The staff at The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books have announced the 2020 Blue Ribbons, their choices for the best of children's and young adult literature for the year.
Words by Abigail Bobrow and The Bulletin at The Center for Children's Books
Deborah Stevenson, the editor of The Bulletin, a publication of The Children’s Center for Books, started reviewing children’s books in 1989. She’s reviewed roughly 6,223 books and looked at 85,000 over her career. These reviews published in The Bulletin by Stevenson and her colleagues contribute to choosing the yearly Blue Ribbon awards, which recognizes outstanding children’s literature.
This year, however, the thousands of books that typically arrive at her office never came. Shipping and printing interruptions caused by the pandemic robbed the reviewers of physically handling the books. But that didn’t prevent Stevenson and her fellow reviewers from reading and discussing more than 700 digital copies. Stevenson, along with assistant editor Kate Quealy-Gainer (ISCHOOL ’09) and six others, almost all of whom were librarians, ex-librarians, or scholars, met over Zoom to take part in what in the past had been a tactile experience. They awarded Blue Ribbons to forty youth nonfiction and fiction books.
They also made a key decision to approach the books “pandemic blind,” as Stevenson put it.
“It was important to us that books could be about the life in your head, not a consistent reminder of the pandemic. We still wanted to focus on books that brought pieces of the world to their readers,” she said, “whether that world was a created one or one that was real. We were looking for amazingly crafted experiences, whether you’re five or fifteen, that were true to their own purpose and meaning.”
Some noticeable trends emerged this year: more nonfiction about race and the increasing presence of LGBTQ+ characters and themes, especially trans and non-binary characters, often by trans and non-binary writers.
Of course, writers and illustrators of children’s books do not create in a vacuum, and what they brought us can be regarded as a snapshot of where we are.
“Children’s books sometimes have a kind of a niceness problem,” Stevenson remarked. “And 2020 was a year that kind of blew the lid off nice. We saw that reflected in the books, and I think that’s great. I hope that continues to be true.”