“Qualifications” for Award-Winning YA Literature


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When determining whether a book is worthy of young adult (middle/high school) award nomination, there are qualifications, and then there are “qualifications.”

Does the book have literary merit?

Does it have the potential to enrich young lives?

Is it in keeping with the spirit of the particular award’s mission?

These are the questions that are normally (and rightfully) asked. However, over the years, I have noticed certain similarities in the books that are selected by the various award committees. I call them “qualifications” for lack of a better term.

If you are an aspiring author wishing to create the all-American YA story, here are some things that you might want to include in your work:

  1. At some point, a dog must die. Think back to all the well known dog books you might have read. Where the Red Fern Grows? Dead dog. Old Yeller? Dead dog. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? You get the idea.
  2. At least one character must be suffering from cancer or a severe disability. Healthy people do not make for good reading.
  3. There are no happy endings. At least, Scooby-Doo-esque happy endings. Life is hard, and there is no room for escapism literature!
  4. At least one character is orphaned.
  5. If you want to go the historical fiction route, write about slavery, the Holocaust, or the Civil Rights movement. If you manage to get all three in one book…your fame is assured!
  6. One word: dystopia.
  7. Novels-in-verse. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, if you can free-verse, you’re a rock star!
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