The establishment of an award for nonfiction to be presented annually by the Guild was first proposed by Patricia Markun when she was president in 1977. Several years previously when she was editorial associate at the Association of Childhood Education International, she had chaired a committee which was investigating the possibility of a nonfiction award to be given by the ACEI. She convened a committee consisting of Ruth Tarbox, executive secretary of the Children's Services Division of the American Library Association, and two members of the Children's Book Guild: Virginia Haviland, head of the Children's Book Division at the Library of Congress, and Mary Childs, former executive director of the Children's Book Council. All agreed that although a number of awards were being given for fiction and illustrated books, nonfiction was not receiving the recognition it deserved. There would be merit, they felt, in honoring the creators of lively and imaginative nonfiction. The plan they proposed was later discussed by the ACEI board, but no action was taken in the two years that Patricia remained on the staff.

When she became president of the Guild, Pat hoped she might succeed in what she had not been able to do at the ACEI. A successful book sale at the November luncheon had swelled the treasury, making it possible for the Guild to launch a new project. She decided that the time had come to propose an annual nonfiction award and she invited members of the executive committee to her home for lunch, asking each to bring suggestions for possible alternatives.

Guild records state that the executive committee was enthusiastic about the award proposal and accepted it with only one stipulation: after five years the award should be reevaluated and a decision made as to whether it would be continued. The committee also agreed that the Guild should approach The Washington Post suggesting cosponsorship in the award. In due course a letter of invitation was sent to the publisher, Mrs. Katherine Graham, but her reply stated that the Post must reluctantly decline.

At their March meeting the membership voted unanimously in favor of the Guild award, and the project was immediately set in motion. A jury was appointed consisting of Virginia Haviland, chairman, Marguerite Murray, and Christina Young, and it was decided that the winners would be selected for their total body of work, the award to consist of a handsome certificate designed by Gloria Kamen, as well as an honorarium. Two other authors of nonfiction would be chosen to receive honors also.

Minutes of the Book Week Luncheon on November 12, 1977, mention that "the highlight of the afternoon was the presentation by Virginia Haviland of the first Children's Book Guild Award for Nonfiction to David Macauley. He accepted the certificate and check and gave a graceful, amusing talk. Olivia Coolidge and Laurence Pringle, honor winners of the award, each said a few words." Pat Markun and those who supported her idea surely had a feeling of satisfaction on that day. They also must have been pleased five years later, in 1981, when the award was pronounced a success and the Guild membership voted to continue it indefinitely.

In 1982 Mary Childs, president of the Guild, reopened the question of The Washington Post's joining the Guild in cosponsorship. She met with Brigitte Weeks, editor of "Book World," who was most interested and asked for a letter of proposal which she could present to decision-makers at the Post. Our combined efforts were successful, and at the Guild's Book Week Luncheon in November, Vincent Reed, the Post's vice president in charge of communications, announced his paper's decision to accept cosponsorship, starting in 1983. He pointed out that once again, after a lapse of nine years, the Post and the Guild were to become partners in another worthy venture-the Guild having been a most active cosponsor of The Washington Post's city-wide book fairs from 1950 to 1974.

Soon thereafter, Mary Childs, Patricia Markun, and Peggy Thomson, representing the Guild, met with Brigitte Weeks and Virginia Rodriguez, representing the Post, to discuss what our cosponsorship would entail. It was decided that:

  • The name of the award would be "The Washington Post-Children's Book Guild Award for Nonfiction."
  • The Post would contribute an etched crystal Baccarat cube as well as a sizable sum of money to be given to the winners.

  • The Post would contribute promotion pieces and publicity for the award.

  • Brigitte Weeks, or her deputy, would serve as a permanent member of the award jury.

Over the next several months, Jo Carr, who was chairman of the 1983 jury, with Nancy Larrick, Deborah Weilerstein, and Brigitte Weeks, prepared guidelines for the selection of the winners. The purposes and standards of the award as delineated by this jury were presented to the Guild membership, and after considerable discussion and revision, were officially approved in June 1983. Following are pertinent excerpts from these guidelines:

  • Purpose: To honor an author or author-illustrator whose total work has contributed significantly to the quality of nonfiction for children. In the words of the original designers of the award: "creatively produced books that make a difference."

Nonfiction to be defined as written or illustrated work which arranges and interprets documentable facts intended to illuminate, without imaginative invention, the following fields of knowledge: science, technology, social science, history, biography, and the arts.

  • Eligibility: Any living American author or author-illustrator. Illustrators to be eligible only if they have written, as well as illustrated, their books.

  • Timing: Deliberations from the first of February until the announcement of the winner at the May business meeting of the Guild. Timing changed when the Nonfiction Award Celebration was moved to Spring in 2008.
  • Members' Participation: All members of the Guild to be encouraged to suggest nominees for the award.

  • Award Jury: A committee of four, three from the Guild and one from the Post. (In case of tie: the president of the Guild, as ex-officio member of the committee, to cast the deciding vote.)

  • Standards for Judging: 1. Quality in writing and illustrating: Not just clarity and accuracy, which are essential to all nonfiction, but evidence of literary distinction in writing and-in the case of author-illustrators-artistic excellence in illustrating. 2. Quantity: A substantial body of work published, all of consistently high quality. 3. Stimulating presentation of ideas and facts: Demanding intellectual participation and challenge from young readers. 4. Reader appeal: Lively writing or illustrating leading to pleasure, as well as curiosity, in the pursuit of knowledge.

  • Other Considerations: 1. Balance: If feasible, the award--over the years-to honor as many fields of knowledge as possible, as well as levels of child appeal. 2. Unrecognized Quality: If feasible, the award to honor authors whose fine work has not received the critical attention it deserves.

The Guild can take pride in reinforcing the visionary intent of the original founders in 1977, for we have truly honored the creators of the best nonfiction and paid tribute to the demanding intelligence of America's young people.

Winner: David Macaulay
Honors: Olivia Coolidge
Laurence Pringle
Jury: Virginia
Haviland, Chairman
Marguerite Murray
Christina Young
Winner: Shirley Glubok
Guest Speakers: Leonard E. Fisher
Walter Dean Myers
Jury: Abby Hunt, Chairman
Margaret Coughlan
Elizabeth Murphy
Winner: Millicent Selsam
Honors: Jean Fritz
Milton Meltzer
Jury: Virginia Havilland,
Nancy Orr
Christina Young
Winner: Milton Meltzer
Guest Speakers: Katherine Paterson,
Nancy Larrick
Jury: Elizabeth Hoke, Chairman
Abby Hunt
Helen Jacob
Winner: Jean Fritz
Honors: Milton Meltzer
Laurence Pringle
Jury: Virginia Haviland, Chairman
Elizabeth Murphy
Winner: Tana Hoban
Guest Speakers: Joan Aiken, Karla Kuskin
Jury: Jo Carr, Chairman
Elizabeth Hoke
Margaret Coughlan


Winner: Patricia Lauber
Guest Speakers: Ashley Bryan,
Cynthia Voight
Jury: Jo Carr, Chairman
Nancy Larrick
Deborah Weilerstein
Brigitte Weeks
Winner: Brent Ashabranner
Guest Speakers: Eve Bunting, Bruce Degan
Jury: Mary Downing Hahn, Chairman
Ann Tobias
Nell Coburn
Michael Dirda
Winner: Jill Krementz
Guest Speakers: M.E. Kerr,
Vera Williams
Jury: Nancy Larrick, Chairman
Charlotte Berman
Nancy Schifrin
Brigitte Weeks
Winner: Joanna Cole
1985 Winner: Isaac Asimov
Guest Speakers: Jack Prelutsky,
Trina Schart Hyman
Jury: Nancy Schifrin, Chairman
Joanne Gartenmann
Maria Salvadore
Brigitte Weeks
1992 Winner: Russell Freedman
Guest Speakers: John Scieszka,
Pat Cummings
1986 Winner: Kathryn Lasky
Guest Speakers: Betsy Byars,
Charles Mikolaycak
Jury: Maria Salvador, Chairman
Mary Bauer
Charlotte Berman
Brigitte Weeks
1993 Winner: Seymour Simon
Guest Speakers: Phyllis Naylor,
Patricia Polacco
1987 Winner: Gail Gibbons
Guest Speakers: Norma Fox Mazer,
Paul Zelinsky
Jury: Charlotte Berman, Chairman
Phyllis Sidorsky
Peggy Thomson
Michael Dirda
1994 Winner: Jim Haskins
Guest Speakers: Johanna Hurwitz,
William Joyce
1988 Winner: Jim Arnosky
Guest Speakers: Alice Provenson,
Gary Paulsen
Jury: Phyllis Sidorsky, Chairman
Mary June Roggenbuck
Brent Ashabranner
Michael Dirda
1995 Winner: Albert Marrin
Guest Speakers: Steven Kellogg,
Jean and Mous-Sien Tseng
1989 Winner: Leonard Everett Fisher
Guest Speakers: Lois Lowry, Jerry Pinkney
Jury: Mary June Roggenbuck, Chairman
Mary Downing Hahn
Paul Conklin
Michael Dirda
1996 Winner: James Cross Giblin
Guest Speakers: Helen V. Griffith,
Ted Lewin

Continue to IX. Seminar on Writing for Children



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