It's hard not to judge a book by its cover. As you stroll through the stacks, fancy illustrations and promotional copy fight for your attention.
Next time you head to the bookstore or library, take a list of award-winners with you. These books have what counts between the covers.
The National Book
Awards are awarded by the Association of American Publishers. 2006 winners
included the following writers: Fiction: Richard Powers for "The Echo Maker";
Nonfiction: Timothy Egan for "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl"; Poetry: Nathaniel Mackey for "Splay Anthem"; and Young People's Literature: M.T. Anderson for "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party". Previous winners include Gore Vidal for "United States:
Essays 1952-1992", Alice Walker for "The Color Purple", Henry Kissinger for
"White House Years", and Allen Ginsburg for "The Fall of America: Poems of
these States 1965-1971". Between 1964 and 1983, the Association gave out awards
in a dizzying number of categories. Since 1984, it has settled into
a comfortable pattern of giving annual awards in the categories of Fiction,
Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature.
The Nobel Prize for literature is possibly the most prestigious award that
can be bestowed upon an author. The prize was first awarded in 1901 to Sully
Prudhomme of France. The winner is selected by The
Swedish Academy, as mandated by Alfred Nobel in his will. The 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature went to Orhan Pamuk of Turkey. Other famous recipients include Toni Morrison
(USA), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia), Samuel Beckett (Ireland), Jean-Paul
Sartre (France), Albert Camus (France), Ernest Hemmingway (USA) and Rudyard
Kipling (Great Britain).
The Pulitzer Prize is given out in six literary categories: Biography,Drama, History, Nonfiction, Fiction and Poetry. Memorable winners in the Fiction category include Toni Morrison for "Beloved"; Harper Lee for "To Kill a Mockingbird"; Ernest Hemmingway for "The Old Man and the Sea"; John Steinbeck for "The Grapes of Wrath"; and Willa Cather for "One of Ours". Biographies written by John
F. Kennedy ("Profiles in Courage"), D. Lewis (of W.E.B. DuBois), and Henry F. Pringle (of Theodore Roosevelt) have received accolades. David Mamet (for "Glengarry Glen Ross") and Tennessee Williams (for "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "A Streetcar Named Desire") are among recipients in the Drama category. The 2007 History winner is "The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation," by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. The current holder of the Nonfiction award is Lawrence Wright for "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11." Previous winners include Tracey Kidder ("Soul of a New Machine") and Carl Sagan ("The Dragons of Eden").
Reading to children is one of the most enjoyable and important things parents can do. For
recommended illustrated books, look to Caldecott
Winners. The American Library Association gives out the Caldecott Award
to the best in illustrated children's books. They award one Medal (the top
prize) and a few honorable mentions each year. The 2007 winner is "Flotsam," by David Wiesner. Other recipients have included Chris Van Allsburg's "Jumanji" (1982), and Verna Aardema's "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears" (1976). The Newbery Medal is given out in the same Medalist/Honorable Mention format as the Caldecott, but concentrates on non-illustrated literature aimed at a slightly older audience. The current winner is "The Higher Power of Lucky," illustrated by Matt Phelan and written by Susan Patron. Patricia MacLachlan's "Sarah, Plain and Tall", Lloyd Alexander's "The High King", Scott O'Dell's "Island of the Blue Dolphins", Madeline L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time", and Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little Town on the Prairie" have all won the award in the past. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, named for the author of "Little House on the Prairie" fame, is given to an author who has made a lasting contribution to children's literature. James Marshall won the 2007 award, and Dr. Seuss
(Theodore Geisel) and E.B. White are among past winners.
Various book awards with a cultural slant can be found on the Internet.
Scott King Award is presented to black authors who inspire and educate
in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and Coretta Scott King. The
most recent recipient of the award is Sharon M. Draper for "Copper Sun".
Angela Johnson's "Toning the Sweep", Mildred D. Taylor's "The Friendship", and
Pearl Bailey's "Duey's Tale" have won the award in the past. Authors who have lived in Great Britain or
Ireland for at least three years are eligible for the Costa Overall Book award, changed from the Whitbread Book of the Year Award after Costa Coffee declared its sponsorship of the book prize in 2006. Hilary Spurling won the award for "Matisse the Master" in 2007. William Trevor, author
of "The Children of Dynmouth", won the award in 1975.
Off the Beaten Path
And then there are awards that don't fit into the traditional, children's,
or cultural categories. The Robert
F. Kennedy Book Award goes to an author whose work "faithfully
reflects Robert F. Kennedy's dreams and purposes-- his concern for the poor
and the powerless, his struggle for honest and even-handed justice, and
his faith that a free democracy can act to remedy disparities of power and
opportunity." The prize is $2,500 and a bust of RFK. Previous winners
include John Hope Franklin's "Mirror to America," Al Gore's "Earth in Balance: Ecology and
the Human Spirit", Toni Morrison's "Beloved" and Roger Rosenblatt's "Children
of War". The Lambda
Literary Award recognizes excellence in gay and lesbian literature.
The award is given out in various categories, including fiction, poetry,
biography, and science fiction. Recipients include Sherrill Tippins for
"February House", Shyam Selvadurai for "Swimming in the Monsoon Sea", and Susan Ackerman for "When Heroes Love: The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David". The Margaret
A. Edwards Award is an accolade given to authors whose work has helped
adolescents grow and to understand society. Jacqueline Woodson received the 2006 award.
Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton have won it in the past.