Book Lists for Every Type of Reader: A Roundup of “Bests”

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Every January, librarians, educators, and other members of the American Library Association’s (ALA) various divisions gather to hash out a series of selection lists to the year’s best books. Many readers are likely familiar with the biggest awards to come out of these meetings — the Caldecott, the Newbery, and perhaps the Printz — but there is a huge number of other “best” lists that emerge annually or semi-annually, as well. What makes these lists special is that they’re all selected and vetted by members of the association, with no input from publishers or influence via marketing or publicity. Different arms within big ALA develop these lists, which means there’s some overlap, but for the most part, it’s an opportunity to discover a wide range of “best” titles each year.

There is something for every kind of reader among the various lists produced, and I thought it would be worthwhile to roundup these lists in one place and talk about what they cover, as well as what’s been honored this year. This isn’t 100% comprehensive, as I didn’t touch on some of the award lists, but instead, this is meant to highlight some of the lesser-known, but invaluable, lists put together each year.

Relish by Lucy KnisleyAlex Awards

Every year, the Alex Awards honor up to ten books that are the best adult-published titles for teen readers. Every kind of adult book is eligible for this award, so it includes graphic novels, novels, and non-fiction titles. In addition to those winning books (which you can check out here), the committee also vets a series of titles as official nominations, meaning that these are also excellent adult books which have great appeal to younger readers.

Amazing Audiobooks

The committee that develops the Amazing Audiobooks listens to an insane number of audiobooks each year and from that listening, they select not only a list of the best, but a top ten list as well. All of these titles are young adult titles, and you can see the full list here, with the top ten here. This year there were 27 fiction titles and 2 non-fiction titles that made the cut.

Amelia Bloomer Project 

Like feminist lit? Then you’ll want to check out the titles that make up the Amelia Bloomer Project, which focuses on books featuring a feminist message, geared toward readers from birth to age eighteen. Here’s this year’s top ten titles. Want to see an extended list of feminist lit? There’s an even longer list here, with a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction for all reading levels.

American Indian Youth Literature Awards

Every two years, this committee develops a list that honors the best writing (and illustrating) by and about American Indians. There’s an award for picture books, middle grade books, as well as young adult books, and this year, there were a pair of honor books, as well. You can see them all here.

Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature

As the name suggests, these books — ranging from picture books through to adult titles — are the best of the best in Asian/Pacific American literature that reflects that heritage from the previous year.  Check out the full list.

Best Fiction for Young Adults

What are the best novels published each year (well, in this case, those published in the prior 16 months)? The Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) list is tasked with figuring that out, taking into account the quality of the book’s writing and storytelling, as well as the appeal those books have to readers. One of the neatest things about BFYA is that at the conference, people can sit in on a session where actual teen readers speak about the books they’ve read that are under consideration and they have an eager audience of adults thirsty to hear what they have to say. And when it gets brutal, it gets brutal. The entire BFYA list can be seen here, and they select a top ten, which can be seen here.

Children’s Notables

Because there is so much published each year for children, the Notables list aims to narrow down these titles to those which show especially good quality. Big award winners are automatically included on Notables, but there are titles here for very young readers, middle grade readers, as well as young adult readers and this list includes fiction and non-fiction. Here are the 2014 Notables.

Coretta Scott King Award

This award is given annually to African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults. The books honored highlight the African American cultural and experience in some capacity. Besides the author and illustrator awards, there are distinctions for new talent and lifetime achievement. The winners and honorees can all be found here.

Great Graphic Novels for Teens

Fancy graphic novels? There’s a committee that develops a best of graphic novels for teen readers, and like many other committees, they have a long list, as well as a top ten list.

Outstanding Books for the College Bound

Outstanding Books is a list that’s updated every five years, with five categories that mirror the liberal arts education. Up to 125 books can make the list, and the titles are meant to inspire, engage, and excite readers who may be attending college or who simply want to enrich themselves. It’s not only a list for teen readers, though. Since part of the goal is encouraging lifelong learning, it’s got books for those who never attended college or who are well past college that want a stimulating read. There are adult and young adult books, fiction and non-fiction, as well as graphic novels in any and all of those categories. I may be biased since I served on the committee this year, but I think this list really kicks ass and offers at least one book for everyone that will then encourage reading even more books from it. You can see the entire list here.

beauty queens by libba brayPopular Paperbacks for Young Adults

The popular paperbacks list is and is not what it sounds like. It’s a list of paperback titles, and it’s divided annually into a series of topics of interest. The books on the popular paperbacks list are not all brand new titles. This one has a nice mix of newer, as well as older, titles that fit within the selected themes. This year, the lists tackle the topics of life in wartimeGLBTQ stories, and humor. From their lists, they also develop a top ten popular paperbacks that can come from any or all of those individual lists.

Pura Belpre Awards

Technically, this is an award more than it is a list, but because it’s one that’s not talked about nearly enough, it’s worth highlighting. The Pura Belpre is given to a Latino/a author whose work best portrays the Latino/a experience in youth literature. An author and an illustrator can win, and there are also opportunities to honor additional books beyond the winners. You can see them all here.

Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

Know someone who doesn’t like to read or likes to read books that are good but don’t necessarily require a lot of them mentally? The quick picks are titles which huge appeal that are easy and enjoyable to read. These are in no way bad books. They’re high quality books — both fiction and non-fiction — with strong characters and compelling stories. Here’s the full list, and here’s the top ten quick pick titles for this year.

Rainbow List 

Dig strong, representative, and authentic stories about the LGBTQ experience? Then you’ll want to become familiar with the Rainbow List, which highlights the best books featuring these stories, geared toward readers from birth to age eighteen. Here’s this year’s entire list.

Want more LGBTQ reads? Don’t miss the Stonewall Awards, which honor and award the best books of the year that tackle the LGBTQ experience.

RUSA’s Reading List

If you’re a fan of adult genre fiction, then the Reference and User Services Association’s (RUSA) reading lists should be on your radar. Each year, members of this ALA division select the best titles in the genres of adrenaline, fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction, and women’s fiction. Not only is there a winner within each category, there’s also a set of read alikes to that particular title, as well as a small number of honor titles. You can see the winners and honors in each category here.


One more set of lists that fans of kid lit and YA lit should be aware of are the CYBILS, or Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards. This annual award, which is not a part of ALA or any of its divisions, selects a short list and a winner from entirely field-nominated suggestions in picture books, non-fiction picture books, book apps, middle grade, graphic novels, young adult fiction, speculative fiction, and more. The judges are all book bloggers and the criteria for CYBILS are a book’s marrying of literary merit with kid appeal. Short lists are announced each year on January 1, with winners selected February 14 (this week!). Check out the right-hand sidebar for short lists, as well as winners, for each year and stop back on the 14th to see which of this year’s short listed titles walk away as winners.


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