The 2018 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction

from O'Dell committee chair Deborah Stevenson:

The 2018 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction goes to Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk, published by Dutton Books for Young readers, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers.

The isolated world of the Elizabeth Islands off of mainland Massachusetts in 1925 comes to life as our narrator, Crow, tells her story. As an infant, twelve-year-old Crow was found alone in a beached skiff by Osh, her beloved father figure, and she loves her life with him on their wild island. The locals, however, mostly shun her, believing that she came from Penikese Island, which housed a now-shuttered leprosy hospital. It’s a folklore-touched tale involving orphans and buried treasure and villainy and the ocean, but it’s also a wisely observed account of a girl’s reconnection to her own hidden past and her growing understanding of both her past and present.

Wolk weaves a captivating story that’s tinged with mystery right from the start, in writing that’s polished and lovely while remaining highly accessible to young readers. Crow’s experience is deeply personal yet it’s embedded in its time and place, from the historical elements of the leper hospital (and people’s fear of it) to the comparative bustling of nearby New Bedford and its maritime trade and even to the tempo of communication and travel. Crow’s sweetness, sturdiness, and yearning for information make her an immediately engaging character, and her love for Osh and family friend Miss Maggie serves as a strong anchor amid sometimes stormy emotional seas. The atmospheric setting will quickly draw readers in, and the compelling storytelling will keep them absorbed through the last page and probably a few Google searches beyond.

The Scott O’Dell award, created by Scott O’Dell and Zena Sutherland in 1982 and now administered by Elizabeth Hall, carries with it a prize of $5000, and goes annually to the author of a distinguished work of historical fiction for young people published by a U. S. publisher and set in the Americas. The winner is chosen by a committee appointed by Elizabeth Hall; its members are Elizabeth Bush, former librarian at St. Damian School and adjunct faculty at the iSchool at the University of Illinois; Ann Carlson, librarian at the Oak Park-River Forest High School; Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book; and, as chair, Deborah Stevenson, editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. For more information about Scott O’Dell and the Scott O’Dell Award please visit or contact Deborah Stevenson at dstevens [at] illinois [dot] edu.
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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