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The National Book Awards were established in 1950 to celebrate the best writing in America, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature and young people's literature. With names like Toni Morrison, John Updike, Alice Walker and Ta-Nehisi Coates, there's a good chance that you've read at least one of he past winners!

You can look up all the winners year-by-year, but we're here to narrow it down a bit if you find the list a bit daunting! Check out some of our favorite National Book Award winners below.

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Book River Items

Holes (2018)

by Louis Sachar

Written almost 25 years ago, National Book Award winner Holes by Louis Sachar is still popular today. The story of Stanley Yelnats' experience in a juvenile correctional camp digging holes in the Texas heat explores the heart-wrenching and heart-warming emotions of a boy not only finding a buried treasure, but also finding himself. — Vicki Heller, Collection Development Librarian


Invisible Man (2002)

by Ralph Ellison

Even though it was published in 1952, Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" stunned me with its portrayal of the treatment of African Americans. Despite the horrible experiences that the unnamed narrator faces, leaving him "invisible" to society, the story ends on a hopeful note as he prepares to speak up and help others. — Kris Milhousen, AV Information Desk Assistant


March Book Three (2016)

by John Lewis

March: Book Three was a memorable winner and is still one of my favorite graphic novels to this day because it was co-authored by the late Congressman John Lewis. This historical memoir won the National Book Award in 2016 along with another one of my favorites, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. March: Book Three continues detailing John Lewis’ heroic contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and concludes with the historic march from Selma to Montgomery. I highly recommend reading this graphic novel trilogy in order. — Dina Ragano, Fiction, Movies & Music Coordinator


Challenger Deep (2015)

by Neal Shusterman

This is a powerful story about mental illness that comes from the author’s own personal family life with his son as inspiration. It is confusing and compelling as it follows Caden, who is hospitalized during most of the book, and alternates between his reality and delusions. Like mental illness the story is scary and sad, but ultimately hopeful with the realization that you can’t cure it but you can manage it. This is a book that will stick with you. — Gail Tobin, Hanover Park Branch Manager


The House of the Scorpion (2002)

by Nancy Farmer

I read this book years ago and was struck by Farmer’s portrayal of a dystopian future of old-world crime meets clones and the prejudice against them. The story is set in Mexico and is about Matteo Alacran, a clone for a 142-year-old drug lord, El Patron, who exists to basically be an organ donor to ensure El Patron’s longevity. He was treated like “livestock” as a child, and as he grows and learns who and what he is he is isolated and lonely. It brings up ethical questions surrounding cloning but is ultimately a story of friendship and survival. — Gail Tobin, Hanover Park Branch Manager


The Poet X (2018)

by Elizabeth Acevedo

This novel in verse is a raw, intense, and stunning coming-of-age story. This book stayed with me long after I put it down, and then I read the rest of her amazing books! Elizabeth Acevedo's books should be read and shared by teens and adults for years to come. — Allison Riggs, Teen Librarian