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Every year, the National Book Foundation tasks 25 expert judges with reading hundreds of hopeful submissions in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated works, and young adult literature to surface the best books of the year.
In mid-September, they publish the top 10 books in each category on a longlist before narrowing down each to a shortlist in October and a winner in November. The award pays $10,000 to winners and $1,000 to finalists — plus an expected book sales bump for each.
This year, the books on the Young People’s longlist explore essential themes such as identity, community, and sexuality. Some take a magnifying glass to history; “Unspeakable” chronicles the racial violence of the Tulsa Race Massacre, “Revolution in Our Time” contextualizes the Black Panther Party and the US government’s repression efforts, and “From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry” revisits the murder of Vincent Chin and the Asian American civil rights movement.
Others reimagine familiar tales: “A Snake Falls to Earth” integrates Lipan Apache oral traditions, while “The Legend of Auntie Po” rewrites the legend of Paul Bunyan centering an elderly Chinese matriarch, Auntie Po.
The 10 books on the 2021 National Book Award longlist for Young People’s Literature: