2021 National Book Awards Longlist for Young People’s Literature

September 2021

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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 2021 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (YPL). The Finalists in all five categories will be revealed on October 5.

This year’s Longlist includes two authors who have been previously honored by the National Book Awards. Kekla Magoon was Longlisted for Young People’s Literature in 2015, and Anna-Marie McLemore was Longlisted for Young People’s Literature in 2016. Authors appearing on this year’s Longlist have been honored by the Newbery Award, the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Coretta Scott King Book Award, the Stonewall Book Award, the William C. Morris Young Adult Debut Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the NAACP Image Award, among many others.

The 2021 YPL Longlist showcases titles across genres, topics, and styles with authors based across the United States. Through verse, illustration, and prose, these books address gender and sexual identity, race and politics, familial history and global events, and the magic woven in the fabric of our own communities.

Darcie Little Badger draws from Lipan Apache storytelling traditions in A Snake Falls to Earth. Our world and a land of spirits and monsters collide, as a teenage girl from Texas and a cottonmouth person from the Reflecting World must work together in this magical tale. In the graphic novel The Legend of Auntie Po, Shing Yin Khor combines folktales, magical realism, and historical fiction. Mei, a Chinese American teenager, retells the myth of Paul Bunyan, and navigates the intersections of privilege, race, and immigration in the years following the Chinese Exclusion Act through characters that reflect her and the working-class people in her community. Two teenagers are linked by trauma in The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore. Through this contemporary reimaging of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” McLemore examines friendship, healing, and survival.

Two coming-of-age stories explore gender, sexuality, and acceptance. Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare, Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo follows its 17-year-old protagonist, Lily, as she finds first love and fights to claim her queer identity. Eleven-year-old Bug has two mysteries at hand—a haunted house and an evolving gender identity—in the transformative summer between elementary and middle school. In Too Bright to See, Kyle Lukoff tells a ghost story and an identity story through Bug’s journey to self-realization and self-acceptance.

While the majority of this year’s Longlist titles are written in prose, two novels-in-verse use that form to explore the complex and multidimensional lives of their protagonists. After losing her family in a tragic car accident, Moth feels guilty and alone until she meets Sani, a boy who also seeks to understand his family’s past in Amber McBride’s Me (Moth). With guidance from their ancestors, they take a road trip across the country that eases their pain. Safia Elhillo’s Home Is Not a Country follows Nima, a teenager stuck between two cultures and two lives—hers, and the one that could have been—in a story about family, identity, and finding a way home.

Several Longlisted titles contextualize moments in US history and their resonance today. Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre written by Carole Boston Weatherford introduces the history of the Tulsa Race Massacre to young readers, accompanied by vibrant illustrations by Floyd Cooper. Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon highlights the Black Panther Party’s prioritization of justice and community care in spite of constant harassment at the hands of the US government, and connects the Party’s principles to today’s Black Lives Matter movement. From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo is an extensively researched history of an anti-Asian hate crime and its aftermath, including the incitement of the Asian American civil rights movement.

Publishers submitted a total of 344 books for the 2021 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The judges for Young People’s Literature are Cathryn Mercier (Chair), Pablo Cartaya, Traci Chee, Leslie Connor, and Ibi Zoboi. 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 National Book Awards Ceremony on November 17.

2021 Longlist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature:


Safia Elhillo, Home Is Not a Country
Make Me a World / Penguin Random House

Shing Yin Khor, The Legend of Auntie Po
Kokila / Penguin Random House

Darcie Little Badger, A Snake Falls to Earth
Levine Querido

Malinda Lo, Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Dutton Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House

Kyle Lukoff, Too Bright to See
Dial Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House

Kekla Magoon, Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People
Candlewick Press

Amber McBride, Me (Moth)
Feiwel and Friends / Macmillan Publishers

Anna-Marie McLemore, The Mirror Season
Feiwel and Friends / Macmillan Publishers

Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrations by Floyd Cooper, Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
Carolrhoda Books / Lerner Publishing Group

Paula Yoo, From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement
Norton Young Readers / W. W. Norton & Company

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