How to Use Book Awards to Find Great Children’s Books

by Alysa Stewart

Photo credit: Andy Ryan, Taxi Collection/ Getty Images

How do you find good books for kids? Recommendations from friends, bestseller lists, library displays, and, of course, Brightly are solid ways to find a new favorite book. But here’s another method you may not have considered: book award lists.

You probably remember two awards chosen by appointed and elected members of the American Library Association (ALA): the Newbery Medal and the Caldecott Medal. The ALA awards the annual Newbery Medal to the author who’s made the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” The Caldecott Medal is awarded to the artist of the “most distinguished American picture book for children.”

If you dig deeper into book awards, you’ll find that loads more are given on both the state and national levels, and they can serve as great resources for finding quality books for kids. Want to find a really good audiobook? There’s an award for that. Want to find a really good mystery book? There’s an award for that too.

Here are four kinds of book awards to help you discover some great new kids’ reads:

1. Cybils Awards: The Cybils Awards go to one book per year in each of 13 categories — everything from picture books and early readers to YA nonfiction. See the full list on the Cybils website.

Cybils books must have high literary merit and high kid-appeal. If some books are very good for kids (Brussels sprouts) and others are very appealing to kids but aren’t necessarily as nourishing for them (gummy bears), Cybils books strive to find the balance — reads that are high quality and loved by kids (organic chicken nuggets, perhaps).

Cybils judges are book bloggers. These are people who love children’s literature enough that they use their free time to write about it. I, myself, have served as a volunteer judge with the Cybils for eight years running. Kate Lovett, a mother of two from Illinois says, “I like that the Cybils are chosen by regular everyday readers. I feel like I relate more to bloggers than the industry professionals that choose other literature awards.”

2. State book awards: One benefit of checking your state book award lists is that librarians in your state probably stock multiple copies of the winners, so these books will be both enjoyable and easy to find locally! The way state awards are chosen depends on the state, of course. Here in Connecticut, we have the Nutmeg Book Award. Nominees for the Nutmeg are selected by a committee of adults, and winners are selected by the popular vote of children in Connecticut. Check out this great list to see what book awards your state has. (I personally love the concept of the Bell Picture Book Award, which comes to us from Colorado!)

3. Religious book awards: Faith is a central part of many families’ lives. For families who practice a particular religion or are looking to learn more about other religions, online searches for religious kids’ book awards will yield a lot of results. Different awards have different criteria, but Susan Kusel, who serves on the committee for the Association of Jewish Libraries to select the best in Jewish children’s literature, says, “It’s fascinating to see the variety of material — ranging from very religious books to those that are more spiritual. As a synagogue librarian, I use the Sydney Taylor Book Awards to help find Jewish books from smaller publishers I may have missed.” Religious awards that have caught my eye include the The Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Award, The Christy Awards (especially the YA category), and the Whitney Awards.

4. Other ALA awards: The American Library Association doesn’t just award the Newbery and the Caldecott, they also award the Printz for young adults, the Odyssey Award for audiobooks, the Geisel Award for beginning readers, the Sibert Medal for informational books, the Belpré Medal for books that celebrate Latino culture, and more! You can get lost in finding good books on their YALSA page for teens and their ALSC page for kids.

When you use a children’s book award to select your kid’s next book, you benefit from all the work that other adults have done to get good books into the hands of kids.