Independent booksellers gathered at the Choice Stage at BookExpo 2019 at New York City’s Javits Convention Center on Thursday, May 30, for the 19th annual Indies Choice Book Awards ceremony, formerly the Celebration of Bookselling Lunch.
Incoming ABA Board President Jamie Fiocco, owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, took the podium to present the 2019 Indies Choice Book Awards and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards, the latter celebrating its 16th year, in honor of the authors and illustrators of notable books that reflect the spirit of independent bookstores nationwide.
The winners and honor books in all categories, with the exception of Indie Champion and Picture Book Hall of Fame, were chosen from titles appearing on the Indie Next Lists in 2018, with additional titles for the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards nominated by bookseller members of the ABC Children’s Group at ABA. The E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards recognize books that reflect the themes, language, and universal appeal embodied by E.B. White’s children’s books.
In addition to a plaque, each winner received a $250 gift certificate to their local independent bookstore.
Adult Debut Book of the Year
Booksellers selected Tommy Orange’s There There: A Novel (Knopf) as the winner of the 2019 Indies Choice Award for Adult Debut Book of the Year. Although he was unable to attend the ceremony, Fiocco noted that he wished to express his thanks to booksellers around the country for supporting his book.
Five Adult Debut Honor Books were also recognized at the ceremony: Friday Black: Stories by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Mariner Books); My Sister, the Serial Killer: A Novel by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Doubleday); Only Killers and Thieves: A Novel by Paul Howarth (Harper); The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border by Francisco Cantú (Riverhead); and The Tattooist of Auschwitz: A Novel by Heather Morris (Harper Paperbacks).
2019 Picture Book Hall of Fame Inductees
Indie booksellers chose three picture books for induction into the Picture Book Hall of Fame: The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen (Candlewick), Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say (HMH Books for Young Readers), and Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (Dial Books).
E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Awards
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (Disney-Hyperion) took home the E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Award at Thursday’s ceremony. “I’m humbled and honored to receive the E.B. White Picture Book Award. Keep this to yourselves, but this is at the top of my list of favorite awards,” Higgins told attendees. “Not just because it’s my second one, but because of the people who pick the awards — indie booksellers. You are real people selling books that you love, and the fact that a whole bunch of you got together and voted for my little book just means the world to me, so thank you very much…You were there for me back when I got started. You took a chance on me and my grumpy old bear back in 2016 and you took the chance on me again for me on my little T-Rex. I will always feel at home on your shelves, and you have always been my champion, so thank you so much.”
Five E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Honor Books were also recognized: The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, Rafael López (Illus.) (Nancy Paulsen Books); Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers); How to Be a Lion by Ed Vere (Doubleday Books for Young Readers); The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (Dial Books); and Thank You Omu by Oge Mora (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers).
E.B. White Read-Aloud Middle Reader Awards
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) won this year’s E.B. White Read-Aloud Middle Reader Award. “Independent booksellers, I love you so much! I thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting Ghost Boys. There’s so much work that still needs to be done in terms of civil rights and ending racial bias, but to know that you are handing this book to kids who are going to be the change and make the world better just makes me smile and feel as though I’m uplifted,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes also said that it was her grandmother who, by telling stories throughout Rhodes’ childhood, shared the seed of storytelling with her. “When I write, I’m writing from the African American oral tradition,” she said. “I’m thinking of the voice of my grandmother speaking to me, and our community, so I can’t tell my stories until I hear the voice. And I heard Jerome, I heard the rhythms of the African American community...so for me, to have you pick Ghost Boys as a read-aloud, it’s saying to me that that African American diversity, that oral tradition, you are celebrating it with me. Thank you.”
The five books that won Middle Reader Honor Awards this year were: The Creature of the Pines (Unicorn Rescue Society) by Adam Gidwitz, Hatem Aly (Illus.) (Dutton Books for Young Readers); Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Arthur A. Levine Books); Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano, Mirelle Ortega (Illus.) (Walden Pond Press); The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani DasGupta (Scholastic Press); and Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier (Amulet Books).
Young Adult Indies Choice Awards
The Indies Choice Young Adult Book of the Year Award went to The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen). “When I wrote The Poet X, I was incredibly specific and intentional about the kind of character I wanted to render onto the page,” Acevedo told booksellers. “I wanted her to sound like my homegirls. I wanted New York City to be a character in and of itself. I wanted to ensure that the Spanish rang through and wasn’t italicized. I wanted to trust that my readers would do work, would do research, would join me on the page and didn’t need me to spoon-feed them the kind of story that this was. I thought that was going to be a very specific reader that would arrive to the book. I thought it would probably be a New Yorker from Washington Heights and those were the only readers that would show me love. And indeed, Word Up Bookstore in Washington Heights was one of the first ones that was up there, and showed so much attention to this kind of novel. And then I started getting e-mails from Pocatello, Idaho. And from Sioux Falls. And from Oregon. And from Texas. And from all these booksellers who were telling me this book was important.”
Acevedo recalled her first American Booksellers Association event and meeting booksellers from around the country. “I remember showing up and realizing that these are the folks on the ground, these are the people who see the readers,” she said. “You make the connection between what I write and who ends up actually partaking in this story. I just want to say I really appreciate you all, and say thank you for buying into a narrative that I wasn’t sure you would be here for, and for reminding me that you were.”
“And I want to give a special shout out to MahoganyBooks,” Acevedo added. “I’m so lucky to live in Washington, D.C., where we have so many great independent bookstores, but MahoganyBooks exists in a book desert. They’re on a side of D.C. where very few people think that anyone wants to read. They hold it down in a community that oftentimes is dismissed, on the other side of the river as we say, and we figure that side of the river doesn’t have any resources and doesn’t need them, and they stepped into that space and said we’re going to give this community not only what they need, but what they want. That kind of bravery is what I hope all bookstores are showing.”
Five Young Adult Honor Books were also recognized: Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (Dial Books); The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (Flatiron Books); Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Graphix); The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (First Second); and Undead Girl Gang: A Novel by Lily Anderson (Razorbill).
Adult Fiction Indies Choice Awards, Audiobook of the Year Awards
Booksellers selected Madeline Miller’s Circe: A Novel (Lee Boudreaux Books) as the winner of the 2019 Indies Choice Award for Adult Fiction Book of the Year. Miller also took home the Audiobook of the Year award for Circe, read by Perdita Weeks (Hachette Audio).
“Thank you so much for this honor — this double honor,” Miller told the audience. “I am so grateful for it, and for all your support of my work. It really is an honor to be up here with authors like Elizabeth and Jewell, and all the amazing other authors, so thank you.”
Miller shared that she has been an avid reader all her life. “I didn’t know very many people who loved books the way I did, but as soon as I went into an independent bookstore, I knew I had found my family,” she said. “Those people looked at me, and they did seem to know just the book that I needed to read even though I didn’t know it. They were the ones who put James Baldwin in my hands, they were the ones who said to me, if you like Isabel Allende why are you not already reading Beloved and Julia Alvarez? They were the ones who when I was completely in despair because there were no more Lorrie Moore books — I had read them all — they said why don’t you try Jeannette Winterson? Why don’t you read Nora Ephron’s Heartburn? And all of these books were books that changed my life. They changed my perspective. They made me a better writer and a better reader.”
“I know that you all have a magic that is kind of like Circe’s magic,” Miller added. “Basically, you shape the world to your will. You reach out and let these stories grow in the world. You give them a life. You change your readers’ lives; you change your writers’ lives...so thank you all for that.”
Five Adult Fiction Honor Books were also recognized at the ceremony: An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jones (Algonquin Books); Convenience Store Woman: A Novel by Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (Trans.) (Grove Press); The Overstory: A Novel by Richard Powers (W.W. Norton & Company); Tin Man: A Novel by Sarah Winman (G.P. Putnam’s Sons); and Waiting for Eden: A Novel by Elliot Ackerman (Knopf).
Five Honor Audiobooks were also recognized: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover, read by Julia Whelan (Random House Audio); Kill the Farm Boy: The Tales of Pell by Kevin Hearne, Delilah S. Dawson, read by Luke Daniels (Random House Audio); Once Upon a River: A Novel by Diane Setterfield, read by Juliet Stevenson (Simon & Schuster Audio); The Secrets Between Us: A Novel by Thrity Umrigar, read by Sneha Mathan (HarperAudio); and There There: A Novel by Tommy Orange, read by Darrell Dennis, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Alma Cuervo, and Kyla Garcia (Random House Audio).
Adult Nonfiction Indies Choice Awards
Booksellers chose Educated by Tara Westover (Random House) as the Indies Choice Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year. Westover told attendees that finding out Educated had been chosen as a top pick for the Indie Next List a year ago blew her away. “I just didn’t get it,” she said. “[Booksellers] read a book by someone they’d never heard of — of all the books, they read this book — and they are supporting it? It just kind of blew my mind...the book has outperformed my craziest expectations.”
“I just want to thank all the independent booksellers for that early support,” Westover continued. “It meant a lot to me at the time, and it completely blew my mind, and it’s lovely to be here getting this award at the end of that time. I’m really grateful for the support, for your time, for reading a book by someone that nobody had ever heard anything about...I also want to thank the booksellers for what they do generally, which is the important gatekeeper role, putting a soul back into the commercial side of bookselling, which I think is really important. I want to say thank you to all of you for lifting me up, but also for all the other books and authors that you lift up.”
The five Adult Nonfiction Honor Books recognized at the ceremony were: All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung (Catapult); Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh (Scribner); Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon (Scribner); The Library Book by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster); The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison (Little, Brown and Company)
Indie Champion Award
Indie Champion Award winner Jacqueline Woodson appeared at the ceremony to receive the 2019 award, which is presented to the author or illustrator who booksellers believe has the best sense of the importance of independent bookstores to their communities at large and the strongest personal commitment to foster and support the mission and passion of independent booksellers.
“Thank you so much for this award,” said Woodson. “The only thing I can say in terms of supporting independent bookstores is, duh! I remember when I was putting my website together and the person who was helping me build it asked where I wanted to link [my books to], and I actually decided not to link it anywhere but to put a blurb that said here are the independent bookstores where you can find not only my books, but lots of books...I know I’m speaking to the choir in saying how much independent bookstores matter to all of us.”
“When I think of independent bookstores, I think of a hand reaching out with a book to someone who is hungry for it,” Woodson added. “Thank you so much for the support over the years when I was unknown, and the support when I walked into those empty bookstores and got asked to sign stock. I was never so grateful to see so much stock in an empty space before. And thank you for your love of books, and your support of books, and your support of me over the years. I am so pleased by this award…I’m grateful to be here and I will always support independent bookstores.”
This year’s five Indie Champion Honorees were Hanif Abdurraqib, Walter Isaacson, Tayari Jones, A.S. King, and Dav Pilkey.
On Thursday evening, many of the Indies Choice Book Award winners autographed their books exclusively for ABA member booksellers in the ABA Member Lounge & Galley Room.