Each year the Missouri Association of Library Services (MASL) compiles a list of a dozen books, books written by authors living in the United States and of high literary merit. These books are then read by thousands of children, grades four through six, across the state. These young readers then vote for their favorite title, and the winner is awarded the Mark Twain Reader Award.
Many of the nominees and winners have been from the realistic fiction genre, especially in the early years of the award. Titles like “How to Eat Fried Worms,” “Ramona the Brave,” and “The Pinballs” were all winners in the 1970s, depicting the lives of a variety of young people. The most recent winner of the award, “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio, continues in the vein of realistic fiction with the story of Auggie Pullman and his venture into middle school. Born with a facial deformity, Auggie goes to school outside his home for the first time, experiencing all the ups and downs that come with that. This non-traditional protagonist imparts wisdom and humanity to young readers, providing invaluable lessons of acceptance and love.
Mark Twain Reader Award nominees and winners come from the science fiction and fantasy genres just as often. Ghost stories, mythology, dystopian universes and elements of magic can all be found on the lists throughout the years, producing winners like “The Unwanteds,” “Deep and Dark and Dangerous,” “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” and “Holes.” Stories like these expand the imaginations of readers, providing new worlds to explore and characters to befriend, reaffirming the idea that reading doesn’t always have to appear to be educational.
Mark Twain Reader Award books might stay on the list for only a year, but these titles will live with readers for the rest of their lives. I continue to read the list of nominees each year, eager to check out the next round of titles, and I encourage you to do so as well. The final list of nominees for 2015-2016 is currently available on the MASL website. We have hard copies of the list available at your local DBRL branch.