A quick overview of 11 important literary awards (with a ton of titles to add to your TBR!)

You don't have to know the ins and outs of book awards, but it is fun to know what kinds of works get recognized, and why, and which lists to pay attention to if you like a certain style, genre, or section of the bookstore?

Like many young readers, I learned about two important literary awards, the Caldecott and the Newbery, in elementary school. The rest were a mystery to me for many, many years—I didn’t know how many awards there were, or what they were called, let alone what they all meant.

Readers, I know I’m not the only one who’s been there. And while it’s absolutely possible to have a vibrant reading life without knowing the ins and outs of book awards, is it fun to know what kinds of works get recognized, and why? Which lists to pay attention to if you like a certain style, genre, or section of the bookstore? Many readers say YES, and that’s why the eleventh category for the 2017 Reading Challenge—for those of you stretching yourselves this year—is “a book nominated for an award in 2017.”

Need ideas for this category? I’ve linked to each award’s online home base below, so you can browse through the 2017 nominations for the awards that particularly interest you. I’m also sharing notable winners and honorees for each award, to both give you ideas of what to read for this category and to give you a feel for the flavor of each award.

If you’re reading for fun this year, your assignment is to read “a book you were excited to buy or borrow but haven’t read yet.” More on that soon!


Officially known as the Randolph Caldecott Medal, this award, administered by a division of the American Library Association (ALA), goes to each year’s most distinguished American picture book for children. The book’s illustrator receives the award. If you want to check this box really fast, or you want to hook a kindergartener on reading for life, the Caldecott list is a great place to start.

Current and past winners: Radiant Child (2017), The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2008), The Polar Express (1986), Where the Wild Things Are (1964)


Description: Also administered by the ALA, the John Newbery Medal is given each year to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. The ALA considers books written by United States citizens or residents that are first (or simultaneously) published in English. Note the spelling: I added an extra “r” for years.

Winners and Honors: Only a hundred books I adore, no big deal. The Girl Who Drank the Moon (2017), The War That Saved My Life (2015 Honor Book), When You Reach Me (2010), The Hero and the Crown (1985 Winner), Bridge to Terabithia (1978 Winner), A Wrinkle in Time (1963 Winner) Charlotte’s Web (1953 Honor Book), Strawberry Girl (1945 Winner)


The ALA’s young adult division bestows the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature each year to the best book written for teens, based on literary merit alone, and also names up to four honor books each year. Booklist magazine sponsors the award. (Please, somebody, add “sponsor a literary award” to your bucket list right now.) 

Recent Nominees and Honorees: The Sun is Also a Star (2017 Honor Book), I’ll Give You the Sun (2015 Winner), Eleanor & Park (2014 Honor Book), Code Name Verity (2013 Honor Book)


The Alex Awards are given each year by the ALA to ten books written for an adult audience that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.

Recent Winners: Undocumented (2016), All the Light We Cannot See (2015), The Sea of Tranquility (2014), Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (2013), The Night Circus (2012), Ready Player One (2012), Room (2011)

Coretta Scott King

The ALA honors African-American authors and illustrators with the Coretta Scott King Awards for creating outstanding books for children and young adults, especially those that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.

Winners: March: Book Three (2017), Radiant Child (2017 Illustrator Winner), Trombone Shorty (2016), Brown Girl Dreaming (2015 Winner), The Crossover (2015 Honor Book), One Crazy Summer (2011)

ALA Carnegie

This is the newest award on the list. Beginning in 2012, the ALA awards the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction to recognize the best fiction and nonfiction books for adults published in the U.S.

Winners and Finalists: If you’d like a wide variety of books to choose from, the Carnegie longlist is long—up to 50 titles! 2018 finalists include: Lincoln in the Bardo, Killers of the Flower Moon, Sing, Unburied, Sing, Manhattan Beach, and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Past winners include The Underground Railroad (2017 Winner), Evicted (2017 Winner), All the Light We Cannot See (2015 Winner), Just Mercy (2015 Winner), The Goldfinch (2014 Winner)

National Book Award

The National Book Awards were established in 1936 by the American Booksellers Association, presented to U.S. authors for books published in the United States roughly during the award year. Its mission is “to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of good writing in America.”

Winners and Finalists: Pachinko (2017 Finalist), Killers of the Flower Moon (2017 Finalist), The Hate U Give (2017 Young People’s Literature longlist), The Underground Railroad (2016 Winner), Station Eleven (2014 Finalist), Brown Girl Dreaming (2014 Young People’s Literature), Cold Mountain (1997)

Man Booker Prize

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction (often referred to only as the Booker) is awarded each year for the best novel written in the English language. They’ve long prided themselves on their “common man” approach to choosing the prize. Since its inception, the prize was awarded only to books published originally in the U.K., but in 2014 the scope was widened to include any book originally published in English.

Winners: Lincoln in the Bardo (2017), The Luminaries (2013), Wolf Hall (2009), The Remains of the Day (1989)

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

The Pulitzer Prize board annually awards this prize for distinguished fiction published in book form by an American author. Preference is given to works dealing with American life. The jurors don’t consider all works published in a given year, but only those that have officially entered. 

Recent Winners and Finalists: The Underground Railroad (2017), All the Light We Cannot See (2015), The Goldfinch (2014), The Snow Child (2013 Finalist), A Visit From the Goon Squad (2011), Olive Kitteridge (2009), The Road (2009)


The Hugo Awards are a set of awards given each year for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements.

Winners: Every Heart a Doorway (2017 Best Novella), Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2005), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2001), The Man in the High Castle (1963)


The Mystery Writers of America present the Edgar Allan Poe Awards each year to the best works in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television, film, and theater.

Winners: Before the Fall (2017 Winner), Greenglass House (2015 Best Juvenile), Code Name Verity (2013 Best Young Adult), The Expats (2013 Winner), The Last Policeman (2013 Best Paperback Original), Columbine (2010 Best Fact Crime)

What are you reading for this category? What awards do you pay special attention to? Is there an award that interests you that isn’t on this list? Please share with us in comments! 


Leave A Comment
  1. Halley says:

    Don’t forget the Agatha Awards – for “cozy mystery”! Louise Penney makes multiple appearances on that list.

    Also, to cross this off my list I read “The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses” by Kate DiCamillo, which recently won a Newberry, and would highly recommend it! Great mix of funny and sweet, and has some really amazing comic elements.

  2. Torrie says:

    This post/category is right up my alley! Years ago, I literally printed off lists of several of these awards and the winners/runners-up, and I’ve been methodically checking off for years which ones I’ve read. For a long time, I ONLY let myself read books off of recommended reading lists, but now that I’m older (and hopefully wiser!), I think that a balance of books from these lists and just any old book that I want to read is important 🙂

    Even though they aren’t “award winner” lists, some other lists I’ve printed off just for fun are the BBC Big Read, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and the Rory Gilmore Challenge book list.

    Great post!

    • Shannon says:

      Love the Rory Gilmore challenge. I have a list and slowly checking them off. Next year I’m starting this reading plan: 1 Non Fiction, 1 Fiction, 1 Reading Challenge or Book Award, and 1 Free pick either something I pick or someone else says I should read. I’ll probably read more than 4 a month but its free choice after these 4.

  3. Michele Magnuson says:

    I had the most amazing opportunity to take a children’s literature course at SAN Diego State University with Matt de la Peña, 2016’s Newberry winner for The Last Stop on Market Street. It was the most beneficial class in my entire college career.

    • Shannon says:

      I LOVED the 3 children’s literature classes I took in college. They were amazing and the books are ones I still remember and recommend to the elementary kids I work with.

  4. Jackie says:

    I am currently reading “The Moviegoer” by Walter Percy. It’s the 1962 National Book Award Winner. It’s interesting to read the controversy behind the winning of this award which everyone assumed would go to “Catch-22”.

  5. Brandyn says:

    I’m currently listening to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. At 32 hours hopefully I finish this year (my commute isn’t that long), but obviously that’s not nominated this year. I’m using it for either the book over 600 pgs or book that won a Pulitzer or National Book Award.
    I’ve got Far from the Tree by Robin Benway on my nightstand and I believe it’s on the shortlist for The National Book Award, Young People’s Literature.

    • Sheryl Esau says:

      I’m always so sad when I see people reading The Goldfinch. I would love to have those many hours of my life back that I gave to this wretched book. (Can you tell I didn’t like it? LOL) Hope it’s more for you than it was for me.

      • Brandyn says:

        I know at least one person listed it as her “hated” book on the podcast, but her reasons for hating it were things that don’t always bother me. If it goes downhill, I’ll have no problem DNFing it. I’m about 5 hrs in and so far I like it and feel invested.

  6. Caitlin Mallery says:

    I haven’t paid attention to awards (other than noticing that little medallion embossed onto certain childrens books) but I was surprised at how many of the titles you listed I have actually read. I think I will say that my choice for this category is The Underground Railroad, which I read in September. Done! Now back to my TBR list.

  7. Beth says:

    I ended up reading When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. It was a 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist in the “Biography or Autobiography” category. That counts, right?!

    Since I knew what it was about going in, I thought I was prepared – no. I SOBBED through the epilogue. It moved me deeply and changed my perspective on terminal illness. I absolutely loved it.

  8. Susan V says:

    So Anne, tell us. For it to count for this challenge can it have won a 2017 award, or only books that are nominated in 2017? This is complicated!

    Thanks for this list of awards! I just realized in the last year or so that Newbery has only one “r”!!

  9. Also for for the bucket list of you book award geeks, watch the ALA Youth Media Award presentations. It’s livestreamed from ALA Midwinter every year, and honestly its better than the Oscars and the Tonys etc. You have to get up kinda early for it, as it’s at 8am Eastern, but it’s so worth it if you keep up with current children’s lit. Next one is Feb 12, 2018. 😀 http://www.ala.org/news/mediapresscenter/presskits/youthmediaawards/alayouthmediaawards

  10. Jo Yates says:

    The Texas Library Association presents The Bluebonnet Award every year. TBA publishes a list from which the state’s schoolchildren choose the winner. Txla.org/TBA

  11. Anki says:

    I’ve got a stack of Newbery award/honor books that I am looking at for this particular category. Haven’t decided which book I’ll read, though.

    I may be somewhat odd in that my reaction to learning something is an award winner ranges from a neutral “oh, that’s neat/interesting” to a more negative “maybe I won’t read that one after all” depending on the award in question (recent Hugo winners, last decade or so, tend to fall in the later category, for example).

    I cannot think of a single book where its status as an award winner was what caused me to add it to my list of books I want to read. That information might factor in to the decision, but is neither the sole nor the primary reason for a book’s inclusion (in the case of exclusion, on the other hand, award status may very well be the primary reason; I never claimed my decisions in this regard were logical).

  12. Heather says:

    I just finished Code Name Verity and I’m reading The Girl Who Drank the Moon with my boys right now & they’re both books that you listed :). I’ve actually read quite a few of them. Looks like I need to add Lincoln in the Bardo since it got mentioned more than once. It just sounded a little strange to me.

  13. Marci Glessner says:

    The Schneider Family Book Award is another great one. It honors authors and illustrators who authentically and artistically highlight the experience of disability. My favorites have been The Running Dream and Five Flavors of Dumb.

  14. Jessica says:

    Thanks for posting this! It was super helpful, as I needed some guidelines for this category. Will you be posting any recommendations for good immigration stories??


  15. Melinda says:

    The Nebula is another science fiction or fantasy award. Some years there is a lot of overlap between the Nebula and Hugo short lists, but not always.

  16. I am about to embark on my Pulitzer choice and can hardly wait! I have fallen deeply into Willa Cather. I discovered her book, ‘One of Ours’ won the Pulitzer in 1923. So here I go….. I really tried to get through ‘Goldfinch’….life is too short and there are soooo many books!

  17. IRENE says:

    The Man Booker is my Favorite. I have found the most amazing books there (as well as some I couldn’t finish) and been introduced to great authors.

  18. Carrie says:

    I always read the winner of the Booker and The Pulitzer. And, many of the short list. I have a great of friends with whom we have a contest for the National Book Award. First, we have the choose the short list for fiction, then the winner. What fabulous prize does the winner get? A book mark from everyone!

  19. Cat says:

    This challenge was the 24th book I read to complete my 2017 MMD Reading Challenge. I read The Orphan Master’s Son and it was amazing! (It also has a cat on the cover and won the Pulitzer so it ticked off two boxes for other challenges I am aiming to complete this year.)

  20. I love books from the Schneider Family Book Award that portray the disability experience. They award 3 books each year. One for Children’s, one for Teen and one for middle school. I have 3 kiddos with special need and it is good to be able to have them relate to a character in a book. Recently awarded books are Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, Fish by Lynda Hunt, When We Collided by Emery Lord.

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