Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Looking for undiscovered gems in a bestseller world

This is going to be a long post, but please bear with me. I hope that you'll read it, because I think it's an important issue. Also, if you stick with me until the end, I have something that you can do to help out!

Over the last year or so, I've become increasingly frustrated with what seems to be a growing obsession with the "bestsellers" and the "big books" in the children's and young adult book world. It's true that we've looked to the bestsellers for a long time now, but there have always been ways to recognize and discover those good books that may not make bestseller status, but still have strong appeal for young people. Yet lately, it seems that many of these avenues have been succumbing, one by one, to a focus on the same bestsellers and big buzz books that appear everywhere else.

Take the New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age. This used to be one of the best book lists out there. The 2008 list is a smorgasbord of books, including, if I counted correctly, 446 books, many of which were new to me, in a variety of categories. The 2009 list (ignoring for a moment the idiocy of calling it "Stuff for the Teen Age,") includes only 73 books, very few of which are undiscovered gems. (And yes, I did not include music, video games, movies, or TV shows in my count. Are we afraid that if we include only books, teens won't think it's cool enough and will ignore it?)

School Library Journal is currently running a Battle of the (Kids') Books, pitting 16 children's and YA books against each other. While a book smackdown might be a fun idea to get kids excited about reading, once again, these are the same books appearing everywhere else. Maybe we could do a better job of getting kids excited if we actually helped them find new books that they might like, instead of continuing to tell them about books they've already heard of!

My intent is not to criticize those popular books; some of them are excellent books, and others not so much. But either way, I'm not trying to say that they don't deserve the attention, or that bestseller lists and buzz don't have value. They can be a good way to discover, and thus help kids discover, books that they will like. However, there is also value in finding good books that may not be as well known, and it's this value that seems to be falling by the wayside. As part of some ongoing discussions, a colleague of mine recently said, "...it boils down to this: are we selecting good literature or are we selecting popular literature. If it's popular literature, then why give an award? It's already popular. It's out there."

According to the 2008 Scholastic Kids & Reading Report, "Trouble finding books they like is a key reason kids say they do not read more frequently." This, in spite of the fact that approximately 30 thousand new children's books are being released each year. With so many books, why are children having trouble finding something to read? Maybe it's because they keep hearing about the same fifty books over and over again, and they don't know how to find other good books that will interest them in the vast quantities of books out there.

According to the same Scholastic reading report, the top five ways that kids get ideas about what books to read for fun are, in order: Mom, friends, teachers, library or librarians, and Dad. The list is further broken down by age, with friends ranking highest for teens and preteens, but teachers still rank second in these age categories. Given the importance of the people in their lives in helping them find books, and given that many kids who don't read for fun say it's because they can't find books that interest them, doesn't it behoove everyone who works with children to learn about as many different books as possible?

Teachers and librarians often rely on book lists, awards, and reviews to help them decide which books to purchase for their classroom or collection. It doesn't help when all the lists, all the awards, and all the sources of information are talking about the same books. Yes, these sources are all swamped with books, too, and can't possibly read all of them. But I think that, rather than retreating to a bestseller mentality, they owe it to the children that they ultimately serve, to do as much as humanly possible to help find good books that may not be recognized elsewhere.

A big part of the problem is that so many books are being published each year. With the advent of POD, it makes it easy for anyone to publish a book. And let's be honest; a lot of these books shouldn't be published, and many more of them have potential but really need a good editor and designer.

But there are many books which are good that aren't getting noticed. Some of them are from small publishers, some of them are self-published, some of them are even published through the "POD Publishing companies" (which I don't consider to be the same as self-publishing). Some of them are mid-list books from the large publishers. (How does a book get to be mid-list? That's another problem. It doesn't have anything to do with quality; it's a question of publisher-perceived salability. Each season the big publishers choose the books that they think have the most sales potential, and spend the bulk of their marketing dollars on these "push books." The rest usually become mid-list.)

How does one find good books in this huge number of books? I'll be the first to admit, it isn't easy. Let me say up front that I'm not trying to point fingers or blame anyone. We all want the same thing - to create and/or find good books that will appeal to children and teens and keep them excited about reading. But we're dealing with a broken system, one that has outgrown it's antecedents, and no one knows how to fix it. But being aware of the problem, and understanding how the system works, can go a long way towards addressing it.

Part of the problem is that you have a huge number of books funneling through a very small number of trusted review sources. While blogs and other review sources are gaining credibility, the fact is that most libraries will only purchase books that have been reviewed by a handful of trusted review sources: Booklist, SLJ, PW, Kirkus, VOYA, or Horn Book. Library purchases can make or break a children's book: a book that doesn't get a review in one of these journals may not make enough sales to continue. In our society today, we're so focused on the "new" that a book has a short time to get noticed - maybe six months at most - before it's relegated to backlist or taken out of print. This focus on the new to the exclusion of all else is a different problem, but it does make the trusted review sources even more influential.

These journals also have a huge influence in other areas, as well, such as book awards and lists. The most influential of the awards and book lists for children's and YA literature are those given by ALSC and YALSA. And since these awards and lists are created by librarians, they're heavily influenced by those same handful of journals.

But the sad fact is that this handful of journals cannot possibly review even a small fraction of the books being published. There are many books - even many excellent books - that won't get reviewed, just because there aren't enough review slots. The books that come in to these journals get weeded and selected even before they get to the reviewer. I'm not privy to what goes on in the selection process, but I assume it's like triage - quick decisions have to be made, and sometimes those decisions are wrong and good books get thrown out based on arbitrary criteria. And, I assume, books from known authors and publishers have an edge over the unknown, just because they are a safer bet. Safer doesn't always mean better, though.

I think that it's only human nature to be interested in something that we hear a lot about. I know that when I see a lot of good reviews about a book, I tend to really want to read that book. But since I can only read so many books, reading the much-buzzed about book means that there may be a less well-known book that I don't have time to read, which may be as good or better than the buzzed one. I'm as guilty of it as everyone else, so how can I blame anyone?

I think there's also an assumption that the books that we're hearing a lot about really are the best books. In some cases, that's true, but you also have to keep in mind how marketing plays a part. Marketing is not advertising, although advertising can be a part of an marketing strategy. Marketing is all the things that go into getting the word out about a product. It can include everything from review copies to social networking, and many of these things influence us in subtle ways.

We may say that we aren't influenced by marketing, but it's hard not to be. As a simple example, the big publishers sometimes send out hundreds - or maybe even thousands? - of review copies. They don't do this for all of their books, but for some books, the push books, they do. Small publishers simply can't afford to send out as many review copies. If you think of reviewing statistically - only a percentage of review copies result in a review - then it's just common sense that the book with hundreds or thousands of review copies sent out will get more reviews than one with a smaller number of review copies. And the more reviews a book gets, the more people get excited about it and want to review it, so you start to get a snowball effect.

Even some of the sources that have been most open to unknown books are starting to be influenced in subtle ways by this same mentality. For example, independent booksellers often seem to do a better job then most at finding the undiscovered gems. Their Book Sense Children's Picks list has always had some interesting new and undiscovered books on it, some of which go on to become big books, and some of which don't. In 2008, Book Sense became Indie Bound, and the Children's Picks list became the Indie Next list. The most recent Indie Next Children's List still has some books on it that I haven't seen elsewhere, but I my impression is that most of the books on the list are big authors, big publishers, and new books in popular series.

One of the best book lists for bringing undiscovered gems to light has always been the IRA/CBC Children's Choices book list. Each year, publishers send books to five (I think) schools, where the children read and vote on the books to create the list. When presented with books in this way, children are remarkably honest and open-minded, and the Children's Choices list reflects this open-mindedness, as well as the wide-ranging taste of the children involved in the program.

However, starting last year, one change was made in the program, which seems minor, but which I believe influences the way it's perceived. The top five books in each age group are selected as finalists, which are posted online for children everywhere to vote on. The wider list of books is still published, but the focus has shifted to concentrate on only those top five books: once again, a bestseller mentality. And the voting for the winner is done by children everywhere, not just those participating in the program. While this would seem to be a good thing, it means that the winner is selected primarily from books that the children have heard of - the bestsellers - not those that have been presented to them in a controlled environment for careful consideration.

Furthermore, the teen finalists were selected not from the Children's Choices list, but from a list of books posted on TeenReads.com for teens to vote on. Again, this gives undue preference to bestsellers and buzz books, for two reasons. One: when presented in this fashion, teens are going to naturally vote for the books they are familiar with, rather than books that they discover through reading in a program like Children's Choices. Two: the list of books presented for voting already consisted primarily of the "big books." Teens were allowed to write in votes, but those write-ins were not added to the list for future voting, so they really didn't have a chance, because most people will vote for those books that they see on the list.

The IRA also publishes a Young Adult Choices list, similar to the Children's Choices list. However, the Young Adult Choices list seems to have far fewer undiscovered gems than the Children's Choices list, and once again primarily includes the same books seen everywhere else. A colleague of mine and I were discussing this, and wondering why it would be that way. Part of it, I'm sure, is that teens are more influenced by their peers and by media than children. But I discovered another important difference. Reading the YA choices fact sheet, I discovered this statement: "A book must have received at least two positive reviews to be included in the collection under consideration." Aha! We're back to those same influential review journals. The YA choices book list does not include books selected by teens from a broad range of choices. It includes books selected by teens from a list that was pre-selected by adults! I don't think that the Children's Choices book list has the same requirement; if so, the fact sheet for that program doesn't say anything about it. (And, the 2008 Children's Choices list includes at least one book published by iUniverse, which I doubt was able to get two professional reviews simply because these kinds of books are often automatically eliminated in the reviewer triage).

Several years ago, we went to a gem mine which allows visitors to search for gems. Every day, they dump a big load of dirt, and visitors can dig and sift through the dirt looking for gems. It was a lot of fun, but it was also hot and dirty work. We learned that some of the most beautiful and treasured stones are not very attractive in their native form. If you weren't careful, you could throw away the best find of the day, thinking that it was a worthless rock. In the end, we brought home some beautiful stones, including amethyst. Instead of retreating to a bestseller mentality, let's look at it as a treasure hunt, trying to find those undiscovered gems.

If you've gotten this far, thank you for sticking with me through such a long post. Because I want to do something constructive, and not just gripe about a system that no one knows how to fix, I want to hear your input about the best undiscovered gems of 2008. Please post in the comments your favorite children's or YA books published in 2008 that were not widely buzzed, reviewed, or awarded. I'll compile all the suggestions into a book list and post it on my blog, with permission for anyone to copy it and post it elsewhere.

Because I want to hear unbiased suggestions, I'm going to ask that authors and publishers NOT post your own books here. I'd also prefer that books NOT be suggested by friends of authors, illustrators, or publishers, but I have no way of enforcing that. Just please try to keep it honest. Please also identify yourself in some way; you don't have to give out personal information - a first name or blog name is fine - but just something that tells us who you are and what your relationship is to children's books. (Librarian, teacher, reviewer, bookseller, blogger, homeschooler, parent, child, teen, etc) I will not include completely anonymous suggestions on the list.

Please help create a great book list of the best undiscovered gems of 2008!

Oh, and please click the "Share This" button and pass it on, so that we can get as many people as possible contributing to create a great list.


47 comments:

R.J. Anderson said...

I nominate Elizabeth E. Wein's The Empty Kingdom, the second book in her superb The Mark of Solomon duology (the first book is The Lion Hunter).

(Background: I am an author and a reader, and though Ms. Wein has become an online friend in the last year or so, it is only because I read and loved her books first. Nor am I affiliated with her publisher in any way.)

Sheila Ruth said...

Thanks, R.J.!

Charlotte said...

Hi Shiela,

I was thinking similar thoughts today, while looking at the VOYA list for sci fi/fantasy...have you seen it yet?

What you ask--finding unheralded gems-- is a bit tricky, because I have no good sense of whether the books I liked were heralded, with starred reviews in the big places or not, because I don't read Kirkus, or Publisher's Weekly, or others of that ilk.


I will think about this, and come back!

Paula said...

Hi Sheila. On behalf of The Brown Bookshelf - a site dedicated to highlighting children's authors of color flying under the radar of librarians and parents, I'm submitting the following authors - highlighted during our 28 Days Later campaign. They represent across the children's lit field.

I am one of the site's co-founders.

Crystal Hubbard - The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby: The Story of Jimmy Winkfield (Lee & Low Books, 2008)

Nicole Tadgell (Ill.) - No Mush Today (Lee & Low Books, 2008)

Philana Marie Boles - Little Divas (Amistad, 2006)

Zetta Elliott - Bird (Lee & Low Books, 2008)

Pat Cummings - Harvey Moon, Museum Boy (HarperCollins, 2008)

Tanita S. Davis - A La Carte (Knopf, 2008)

Derrick Barnes - Ruby and the Booker Boys #4: Ruby Flips for Attention (Scholastic, 2009)

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson - Juneteenth (Millbrook Press, 2005)

Lesa Cline-Ransome - Helen Keller: The World in Her Heart (HarperCollins, 2008)

Cornelius Van Wright (Ill.) - Princess Grace (Dial, 2008)

Sherri Winston - The Kayla Chronicles (Little, Brown, 2008)

Monalisa DeGross - Donovan’s Double Trouble (Amistad, 2007)

Michelle Meadows – The Way The Storm Stops

G. Neri – Chess Rumble

Janice N. Harrington – The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County

Eleanora E. Tate – Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance

Jabari Asim – Daddy Goes To Work

Nina Crews - The Neighborhood Mother Goose

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu – The Shadow Speaker

Allison Whittenberg – Sweet Thang

Tonya Bolden – George Washington Carver

Karen English - Nikki & Deja

Irene Smalls – My Pop Pop and Me

Stephanie Perry Moore – Prayed Up: Perry Skky Jr. #4

Kyra E. Hicks, Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria

Celise Downs – Dance Jam Productions

Valerie Wilson Wesley – Willimena Rules!: 23 Ways to mess up Valentine’s Day

Sherri L. Smith - Sparrow

Paula said...

Hi Sheila. I hope I'm not wrongly assuming you mean books across the kidlitosphere vs. sci-fi/fantasy. I read the entry several times to make sure it wasn't exclusive to sci-fi, but am still hoping I didn't misunderstand the call to arms. I submitted books for The Brown Bookshelf, but none are sci-fi/fantasy.

Spirithunter said...

I nominate "Dragon Sword and Wind Child" by Noriko Ogiwara, if I can. It was originally published a while ago, but I think it was out of print for a long time, and now you can actually find it on bookstore shelves... it's an amazing book that needs more publicity.

Can I also nominate Ratha's Courage? X3

Anonymous said...

My favorite book of 2008 was the marvelous debut fantasy THE CITY IN THE LAKE by Rachel Neumeier (Knopf). It received a starred review from Booklist, but *nobody* seems to be talking about it! I only had *two* comments when I blogged about it.

(My background: I'm an author, and my own debut novel has gotten some nice buzz and a *very* nice award.)

~ecb

Sheila Ruth said...

Charlotte: I haven't seen the VOYA list; I'll have to check it out. I know it's impossible to know all the possible awards or reviews that a book might have been received. Just submit any books that you personally haven't seen much written about, and we'll go from there. If I think that a book has been too widely recognized, I might ask that we disinclude it.

Sheila Ruth said...

Paula: Yes, I'm looking for any children's or YA books, not just SF/F. (At least one of your books - The Shadow Speaker - is SF/F, though. I know, because I reviewed it.) *grin*

Thanks so much for submitting your list. However, some of these were published prior to 2008, and right now I'm just looking for 2008 books. (If this works out, we might do a backlist version, too).

Sheila Ruth said...

Spirithunter: I'm sorry, but I'm only looking for 2008 books at this time. Even the new edition of Dragon Sword and Wind Child was published in 2007. Ratha's Courage is a 2008 book, and I think it's ok if I include it, as long as no one thinks it's a conflict of interest, since I published it. I don't want this to be about marketing my books, though, so if anyone objects I'll be glad to remove it.

Sheila Ruth said...

Elizabeth: Ooh, City in the Lake is a lovely book. I reviewed it, and I've seen a couple of other reviews, but I think you're right that this one hasn't received the attention that it deserves.

And I do know who you are! I loved your book, too, but yeah, it did get quite a bit of buzz (and congrats on the award, too.).

Tasha said...

Sheila,

Great post. I'll post something related on my blog in the next day or so to help get the word out.

Have you taken a look at the CCBC Choices list? They span all ages and always have books that I have never heard of. For full disclosure, I do serve on their Advisory Board, but loved them long before that. :)

Tasha (Kids Lit)

gail said...

Sheila--I'm totally with you on this subject. At the same time that our literary culture becomes more and more fixated at all levels on winners and bestsellers, fewer and fewer people are supposed to be reading. I wonder if that would change if more titles were put out there before the public so people would feel they had more to choose from.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Sheila -- this is such a great idea! Here's my list (Like others, I'm not sure if any of these already received some buzz -- feel free to leave them off if they did):

I LOVE YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, Schroeder
MEMOIRS OF A TEENAGE AMNESIAC, Zevin
SHIFT, Bradbury
THE COMPOUND, Bodeen
VIBES, Ryan
LAMENT, Stiefvater
THE SECRET LIFE OF SPARROW DELANEY, Harper

I'm a writer (pre-published) and a reader. These are the five-star reads from last year (which I believe were published last year, and which didn't receive much buzz that I saw).

Keri said...

Three 2008 books that got some buzz but much less than they deserve:

Kendra by Coe Booth
I Know It's Over by C. K. Kelly Martin
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

Anonymous said...

You're right -- it's awful how only the same small group of books get all the attention these days.

In the category of under-buzzed books of 2008, I'd like to propose two by Cecilia Galante: "The Patron Saint of Butterflies" (YA) and "Hershey Herself" (MG).

The YA ("Butterflies") is about two girls who have to come to terms with (and then make a break from) the quite isolated religious cult they've grown up in, and the MG ("Hershey Herself") is about a girl who has to move with her mother and baby sibling to a shelter for abused women -- it's funny and quirky and lovely.

I'm a writer and a college teacher, and I first happened upon "The Patron Saint of Butterflies" when browsing on Amazon.

Paula said...

Ahh, only 2008. I failed to register that significant point. Thanks Sheila. Sorry for cluttering the list with ineligibles.

BTW, I blogged about it today at the Brown Bookshelf and left a link on The Blueboard, so I hope you'll receive lots of great submissions.

Jenny Schwartzberg said...

One author who flies under the radar and should be way above it is Sherwood Smith. She published the Trouble with Kings in 2008 and the duology in e-book format in 2008, Once a Princess and Twice a Prince. Once a Princess was just released in print format and Twice a Prince will be in print format in May. Go read her books and see if you don't agree that more people should be reading her.

susan said...

I recommend Zetta Elliott's A Wish After Midnight. I am a reader, teen mentor, volunteer librarian, youth group founder.

Wendy said...

I nominate the two Kiki Strike books by Kirsten Miller. Great butt-kicking girl characters, and good storylines as well. I wish the books had a stronger following because I think they would appeal to a lot of kids.

Tami Moore said...

Thank you! Not only for the post, but for the recommendations as well.

Sadly, I don't have any titles to contribute myself, but I'm an aspiring author and co-host of the Saucy Wenches Podcast, for readers and writers of romance and fantasy.

Every month, we each choose a book from our genres (for me, it's fantasy) and read to give our opinions. I now have a lovely list of books to nibble on, and I have Ratha's Creature and Dragon Sword and Wind Child on their way to my library to try.

I would much prefer to spend the time on these lesser-known gems in the literary world than on the same books everyone is reading and reviewing.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Talk about an undiscovered gem!! Zetta Elliot, award winning author of Bird, could not even get her wonderful second book published so, she decided to self publish. Yea, I have that same prejudice about self published books, but this one will cause you to reconsider that prejudice and question the practices that drive the publishing world. A Wish After Midnight is a thoughtful, well written YA historical fiction that deserves attention.

I must also mention Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, My Life as A Rhombus by Varian Johnson and Mr. Pip by Lloyd Johnson.

I'm a high school media specialist and blogger.

Sheila Ruth said...

Wow, great suggestions, everyone. Thank you to everyone who contributed. Keep 'em coming!

Some of the suggestions are books that I'm not sure really qualify as undiscovered gems, and I'm really not sure how to handle that. For example The Patron Saint of Butterflies and Kiki Strike both got a lot of love that I saw from the kidlit blogs. I hate to put myself in the position of judge and jury, so I'm not sure if I should include all suggestions or if I could exclude books that I've personally seen a lot of buzz for. Some criteria are obvious - I wouldn't include any book that received a starred review or major award, for example - but for many other books, it's not so clear. How much buzz, how many reviews are enough to make a book well-buzzed? Suggestions? Thoughts?

I've decided not to include Ratha's Courage on the list, even though it was suggested by a third party. (Sorry, Spirithunter). Since I published Ratha's Courage, I don't want there to be any question about my motives, especially if I end up having to weed the suggestions. I do some marketing here, although I try to be careful not to overdo it, but I don't want anyone to think that this is a marketing ploy. I want this one to be strictly for the "greater good."

Sheila Ruth said...

Tami, I'm glad to know that this has been helpful to you. Thanks for letting me know. Please feel free to stop back if you think of any suggestions. "Saucy Wenches Podcast" - Great name! I love it! I'll have to check it out.

Sheila Ruth said...

I've looked back through all my reviews of 2008 books, and these are the books that I'd like to nominate for the list:

The Softwire: Betrayal on Orbis 2
by PJ Haarsma
This is the second book in a great science fiction series for kids. It has received some reviews, but I haven't seen a lot and I don't think it's gotten the attention it deserves.

In the Company of Whispers
by Sallie Lowenstein
I haven't seen many reviews of this book, which is a compelling dystopian novel that ties together 1950s Burma with an authoritarian 2047 U.S.

ladydisdain said...

I'd like to second the nominations of THE COMPOUND and MY MOST EXCELLENT YEAR, and add (as I posted to Kidlitosphere) my favorite fall middle-grade book, IGNATIUS MACFARLAND, FREQUENAUT! by Paul Feig, the co-creator of FREAKS AND GEEKS. My review of that book is here. So funny and awesome.

ladydisdain said...

Oh! And A HORSE OF HER OWN by Annie Wedekind!

KATE COOMBS said...

Thanks for this post. I'm reminded of the way Barnes and Noble seems to select their books, which is to carry a very limited number of top sellers (compared to the indie bookstore I freqent). Also, on a related note, I heard about a study of popular music which indicated that songs become popular because they are played over and over and people just get used to them, not because they're the best songs in terms of quality. It's frustrating, if not destructive, when this happens with children's books.

Saints and Spinners said...

I reviewed an easy reader for SLJ called Dogerella, by Maribeth Boelts. It's the kind of book I'd never pick up to read based on the cover and title because I would have been predisposed to think of it as icky-cutesy. (No thank you on the photographs of dogs dressed up to look like princesses.) To my surprise and delight, I found a genuinely humorous and warm story for the beginning reader. I gave it a good review, but havent' seen buzz about it in the blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

Here's a picture book for you: Paco and the Giant Chile Plant ~ Paco y la planta de chile gigante. It was awarded a Moonbeam Children's Book award bronze medal and made CBC's Hot off the Presses list - but flew under the radar otherwise.

LaurieA-B said...

After reading about this post on The Brown Bookshelf, I looked for my favorites from 2008 by authors of color. Fortunately, it turns out they are not at all undiscovered--Good Enough by Paula Yoo is on the NYPL list, and several others on my list were BBYA. But this means that I, a middle school librarian, am missing out on the undiscovered gems.

My personal favorite from 2008 I didn't see on the major lists: White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages. Sequel to The Green Glass Sea that vividly recreates post-WWII New Mexico.

Bookworm said...

Hi Sheila!

I am so excited to see you posting about this and that you have managed to create so much awareness. (lots of comments so far!) Personally, I followed Jen Robinson's link and am so thankful she stays on top of the KidLitosphere for everyone!

I have to take this opportunity to highly recommend BOOMTOWN by Nowen N. Particular. This is a FABULOUS book. It is beyond me how a book as unique, hilarious and adventurous as BOOMTOWN can be overlooked.

We also did an author interview that you can check out from my blog if you like. Trust me on this book..You wont be sorry!

Eldritchhobbit said...

Great idea! Here are my most favorite "undiscovered gems" of 2008:

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen
Good Faith by Gillian Philip
Neptune's Children by Bonnie Dobkin

Beverly Patt said...

I loved Postcards from Nowhere. It was sweet and simply told but still made me cry!

Sheila Ruth said...

A big thank you to everyone who has contributed to the list and posted about this on your own blogs. I'm simply overwhelmed by the response, and I think this is going to be a great list.

I've decided to go ahead and include all 2008 published suggestions on the final list. I just can't possibly make decisions about which books to include or not, and I think that if someone (other than the author, publisher, and friends) thinks that a book didn't get the attention it deserved, that's good enough for me. Just please try to keep it to books you really feel deserve more attention than they received. (And if anyone suggests The Hunger Games or Breaking Dawn, I might have to reconsider this all-inclusive policy!)

Kaethe said...

Mostly I'm afraid I don't know anything but the popular books. I've added a lot to my list reading comments.

My suggestion: Annie's Adventures by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. It's the first book in an MG series called The Sisters Eight that had both of my daughters laughing out loud.

Doret said...

Chameleon by Charles R Smith Jr. This is a great book. Smith has written award winning non-fiction. This was his first novel, and it was very good. Though I didn't hear anything about it last year, only recently found it at the library.

Kelly said...

Here, here! We're doing our own gem discovery alternative to SLJ's BoB. Come join us!

Erin said...

My nominations would include:

The Keeping Place, Wavesong and The Stone Key by Isobelle Carmody (all part of the Obernewtyn series). These books were published earlier in Australia, but came out in the US for the 1st time at the end of 2008.

Random House actually re-issued the entire Obernewtyn series in mass market paper, but I haven't seen any buzz or promotion. Which is too bad because I'd like to see Carmody's wonderful books continue to be available in the US.

Rachel said...

Thank you for your post- very informative and interesting. I thought the idea that kids get their recommendations from those closest to them was right on. Since I've been a teacher and a Mom I think it's very important to find all sorts of books to recommend and not rely on lists and awards as much as most teachers do. I didn't know all that information about publishers so I appreciated that. It'll make me think twice about how I choose my own books to read and recommend. I'm thankful for all the great suggestions from everyone and I look forward to finding those books and reading them. What a fun site you have and thanks again!

Lion Stone said...

HI Sheila,

Your post addresses a much needed topic and I was delighted to see you start the discussion.

Here are my first set of "nominations":
"Painting the Picture: Imagery and Description" by Valerie Boden (Creative Company)--one of a series on the topic of writing that is exceptional.

"Berl's Blues" by Anna Olswanger (Anna Olswanger Books)--an amazing story, beautifully written in a limited edition miniature book.

"Pitch Black" by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton (Cinco Puntos)-- half picture book, half graphic novel about a homeless man who lives in and makes art in the tunnels of the NYC subway.

"Hadas, Sierenas Y Sapos" written and Illustrated by Edwin Fontanez (Exit Studio)--sumptious illustrations in a Spanish language book of poetry.

And one from a major publisher that all the kids I know missed even though it got tons of reviews--it won almost nothing: "Tales from Outer Suburbia" by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine)

Lady S. said...

This is a very thoughtful post on an important topic. I don't have much to add (I'm in Ireland, so usually order the US published books because there *has* been buzz on the kidlitosphere), but can add details a few of the previous comments.

Gabrielle Zevin's Diary of a Teenage Amnesiac is 2007, unfortunately. I'd have loved to see it on your list!

I totally agree about Sherwood Smith's being undeservedly overlooked, but it might be worth noting that two books mentioned above - Once a Princess and Twice a Prince - aren't published as YA. They totally could be, despite the romance covers, but..

However, A Stranger to Command came out in 2008 and got almost no attention at all, despite being both wonderful itself and a prequel to her much-loved Crown and Court Duet.

daydream said...

Hi, I am a bit embarrassed by the spamming and such, but I am organizing a new event for review bloggers to get to know other review bloggers [mainly because I want to interact with the community]. It’s called “Reviewer Time” and will post each Sunday a review of a review blog and an interview of its owner and contributors, if any are game.

I really like your blog and such, so I hope you would be game. Here is the link for the original post, where you can sign up for the interview part at least, if you want to: http://templelibraryreviews.blogspot.com/2009/04/anniversary.html

Robert McCarty said...

We just discovered your site...this ia a excellent and important post/article...
We are emailing you and nominating Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale (2008-Barking Planet Productions), the third book in the Planet of the Dogs series.
Robert McCarty

Meredith said...

Thank you for this post. I am a special education major set to graduate next December. For one of my classes I was to create an A-Z list of sites to visit for reading ideas. Almost all of the sites had the same award-winning books (all great books), but I have been searching for variety. These websites were a huge help. I will be using them not only for this assignment but also for my future students. Thanks again.
Meredith

Sheila Ruth said...

I'm glad it was helpful, Meredith. You might also check out the Cybils award nominees and finalists for some suggestions. The Cybils are an award given by the children's and young adult book bloggers. You'll find the big books there, but also some you may not have heard of. We just announced our 2009 finalists, but you can also check out the lists from 2006-2008 while you're there. Here's the Cybils web site

Pamela Ehrenberg said...

Thanks for your article!

The blog http://nerdsheartya.wordpress.com/ sponsors an annual tournament that focuses on "underrepresented YA lit." Though my novel Tillmon County Fire (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2009) lost to a highly worthy competitor, I was honored it was selected to compete!

--Pamela Ehrenberg
*Ethan, Suspended
*Tillmon County Fire
www.pamelaehrenberg.com