2020 National Book Awards Longlist for Young People’s Literature

September 2020

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The ten contenders for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

The National Book Foundation announced the Longlist for the 2020 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (YPL). The Finalists in all five categories will be revealed on October 6.

This year’s Longlist is comprised entirely of newcomers to the National Book Awards. Of the ten titles selected, three are debut works: Every Body Looking, Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box, and Cemetery Boys.

Two titles are in verse, Apple (Skin to the Core) by Eric Gansworth and Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh. Both narratives are deeply personal journeys: in Every Body Looking, protagonist Ada reckons with her past while her exploration of dance grounds her in her body and points a way forward, while Gansworth’s memoir explores the legacy of injustices and abuse against the Onondaga Nation through verse and imagery, and is a declarative reclaiming of the derogatory descriptor “apple.”

A history lesson that opens in 2016, Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne draws a line from abolition to suffrage to civil rights to the work of contemporary activists, and spotlights the contributions of Black suffragettes in conjunction with the centennial of women’s suffrage. Also focusing on American history is How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure, written and illustrated by John Rocco, which covers familiar territory, lesser known details, and the human lives behind the U.S. space program.

Traci Chee’s work of historical fiction follows fourteen teenage narrators whose lives have been changed by the forced removal of people of Japanese ancestry from their homes during World War II. We Are Not Free includes photographs and documents from the time period, enhancing this portrait of a harrowing time in our nation’s history.

The graphic novel When Stars Are Scattered is written and illustrated by the Newbery Honor winner Victoria Jamieson and based on interviews with co-author Omar Mohamed. Their work chronicles the years Mohamed spent in a Kenyan refugee camp, where limbo and hope co-exist as he awaits news about resettlement and watches the lives of those around him change.

Ancient tradition informs both Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas and The Way Back by Gavriel Savit. In Cemetery Boys, teenage trans boy Yadriel sets out to prove himself as a brujo in a tale that explores Latinx culture and the various facets of love. Jewish folklore infuses The Way Back, in which two young people travel into a world of spirits and demons and must find their way home to their nineteenth-century shtetl Tupik in Eastern Europe.

In King and the Dragonflies, Kacen Callender’s protagonist Kingston James deals with grief, sexual identity, and the perceptions and expectations of family. Family and trauma are also centered in Marcella Pixley’s Trowbridge Road; set in 1983, June Bug’s recent loss of her father to AIDS is complicated by her mother’s onset of germaphobia and depression. New neighbor Ziggy Carlo is her catalyst into the outside world.

Publishers submitted a total of 311 books for the 2020 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The judges for Young People’s Literature are Joan Trygg (Chair), Randy Ribay, Neal Shusterman, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Colleen AF Venable. Judge’s decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors and deliberations are strictly confidential. Winners in all categories will be announced live at the virtual National Book Awards Ceremony on November 18.

2020 Longlist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature:

Kacen Callender, King and the Dragonflies
Scholastic Press / Scholastic Inc.

Traci Chee, We Are Not Free
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Evette Dionne, Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box
Viking Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House

Eric Gansworth, Apple (Skin to the Core)
Levine Querido

Candice Iloh, Every Body Looking
Dutton Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House

Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, When Stars Are Scattered
Dial Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House

Marcella Pixley, Trowbridge Road
Candlewick Press

John Rocco, How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure
Crown Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House

Gavriel Savit, The Way Back
Knopf Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House

Aiden Thomas, Cemetery Boys
Swoon Reads / Macmillan Publishers

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