple paragraphs to several pages and explain how even tattoos and bumper stickers have had their moments in the First Amendment spotlight.

The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales. Edited by Donald Haase. 3 vols., 1,160 pages. Greenwood Press (978-0-313-33441-2; 978-0-313-04947-7 e-book), $299.95; $329.95 e-book.
Nearly everything one might need to know to begin study of folktales and fairy tales is contained in these three tidy volumes. The coverage spans two centuries of scholarship and the ever-present popular interest. It is global and multicultural in its point of view, drawing on folklorists, anthropologists, ethnographers, and children’s specialists for the articles. One finds motifs and themes from cannibalism to utopia, and coverage from ancient trickster tales to Harry Potter. While there are no tales themselves, this is a fine place to step into the field.

Encyclopedia of Education Law. Edited by Charles J. Russo. 2 vols., 1,012 pages. Sage. (978-1-412-94079-5; 978-1-412-96391-6 e-book), $325 print; $405 e-book.
There are education encyclopedias and legal encyclopedias, but to this point, no source has concentrated on the intricacies of education law. This covers education law from all aspects. Articles about the important cases, statutes, and policy decisions are combined with the leading topics and information on key individuals to produce a cogent and comprehensive resource. With its serious scholarly focus and accessible language, this will be of use to researchers and concerned citizens alike. 

Climate Change: In Context. Edited by Brenda Wilmoth Lerner and K. Lee Lerner. 2 vos., 1,006 pages. Thomson Gale (978-1-414-43614-2; 978-1-414-43708-8 e-book), $257 print.
Readers are introduced to topics as varied as aerosols, carbon credits and solar power and over 200 other issues related to climate change in this encyclopedia. Authors, scientists, scholars, and researchers from the fields of geology, environmental science, physics, sociology, and law provide an interdisciplinary perspective on climate change. Contents include primary sources, a chronology of events related to climate change, a superb glossary, bibliographies and sidebar information with each article, and a comprehensive list of sources consulted; all make this a truly outstanding resource. Part of the In Context series, these two volumes represent a wealth of contextual information.

The Gale Encyclopedia of Diets: A Guide to Health and Nutrition. Edited by Jacqueline L. Longe. 2 vols., 1,101 pages. Thomson Gale (978-1-414-42991-5; 978-1-414-42994-6 e-book), $436 print.
Information on popular diets, dietary practices, nutrition and health written by a wide variety of health care professionals are covered. The two volumes are arranged alphabetically, each article includes a list of key terms, cross-references and a list of resources. Both volumes include a table of contents while the second includes an extensive index. Entries include definitions, descriptions of the topic, precautions, risks, diagnosis, aftercare, therapy and questions to ask your doctor. Topics range from Chocolate and Grapefruit Diets, breastfeeding, bulimia, diuretics, food labeling, senior nutrition, Slim-Fast and so much more in an easy to understand source of information.

New Encyclopedia of Orchids: 1,500 Species in Cultivation. By Isobyl la Croix. 524 pages. Timber Press (978-0-88192-876-1), $59.95 print.
This encyclopedia is written for both the expert and novice orchid grower, with an emphasis on orchids that can be grown in a greenhouse or a garden. Many of the entries include exquisite color photographs as well as detailed information for each orchid species included in the volume. Indexes offer both scientific and common species names. The glossary, bibliography, and topics selected for chapter-length discussion give this work exceptional authority. All essential information necessary for successful cultivation of orchids is provided for the reader.

African American National Biography. Edited by Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. 8 vols., 5,568 pages. Oxford University Press (978-0-19-516019-2), $795 print.
This groundbreaking work, with over 4,000 entries, covers the lives of the famous and the heretofore overlooked. Gates, Higginbotham, and a host of scholars and writers illuminate and explore the stories of politicians like Jefferson Franklin Long, journalists, and writers like Ida Wells-Barnett and Ed Bradley, and victims of Civil Rights-era violence like Denise McNair. AANB provides a wider range of well written, fully considered, analytical writing about African Americans of note, than any reference work that has come before. Also available online as part of the core content of the Oxford African American Studies Center.

The Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Political, Social, and Military History. Edited by Spencer C. Tucker. 4 vols., 1,553 pages. Abc-Clio (978-1-85109-841-5; 978-1-85109-842-2 e-book), $395.00 print; $553.00 e-book.
This well-illustrated four-volume set provides a balanced and fresh look at the conflict that has caused so much devastation for so long. With 750 articles, and 168 chronologically arranged documents and document excerpts, this is the most comprehensive work on the conflict that has yet been produced. It is well-indexed and includes a chronology, a listing of military ranks, and country profiles for the region. And while bias can always be found if one looks from a certain perspective, this encyclopedia strives for and consistently achieves an even-handed tone and viewpoint on a number of contentious subjects. 

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History.  Edited by Bonnie G. Smith. 4 vols., 2,040 pages. Oxford University Press (978-0-19-514890-9; 978-0-19-533786-0 e-book), $595 print.
With 1,250 entries and 450 black and white illustrations, this handsomely produced work thoroughly documents the place of women in world history. The 900 contributors from fifty different countries give a truly international focus to the encyclopedia. While many entries are biographical or geographical, other more substantial articles delve into themes and issues that have concerned women across the ages. Many end-of-article bibliographies are annotated.

Other members of the RUSA Reference Sources Committee are: Kathleen Collins, Danise Hoover, Deborah Katz, Peggy Keeran, Jacalyn Kremer, Stella Terrazas, and Patrick Wall.