Opened my email this morning to find an unusual year-end list from Kirkus: the Most Overlooked Books of 2015. I like that. That list made me think.
Usually this time of year I have no time for thinking. Even as the holiday BS is winding down, I'm usually busy reading hard and arguing loudly as a judge in the Cybils Awards. The Cybils are publicly nominated, with the finalists and winner agreed upon by a panel of judges. Finalists are announced January 1st, and the winners are announced on Valentine's Day - put it in your calendar. I'm not a judge this year though, so I get to sit back and spectate and read all the lists.
Because in addition to the Cybils, state lists and year-end best lists are proliferating like glitter under a craft table, all leading up to the big announcements of the Newbery/Caldecott/Printz/etc awards at the ALA Midwinter meeting January 11 (8am, in case you want to tune in for the live feed). The Nerdy Book Club awards have just been announced, and I love the Nerdies. Rather than a WINNER and a list of runners-up, the Nerdies publish lists of 10-30 books. Books are nominated via the website, a committee decides the finalists, and then the finalists are publicly voted upon. I love the thoughtful ways that the Nerdies, the Cybils, and some state lists (including the Maryland Black Eyed Susan, which I am on this year) try to ensure balance between the opinions of professional and general readers.
To be perfectly frank, however, I do not like awards. Too much of a democrat, I guess. I do not feel that books compete against each other, and I firmly believe that almost every book has its audience, even deeply flawed books. HOWEVER, it is impossible not to be conscious of the fact that, of all the consequences of a book getting an award, the largest one by far is the award's effect on the book's sales - general sales for sure, but school library sales in particular.
Purchasing for a school library is hard. I loved doing it when I did it, but I do not miss all the blood that ended up on the floor when I had to pare my lists down. And I am fortunate that I never had to justify my purchase decisions like so many librarians do. Awards, stars, and reviews in major publications are in some systems a requirement in order for a school librarian to purchase a title for his or her kids. And to that may I just say UGH.
Because, hard as award committees all work to consider all books, some great books, especially slightly off-kilter books - still manage to fly under the radar. Fun fact: not one of Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales has won a major Youth Media Award or Honor. And let me tell you - Nate's books are far from off-kilter. Every one of Nate's informative and entertaining nonfiction graphic novels should be in every school library in the nation.
So, I were still buying for a school library, I'd start with the Cybils finalists and the Nerdy winners - not only are those lists longer than the National Book Award finalists and the ALA Award Honorees, but I find them to be more focused on kid appeal. Then I'd compare my working list to this spreadsheet compiled by EarlyWord, which aggregates the Year's Best lists published by Amazon, Booklist, Entertainment Weekly (which is - perhaps surprisingly - a reliable source of good critical reviews), Hornbook, HuffPo, WaPo, NYT, SLJ, WSJ (eff you Megan Cox Gurdon), Library Reads, Publishers Weekly, the National Book Awards, and TIME magazine, who should either get better staff on this or just quit it.
But I would still be missing some great stuff, and that's where this Kirkus Overlooked Books list comes in. It's not long enough though, covering as it does titles for all ages (including Scarlett Undercover, a debut novel that I started but put down for some reason, and am picking up again on their recommendation). So I've taken a nostalgic scroll through my 2015 Goodreads shelves and here for you are my own picks for Best Overlooked Books of 2015: