Dan Santat’s A First Time for Everything (First Second) has received a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, becoming only the second graphic novel to ever achieve the esteemed title. He received a bronze sculpture, $10,000 and his graphic novel comes away with a shiny gold medal printed on the cover.
At the 74th annual National Book Awards ceremony which took place in New York City, November 15, Dan Santat said:
“Thank you so much for this lovely award. I would like to congratulate my four fellow finalists who I have had the lovely honour of sharing this amazing experience with – as well as with the amazing longlist of authors who are also named. I would like to thank everyone at the National Book Award committee and especially this year’s judges for selecting such a diverse range of books: from young adult to middle grade and picture books and graphic novels which demonstrate that a variety of stories can be worthy of such high praise.”
The judging panel for the 2023 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature included Associate Professor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Sarah Park Dahlen; author and former school librarian Kyle Lukoff; author and comics writer Justin A. Reynolds; author and former newspaper editor Sabaa Tahir; with Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature executive director Claudette S. McLinn serving as chair.
A First Time For Everything is Santat’s second graphic novel outing following his debut with 2011’s Sidekicks (Graphix). It is a middle-grade graphic memoir recounting Santat’s difficult teenage years and the class trip to Europe which changed his life. It was published by First Second in April 2023. Outside of graphic novels, Santat has built up a significant portfolio for his work in children’s illustrated fiction, receiving the 2015 Caldecott award for The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend (Little, Brown).
Prior to Santat’s win, the only other graphic novel to receive the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature was the concluding book of John Lewis, Nate Powell, and Andrew Aydin’s critically lauded March trilogy, in 2016.
The 2023 Young People’s Literature category had a solid mix of finalists – and Santat’s winning book was a co-finalist with another graphic novel: Huda Fahmy’s Huda F Cares (Dial Books). Alongside them were two novels – Kenneth M. Cadow’s Gather (Candlewick Pres) and Katherine Marsh’s The Lost Year: A Survival Story of the Ukrainian Famine (Roaring Brook Press) – and a picture book, Vashti Harrison’s Big (Little, Brown).
Graphic novels are starting to become a regular feature as Young Peoples Literature finalists in the National Book Awards – Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes and Dawud Anyabwile’s Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist For Justice (2022) and Shing Yin Khor’s The Legend of Auntie Po (2021) all placed but ultimately didn’t win the gold.
The National Book Awards are an annual prize coordinated by the National Book Foundation dedicated to recognising the work of US authors. Finalists receive a silver medallion on the cover of their book and a $1000 prize; winners receive a gold medallion for the book, with the author taking away a bronze statue and $10,000.
The awards are currently composed of five categories – Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature. Graphic novels have yet to fully crack the other categories but they are starting to make regular appearances in the latter category. The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature category (in its contemporary incarnation) has been in existence since 1996, prior to that there were Children’s Book and Children’s Literature awards run by organisations prior to the National Book Foundation.
Dan Santat’s award speech in full:
“Thank you so much for this lovely award. I would like to congratulate my four fellow finalists who I have had the lovely honour of sharing this amazing experience with – as well as with the amazing longlist of authors who are also named. I would like to thank everyone at the National Book Award committee and especially this year’s judges for selecting such a diverse range of books: from young adult to middle grade and picture books and graphic novels which demonstrate that a variety of stories can be worthy of such high praise.
“I would like to thank my editor Connie Hsu who has been my arbiter of literary tastes for almost 10 years. While many authors sometimes have proof-readers and friends who read their work, Connie has been my sole confidante, who studies my rough idea of a story like a large ball of clay and helps me mould it into a refined work of art that I can proudly share for all the world to see. One Caldecott medal and one National Book Award: not bad Connie.
“I’d like to thank my agent Jodi Reamer for her ability to skilfully help manage my career for almost 15 years. She has been a steadfast supporter of my ideas and [the] ambitions of this once-young, insecure artist, and helped me navigate the course towards a wonderful career that I have today. More importantly, I value your friendship and the close bond we have as friends.
“I’d like to thank my lovely wife Leah, who endures the sometimes-chaotic months and years of a writer who can become so passionate in his ambitions that he would consume his own soul to craft a work of art. It is not easy being the soulmate of a man who is willing to die for his work. You’re often asked to pull double duty as a parent for days and sometimes weeks while I’m on book tours and school visits – while you skilfully navigate your own ambitions as a scientist in the challenging field of biology. You allow me the freedom to chase my ambitions and dreams but remind me that the world is not worth living if you don’t occasionally pause for a moment to relax.
“I’d like to thank everyone at Macmillan Publishing, most notably Kirk Benshoff for his meticulous eye as an art director; Morgan Rath [publicity manager], Molly Ellis [VP/executive director of publicity], Jen Besser [senior VP and publishing director], Jon Yaged [CEO Macmillan Publishers US] and many others far too many to name who helped get A First Time for Everything out into the world.
“Last but not least I’d like to thank my mother – who I think is watching right now – who saw her young, insecure child endure the struggles of growing up through the tumultuous years of adolescence, and gently pushed them out the door to show his young innocent mind that – despite the awkward and awful experiences we can sometimes experience in life – the world is immense and that within that vast world there is also great kindness and love.
“Thank you very much.”
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