NEW YORK — Southern California author Cynthia Kadohata received the National Book Award in the young people’s literature category on Nov. 20 for her novel “The Thing About Luck” (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster).

The novel is about two young siblings, Summer and Jaz, who are left in the care of their grandparents, right before harvest season, when their parents are leave for Japan because of an emergency.

Cynthia Kadohata gives her acceptance speech at the American Book Awards ceremony.
Cynthia Kadohata gives her acceptance speech at the American Book Awards ceremony.

Kadohata, who lives in West Covina, won a Newbery Medal in 2005 for “Kira-Kira” and the Jane Addams Peace Award and Pen USA Award for “Weedflower.” Her other books for young readers include “Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam” and “A Million Shades of Gray.”

The other finalists in the category were Kathi Appelt for “The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp,” Tom McNeal for “Far Far Away,” Meg Rosoff for “Picture Me Gone,” and Gene Luen Yang for “Boxers & Saints.”

The five finalists were selected from a longlist that also included Kate DiCamillo for “Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures,” Lisa Graff for “A Tangle of Knots,” Alaya Dawn Johnson for “The Summer Prince,” David Levithan for “Two Boys Kissing,” and Anne Ursu for “The Real Boy.”

The winner was announced by E. Lockhart, one of this year’s judges and 2008 National Book Award finalist for “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.”

“The young people’s literature category is a category of books that make readers for life, books that are read over and over, that are clutched to the chest and adored,” said Lockhart. “I am proud to have served on the YPL committee with librarian Lisa Von Drasek, author and bookseller Peter Glassman, novelist and NBA finalist Deb Caletti and writer editor and graphic novelist Cecil Castellucci. We searched for books that resonated with us both intellectually and emotionally long after the first read. We chose books we felt were modern classics, that we believe readers will clutch to their chests and adore, books that will make readers for life …

“We on the committee love these five books with the crazy passion of teenage love and the sticky open hearts of toddlers.”

Upon receiving the award, Kadohata said, “I don’t have a speech because I’m wildly, wildly superstitious and I thought it would be bad luck. So maybe I did the right thing.”

In addition to her editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy, her agent, Gail Hochman, and “everyone at Simon & Schuster at every level and every step of the way,” Kadohata thanked her adopted son and her boyfriend: “To Sammy and George … you inspire every breath I take.”

The winners in the other categories were:

Fiction — James McBride for “The Good Lord Bird”

Nonfiction — George Packer for “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America”

Poetry — “Mary Szybist for “Incarnadine: Poems”

Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community — Maya Angelou (presented by Toni Morrison)

Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters — E.L. Doctorow (presented by Victor Navasky)

The mission of the National Book Foundation and the National Book Awards is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of good writing in America.

The first awards ceremony was held in 1950, bringing together the American literary community for the first time to honor the year’s best work in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Recipients have included  William Carlos Williams, William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, Wallace Stevens, Rachel Carson, Ralph Ellison, W.H. Auden, Marianne Moore, Bernard Malamud, Richard Powers, Jonathan Franzen and Lily Tuck.

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