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NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children

2017 Award Recipient: Marilyn Nelson

Marilyn NelsonMarilyn is professor emerita of English at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. Her books include My Seneca Village (namelos, 2015); How I Discovered Poetry (Dial Press, 2014); Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011 (Louisiana State University Press, 2012); The Cachoeira Tales, and Other Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2005); The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1997), which was a finalist for the 1998 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the 1997 National Book Award, and the PEN Winship Award.

(photo credit Fran Funk 2009)

Learn more about Marilyn at


Nomination are not accepted for this award.

NCTE Poetry Award

Purpose:  NCTE established the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1977 to honor a living American poet for his or her aggregate work for children ages 3–13.

Award Criteria: 

Literary Merit (art and craft of aggregate work--as poet or anthologist)
Creating books of poetry that demonstrate imagination, authenticity of voice, evidence of a strong persona, and universality / timelessness are essential. In short, we're looking for a poet who creates poetry books that contain clean, spare lines; use language and form in fresh ways; surprise the reader by using syntax artistically; excite the reader's imagination with keen perceptions and sharp images; touch the reader's emotions.  A maker of word events is what we're looking for.

Poet's or Anthologist's Contributions
Aggregate work, evident potential for growth and evolution in terms of craft, and excellence are considered.

Evolution of the Poet's or Anthologist's Work
Technical and artistic development as evidenced in the poetry, evidence of risk, change, and artistic stamina, and evidence of different styles and modes of expression are considered.

Appeal to Children
Although the appeal to children of a poet's or anthologist's work is an important consideration, the art and craft must be the primary criterion for evaluation.  Evidence of students' excitement for the poetry and evidence of childlike quality, yet poem's potential for stirring fresh insights and feelings should be apparent.

Award Specifics:  The award is presented in even years by the chair of the NCTE Poetry Award Committee at the Children's Book Awards Luncheon during the NCTE Annual Convention. The award recipient receives a plaque, is a featured speaker at the luncheon, and is invited to present at a poetry session during the NCTE Annual Convention.

The Poetry Award Committee gave the award annually until 1982 and every three years until 2009.  In 2008 the criteria was updated and time frame changed to every other year.

Judging:  The Poetry Award Committee determines the winner based upon the poet or anthologist meeting the criteria.

The next award will be given in 2019.


Past Winners

NCTE Poets Spotlight Series by author Renee LaTulippe

Printable Poetry Flier 

2015:  Marilyn Singer
2013:  Joyce Sidman
2011:  J. Patrick Lewis
2009:  Lee Bennett Hopkins
2006:  Nikki Grimes
2003:  Mary Ann Hoberman
2000:  X.J. Kennedy
1997:  Eloise Greenfield
1994:  Barbara Juster Esbensen
1991:  Valerie Worth
1988:  Arnold Adoff
1985:  Lilian Moore
1982:  John Ciardi
1981:  Eve Merriam
1980:  Myra Cohn Livingston
1979:  Karla Kuskin
1978:  Aileen Fisher
1977:  David McCord


Poetry Book Collection
A collection of poetry books from all the winners of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children is sustained and preserved at the University of Minnesota Children's Literature Research Collections (CLRC) / Kerlan Collection at the Andersen Library.

Notable Poetry Books

2017 Notable Poetry Books

2017 Notable Verse Novels

Notable Poetry Book Lists:  2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011

Eligibility:  Books must have been published or distributed in the English language during the calendar year. Bilingual books are also accepted. Nominations of individual books may come from publishers, the membership of NCTE, and from the educational community at large. Any poetry title for children ages 3-13 is accepted. This includes all forms of poetry including individual poetry, anthologies, narratives, biographical poems, and verse novels.

Poetry Notable Books Criteria

Individual Poems demonstrate*

  • Content that is interesting to and understandable by intended readers.
  • Language is innovative, with careful word choices and uses of poetic devices to enhance meaning.
  • Form or structure helps readers understand more about the poetic subject or mood.

Collections and Anthologies demonstrate*

  • Purposeful selection of quality poetry.
  • Arrangement that is logical.
  • Inclusiveness of a range of poetry.
  • In addition, if an old collection or anthology has been recently published or reissued, it must have a new perspective, fresh approach, and/or newly illustrated to be considered as a new collection.

Picture books/stories in rhyme

  • The poetry in picture books must incorporate poetic language that exemplifies figurative language, that demonstrating depth rather than simply rhymed couplets.

Poetry Notable Verse Novel Criteria

  • A narrative told in poetic form.
  • Excellence in writing and emotional impact: does the poetry "create images, express feelings, and stir emotions"* 
  • Format enriches the story in some way.

*Some criteria excerpted from: Galda, L., Cullinan, B.E., & Sipe, L.R. (2010). Literature and the Child. Seventh Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning

Deadline:  Nominations must be submitted to the Award Committee by November 1. One copy of each book nominated should be sent to the committee members for examination. Advanced copies or galley proofs are acceptable. Contact for award committee member information to nominate a book.



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