M. T. Anderson Acceptance Speech for the 2006 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature

Young People’s Literature Chair, Margaret Bechard: It’s an honor to represent the judging panel for the Young People’s Literature award. If I were writing this story, I could not have created a better group of fellow judges. Patricia McKissack, Linda Sue Park, Ben Saenz, and Jude Watson brought intelligence, humor, and passion to our deliberations. There’s no greater pleasure than talking about and discussing and yes, heatedly arguing about books with four other people who care deeply about good writing. And if you don’t think that children’s book authors heatedly arguing isn’t a pretty terrifying sight, well you haven’t seen children’s book authors. We had much to discuss. We read picture books, easy readers, middle grade and young adult novels, graphic novels, poetry, and nonfiction. It was exciting and gratifying to see the depth and breadth of creativity, talent, and artistic courage exemplified in the children’s books published in this past year. Our committee looked for stories that would leave us breathless, for characters that would haunt our lives and our dreams, for authors who would indeed be vigilant witnesses to the wonderful and fearful complexity of life. We found five outstanding authors. The finalists for this year’s National Book Award in Young People’s Literature are M.T. Anderson for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Volume I: The Pox Party, published by Candlewick Press; Martine Leavitt, Keturah and Lord Death, published by Front Street Books, a division of Boyds Mills Press; Patricia McCormick for Sold, published by Hyperion; Nancy Werlin, for The Rules of Survival published by Dial Books, a division of Penguin Putnam; and Gene Yang, for American Born Chinese, published by First Second, a division of Roaring Brook Press. And the winner of the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature is M. T. Anderson for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing.


M.T. Anderson: Thank you. Thank you so much Margaret and to the whole committee. It’s an incredible honor to be included in this list of books. There are actually several reasons why it is wonderful, the most salient of which is that this, I believe, is the first time that a graphic novel has been included in the nominees. And I know there is a lot of the dithering that goes on in the blogosphere about whether graphic novels are literature or not, and I think that anyone who has read Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese can see that it is poignant, it is sophisticated, it is literature for young people. So anyway, I’m just really glad that we are leading that charge. I would just like to thank my parents, my girlfriend Nicole, and John Bell, the historian who did the fact checking for this book, The Boston Athenaeum where I did a lot of the research, and last but in fact foremost, Candlewick Press, which published the book. Usually when one goes to a publisher of children’s books and says, ‘Hey, would you like a 900-page two volume historical epic for teens, written in a kind of unintelligible 18th-century Johnsonian Augustan prose by an obsessive neurotic who rarely leaves his house or even gets dressed,’ usually that children’s publisher will say ‘No, we would not like to buy that book.’ But Liz Bicknell, my editor, purchased the book and has just been incredibly supportive for the last several years. The sales and marketing department has taken this basically un-sellable product and has just done amazing things with it. It’s just a testament, I think, to what a small press can do just by taking risks. So thank you Candlewick for taking this risk on me, for showing the incredibly poor judgment to accept a manuscript that has allowed us to come here tonight. Thanks. Thank you all.