I’m a children’s book award aficionado. I participate in the Sacramento Public Library’s Mock Newbery as well as Heavy Medal’s “live” one in Oakland. And I wouldn’t miss the Youth Media Awards, in person or virtually. Of course, there are titles we root for that never seem to get any award recognition. For those awards enthusiasts, there’s an odd but no less delightful award for second chances—the Phoenix Award. This annual award recognizes children’s books that were published 20 years previously that didn’t receive any major award recognition.
Like the mythological bird, the Phoenix Award (conferred by the Children’s Literature Association) “is named after the fabled bird who rose from its ashes with renewed life and beauty. Phoenix books also rise from the ashes of neglect and obscurity and once again touch the imaginations and enrich the lives of those who read them.” Titles published two decades ago (there’s a picture book equivalent and honor books, as well) are a kind of nostalgia trip.
Some titles are a bit of a surprise:
- 2016 winner Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996). (What? That didn’t win some kind of prize? Other than being beloved by generations of children, there’s that.)
- Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Phoenix 2006, published 1996)
- Malcolm X: By Any Mean’s Necessary by Walter Dean Myers (Phoenix 2013, published 1993)
They might not need any formal recognition, they’re both in print and read widely. But I’ve missed many good ones in my decades in this profession. Wish Me Luck by Canadian James Heneghan (published ‘97, Phoenix ‘17) is a kind of War that Saved My Life, this time with an English boy sent to Canada via evacuee ship (SS City of Benares) to escape the violence in Liverpool during WWII. Ironically, this based-on-a-true-story story had children come closer to the war’s horrors than if they’d stayed put. It’s a thrilling and sad read, and I’m so glad for the Phoenix for reminding us it’s there. And the award is a reminder, too, of the books we had read and loved and may have forgotten.
The 2019 Phoenix Award is for Louise Erdrich’s The Birchbark House, a book I’d read when it was released, and in fact about the time I started working with children in libraries. I’m looking forward to re-reading it these years later, I’m wondering how different a reader I am now? Although her name isn’t on the list, award-winning illustrator, Trina Schart Hyman, designed the logo, which depicts the fabled bird resurrecting another book from oblivion and returns to our hearts, at least for a little while.
Check out the complete list of Phoenix Award winners. Which titles are you most interested in reading or re-reading?
Our guest blogger today is Tony Carmack. Tony is a Senior Librarian at Placer County Library, California, is currently a member of the ALSC Special Collections & Bechtel Fellowship Committee, and has a passion for the Phoenix Award which is selected annually by the Children’s Literature Association.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
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