Kacen Callender's "King and the Dragon Flies" Wins 2020 National Book Award for Young People's Literature

Kacen Callender spoke about a year that has been both devastating and empowering as they accepted the prestigious award during the livestreamed virtual ceremony.

Kacen Callender's King and the Dragon Flies won the 2020 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

The National Book Foundation couldn’t host its annual awards gala this year, but the lack of glamorous clothes and ballroom full of publishing’s biggest names couldn’t take away the prestige and honor of winning the award.

The livestreamed virtual ceremony on Wednesday night was hosted by Jason Reynolds, who introduced Young People’s Literature committee chair Joan Trygg, writer and general manager at Red Balloon Bookshop, to announce the winner of the category.

“During these months of COVID stress and disruption, I had the possibly sanity-saving privilege of having a large stacks of books to read which reminded me how books can both take us out of this world and make us more able to live in it," she said before “presenting” the award to Callender.

“Thank you so much for this honor. I’m trying not to cry. I really appreciate it,” the visibly moved author began. “This is an interesting year to win National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. This has been the hardest, most painful, most devastating year in many people’s memories, in our lifetime. But this has also been an empowering year for many. A year when we are forced to pause and reflect, not only on ourselves but on the society that we live in. To look at the wounds, internal and external, and to heal and to grow.

“I know I’m not the only one who believes these next generations are the ones who are meant to change everything. Young people have already changed the world in so many ways and it’s an honor and a privilege to be given the platform and the opportunity to help in their guidance through the magic of story and to be impacted by the power of young people too. As an author for young readers, I often talk about the necessary balance between pain and hope and joy. This has been a difficult year, but I’m grateful for this moment of joy, too.”

In its starred review, SLJ called Callender's award-winning title, “An intense, gripping tale of love, loss, and friendship featuring a black youth grappling with his dreams and his identity.”

Callender's win was hailed as groundbreaking.

Aiden Thomas, author of Cemetery Boys, was ALL CAPS excited on Twitter after the announcement: “A BLACK TRANS/NONBINARY AUTHOR WON THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD!!!! I AM ABSOLUTELY BESIDE MYSELF — THIS IS HUGE, THIS IS EARTH SHATTERING, THIS IS LIFE CHANGING, THIS IS REPRESENTATION!!! CONGRATS @kacencallender!!!!!

The other four finalists in the Young People's Literature category were: Traci Chee, We Are Not FreeCandice Iloh, Every Body LookingVictoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, When Stars Are Scatteredand Gavriel Savit, The Way Back.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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