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Massachusetts Book Awards 2016

tableOn Tuesday, December 6th, I was lucky to be the plus-one, with amazing school librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro, at the sixteenth annual Massachusetts Book Awards ceremony at the State House, in recognition of “significant works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s/young adult literature published by Commonwealth residents or about Massachusetts subjects.” The award is administered by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, which is supported in part by Simmons College School of Library and Information Science (just down the hall from The Horn Book office).


Hank Phillippi Ryan

Mystery writer and investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan emceed the event. She was raised in rural Indiana and would ride her pony to the local library, then curl up in a hay loft with Nancy Drew books (“I knew I’d grow up to be either an author or a detective”). A large collection of Massachusetts legislators were also in attendance, each of whom, meaningfully, presented the awards to their own constituents.


Jabari Asim

There was lots of love throughout the room. Jabari Asim, an honoree for his adult novel Only the Strong (also author of picture book Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis), talked about Massachusetts being one of the “best places for authors to live” (though he said St. Louis, where he grew up, is pretty great, too). Alan Feldman, adult poetry winner for Immortality, not only told of his granddaughter’s love for middle reader/young adult winner The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (“I’ve already read it five times!”), but also dropped a super-duper Lois Lowry reference: as a child, Feldman’s daughter, after being told by a teacher that she’d written a “bad poem,” said, “That’s okay. The same thing happened to Anastasia Krupnik.”

Ali Benjamin got choked up (and so did I, listening to her) talking about our state’s historical and ongoing commitment to “hope, humanity, compassion, and connection.” Lesléa Newman, honored twice — as picture book/early reader winner for Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed and on the “Must Read” list for poetry with I Carry My Mother, discussed the Jewish concepts of kavanah (“connection”) and tikkun olam (“repair the world”). Early reader/picture book honoree Heidi Stemple (coauthor with her mother Jane Yolen) talked about the path to publication of their “heart book” You Nest Here with Me, written for Heidi’s father, David. Matt Tavares, honoree for early reader/picture for Growing Up Pedro, spoke of his abiding love for Red Sox pitching great Pedro Martínez. Marika McCoola spoke up for graphic novels as an honoree for Baba Yaga’s Assistant, a modern-day graphic novel about Russian folk-witch Baba Yaga. M. T. Anderson, honoree for Symphony for the City of the Dead (also a 2016 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction honoree), made connections between twentieth-century Russian history and today, warning us to be vigilant against the “methods of despotism spread by the strategic use of lies.” Amen, brother.

And speaking of historical connections and family relationships: the things you learn on a field trip! Liz the Librarian is descended from Massachusetts Governor Sir William Phips (1692-1694), famous for both convening and dismantling (after his wife, Elizabeth, for whom our Liz was named, was accused of being one) the Salem Witch Trials. And then outside the State House, an older gentleman asked if we knew “where the Republicans were meeting.” Insert your own punch line.


Liz Phipps Soeiro and Massachusetts governor (1692-1694) Sir William Phips

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2016 Massachusetts Book Awards winners and honorees [children’s categories; complete list is here]

Middle Reader/Young Adult Award

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (Little Brown)

Middle Reader/Young Adult Honors

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad  by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick)
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black (Little Brown)
Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola (Candlewick)

Picture Book /Early Reader Award

Ketzel, the Cat who Composed by Leslea Newman (Candlewick)

Picture Book /Early Reader Honors

Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather  by Grace Lin (Little Brown)
Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares (Candlewick)
You Nest Here With Me by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple (Boyds Mill)

Middle Grade / Young Adult Massachusetts Must Read Books for 2016
Escape from Baxters’ Barn by Rebecca Bond
The Trouble in Me by Jack Gantos
Charlie Bumpers vs. The Perfect Little Turkey by Bill Harley
The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen by Katherine Howe
Stormstruck! by John MacFarlane
Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation by Martin W. Sandler
The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi
Blue Voyage by Diana Renn

Picture Books / Early Readers  Massachusetts Must Read Books for 2016
The Nonsense Show by Eric Carle
The Night World by Mordicai Gerstein
Glamorous Garbage by Barbara Johansen Newman
The Original Cowgirl: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall by Heather Lang
Double Happiness by Nancy Tupper Ling
New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer
Hiding Dinosaurs by Dan Moynihan
Stone Angel by Jane Yolen

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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