7 Distinguished Middle Grade Book Awards & 6 Annual Best Book Lists


An image of a John Newbery Medal

Are you curious about the awards and annual lists available to middle grade authors?

There are several awards given to authors and illustrators of middle grade fiction each year. The most famous is the John Newbery Medal. There is also the prestigious Horn Book Awards, the Schneider Family Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Good Reads Choice Awards.

The intention of this article is to help you learn more about awards and “best of” lists that target authors and illustrators whose works are created for middle grade audiences.

Is Winning a Book Award Important?

Some awards are more important than others, but all of them have the potential to make a difference. For instance, if you win an award or make a list with a book that you’ve self-published, you could draw attention from a literary agent or a traditional publisher. Getting on a prestigious annual list could drive interest from publishers, even if you have lagging sales. Perhaps most importantly, it feels good. And in a profession that is overrun with rejection and negative reviews, writers need all the positive vibes we can muster.

Do Books That Win Awards Sell More Copies?

It is widely believed that winning an award does very little for a book in terms of incremental sales. Surprisingly, that includes awards like the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Awards. The reason? There are far too many books in publication today, and our attention is splintered.

There’s another reason, of course. For the average consumer, awards are often linked to works of literary fiction. That means at best they’re considered difficult to read. Worse, they’re simply boring. It’s like eating something because it’s good for you instead of because you enjoy it. Not many of us are willing to do that—at least not unless we have to.

The true benefit for an award comes in promotion of the author. Our society is enamored with celebrity and awards fit under that banner. Selling yourself as an author whose books have nominated—or better—have won any kind of award or made a “best of” list.

You’ll have doors opened when it comes to speaking at writing conferences or getting invited to present at schools. Both are paid gigs, so it can help your income. Just not in the way you’d think it might (more sales).

How Do Books Get Nominated for Awards and Lists?

Committees don’t typically select which books are considered for awards. First, they have to be nominated. Most of the big awards require nominations to come from publishers and publicists. However, there are many independent publishing awards that accept nominations directly from the author.

“Best of” lists, however, are typically selected by the editorial staff of a publication. However, publicists and public relations professionals can influence publications to include the authors and books they represent

Middle Grade Book Awards

There are several book awards available to authors and illustrators who target middle grade audiences. The following list is comprised of awards given to books that are released by traditional publishing companies.

1) John Newbery Medal

Established in 1921, the John Newbery Medal is named for an eighteenth-century bookseller by the name of (you guessed it) John Newbery. It’s an annual award presented by the American Library Association (ALA) to the author who they believe made a distinguished contribution to literature for children.

 Notable Winners

  • Merci Suárez Changes Gears, written by Meg Medina (2019)
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly (2018)
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (2017)
  • Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo (2017)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2009)
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (2004) 
  • Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi (2003)
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (2003) 
  • Holes by Louis Sachar (1999) 
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (1994)
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1978)

2) Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award

The Coretta Scott King Book Award is an annual award for African American illustrators and/or authors that target middle grade and young adult audiences. The award is awarded by the American Library Association (ALA), and it commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and is in honor of his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King.  

Notable Winners

  • A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield (2019)
  • Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson (2018)
  • March Book: Three by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin (2017)

3) Cybils Awards

The Cybils Awards seek to recognize authors and illustrators whose books combine literary merit with popular appeal.

Notable Nominees

  • Front Desk by Kelly Yang (2018)
  • Skylark and Wallcreeper by Anne O’Brien Carelli (2018)
  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty (2018)
  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (2018, winner)

4) Odyssey Award

The annual Odyssey Award goes to the the best audiobook for children or young adults. Winners are selected by the American Library Association (ALA) and sponsored by Booklist magazine.

Notable Audiobooks

  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
  • Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds 
  • Dream On, Amber by Emma Shevah 
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson 

5) Horn Book Awards

First presented in 1967, the annual Horn Book Awards are considered as one of the most prestigious honors for books targeting middle grade and young adult readers. Categories include fiction and poetry, picture books, nonfiction.

An independent panel of judges is appointed by the Horn Book editor, and the winning titles must be published in the United States. However, the author or illustrator can be a citizen of another country.

Notable Winners

  • The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (2019)
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017)
  • Elanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2008)

6) Schneider Family Book Award

Established in 2004, the Schneider Family Book Awards are given out each year by the American Library Association (ALA). It was created to honor an author whose book portrays the artistic expression of a child with a disability. There are three categories: middle grade, young adult, and children’s books.

The award was founded by Dr. Katherine Schneider, the first blind student who graduated from the Kalamazoo Public School system. She was often helped by a librarian who would provide books in Braille

Notable Winners

  • The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor (2019)
  • Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin (2015)
  • Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell (2014)
  • Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (2012)

7) Goodreads Choice Awards

The Goodreads Choice Awards was established in 2009. It’s an annual award program where users vote for books that have been nominated by Goodreads. Since its inception, there have only been two winners in the middle grade category: Rick Riordan and Jeff Kinney

Notable Winners

  • The Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan (2018)
  • Magnus Chase: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan (2017)
  • The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan (2016)
  • Magnus Chase: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan (2015)
  • The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (2014)
  • The House of Hades by Rick Riordan (2013)
  • The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (2012)

6 Annual Best Middle Grade Book Lists

There are a number of annual “best of” book lists that are primarily selected by the editorial staff at a number of publications.

1) Booklist Editor’s Choice

The Booklist Editor’s Choice is an annual list of the best books selected by their editorial staff.

Notable Selections (2018)

  • Crash: The Fall and Rise of America in the 1930s by Marc Favreau
  • What Do You Do with a Voice like That? by Chris Barton and Ekua Holmes
  • Trees: Kings of the Forest by Andy Hirsch
  • Spooked: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America by Gail Jarrow
  • Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968​ by Alice Faye Duncan

2) Children’s Notable List

The Children’s Notable List is an annual list of the best children’s books from the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC).

Notable Books on the List (2019)

  • Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace
  • The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
  • Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott
  • Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome
  • Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan
  • Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri

3) Children’s Literature Assembly

The Children’s Literature Assembly is comprised of seven members who select 30 books across the following genres for children kindergarten through eighth grade: fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.  

Notable Books on the List

  • The Button War by Avi
  •  Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotton by Laura Veirs
  • Boy by Phil Cummings
  • Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

4) Children’s Choices Reading List

The Children’s Choices Reading List is curated by children who vote for their favorite books. It’s provided trusted recommendations to parents, teachers, librarians, and children since 1974 and is cosponsored by the Children’s Book Council and the International Literacy Association.

Notable Books on the List

  • Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas by Dav Pilkey
  • Elle of the Ball by Elena Delle Donne
  • Endling #1: The Last by Katherine Applegate
  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • The Trials of Apollo, Book 3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan

5) Kid’s Next

The Kid’s Next list is provided by IndieBound, which is a collaboration of independent bookstore members. 

Independent bookstores play a special role in our communities, and Kid’s Next provides us with curated reading options that feature outstanding books and newly discovered writers.

Notable Books on the List

  • Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo
  • All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey
  • COG by Greg Van Eekhout
  • Guts by Raine Telgemeier
  • The Book Wanderers by Anna James
  • White Bird by R.J. Palacio
  • The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (2011)
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney (2010)
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney (2009)

6) Publishers Weekly Best Books

Each year Publisher’s Weekly puts out a list of best books across a variety of categories, including Middle Grade, Young Adult, Picture Books, Comics, SF/Fantasy/Horror, and more.

Notable Winners

  • Front Desk by Kelly Yang (2018)
  • Merci Suarez Changes Gear by Meg Medina (2018)
  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (2018)
  • All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (2017)
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (2017)
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016)
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (2016)
  • Raymie Nightengale by Kate DiCamillo (2016)
  • The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (2016)

Related Questions

What is Middle Grade Fiction? Middle grade fiction refers to fiction books that are written for children between the ages of ten-to-12, or fourth through sixth grade. However, lower middle grade fiction targets children as young as eight.

How Many Pages Should a Middle Grade Novel Be? Publishers measure middle grade novels by word count instead of page count. The average word count for a middle grade novel is 60,000-75,000 words. However, lower middle grade novels range from 20,000-45,000 words. Upper middle grade novels can be as long as 90,000 words.

Jon Lewis

Jon S. Lewis is the bestselling author of nine novels, including GREY GRIFFINS (Scholastic), CLOCKWORK CHRONICLES (Little Brown), CHAOS (Thomas Nelson), and a few comics for DC. He is also an award-winning digital marketing executive.

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