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“Best of” Lists by the numbers

One of my favorite things this time of year is poring over the various “best of” lists that pop up. So far, the four I’ve spent a lot of time with include Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Horn Book.

I love figuring out what trends emerge and which books make multiple list appearances, as well as the different genres that pop up among the most-listed. This year, I decided to take a real in-depth look, and I thought I’d share some of the interesting trends.

For the sake of simplicity, I limited my observations to only the fiction titles on the four above “best of” lists, and I further limited them by books Amazon listed as appropriate for readers age 10 and older, since the different publications offered a varying range of age-appropriateness. I made one exception to this in leaving The Chronicles of Harris Burdick off my charts, simply because it was an anthology and breaking it down by the qualities I was interested in proved too challenging without having read the book.

Nothing below is meant to draw any conclusions, but rather, it’s a way to look at these lists a little more statistically. I know I can’t be alone in finding numbers like these fascinating.

A total of 63 individual titles appeared across the four lists, and that included a total of 69 authors and illustrators. If you were curious what the gender break down was, here you go:

Of the 69 authors and illustrators, 40 were female and 29 were male. It’s not an even split, but it’s not really a hugely uneven one, either.

Over the last few months, I’ve written about debut authors right here on The Hub, so my next thought was to look at how many of the listees were debut authors. I defined “debut” the same way as the Morris Award Committee does, noting an author as a debut if it truly was their very first novel (and not just their first debut in young adult).

A total of 16 of the authors were debuts this year, which seems like a pretty good showing.

My next breakdown doesn’t seem like it’s an important one, but I was curious: did books published in the first half of 2011 or the second half have more representation across the lists?

My answer was a definitive maybe. Actually, I don’t think there’s much to conclude here at all, but it’s interesting to see that 25 books published between January and June made the best of lists, while 38 published between July and December made the cut.

It seemed natural, too, to explore how many of the 63 books made more than one “best of” list.

A total of four books–Chime, Anya’s Ghost, The Scorpio Races, and Blink and Caution–made all four of the “best of” lists. Three books–A Monster Calls, Between Shades of Gray, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone–made three lists. Thirteen titles made two of the lists. The majority made one list.

The breakdown I was most interested in is probably the most subjective and easiest to argue. I went through each of the 63 books and assigned each one a single genre. Not easy at all. So many books fall across genres or blend them all together, but I forced myself to assign a best category for each. A couple of notable examples: The Future of Us was categorized as historical fiction (even though calling something set in 1996 historical pains me) and The Apothocary was categorized as fantasy (even though it’s set in a historical era, it better fit the bill of fantasy). All of the dystopian novels were categorized as science fiction.

As you can gather, contemporary, fantasy, and historical fiction took up the bulk of space on best of lists this year. There were a number of science fiction novels, but the bulk were dystopian. The one standout science fiction that wasn’t was Amy Kathleen Ryan’s Glow.

A couple of other interesting trends I noticed when categorizing the listees: 2 graphic novels made the cuts, but there were 5 other titles which included some sort of illustrated component to them that weren’t graphic novel format. Three books were written in verse.

Because I haven’t read every title on these lists, I can’t be completely accurate in gaining a count on things like representation of people of color nor on titles that feature LGBTQ characters, but by what I’ve gathered through reading reviews and author websites, I counted 8 titles primarily about or featuring a main character of color and two with LGBTQ teens.

I’m fascinated by the visualization of the best of lists, even if it doesn’t really tell me a whole lot. It almost feels like a snapshot of a year in young adult books. It’ll be even more interesting to see which, if any, of these titles end up earning YALSA book awards like the Printz or the Morris Awards. Seeing how much overlap and lack of overlap there was among the various publications leaves me curious whether YALSA’s award committees will agree or diverge entirely.

For those who are interested in my raw data and the titles I used in making my charts, I’ve made my spreadsheet public. I’d love to know what surprises or doesn’t surprise you, as well as any other interesting connections that may have popped up among the various lists.

– Kelly Jensen, who is reading Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (which made Kirkus‘s “Best Of” list for those playing along)

(* Edit: I made a mistake on my tabulations I wanted to note: my spreadsheet is right, but I mismarked and thus calculated Anya’s Ghost as a book making 4 lists. It did not make the PW short list, and thus it shouldn’t be counted as one of the books making 4 lists. But it did make three.).

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  1. Kelly, this is fascinating! Thank you so much for this visual overview. It’s interesting to see how many books made more than one list.

  2. Really interesting! Thanks for putting this together.

  3. These stats just make me wish for a bit more diversity in “best of” lists. There is too much quality YA being published right now for me to truly believe in best of lists anymore. It makes me fear for those smaller titles, without so much press behind them and how quickly something published in February or March languishes in obscurity.

  4. Kelly Jensen Kelly Jensen

    Something I’m scratching my head about, Sarah, is this: two books this year earned 6 starred reviews. One of those books made 4 “Best of” lists and the other made…none.

    I also wonder whether some of those smaller titles pubbed earlier in the year do get overlooked. Part of why the date of publication fascinates me, too.

    • Kelly Kelly

      Which two books are you’re referring to?

      • Kelly Jensen Kelly Jensen

        Chime (which made 4 “Best of” lists) and Everybody Sees the Ants (which made…none).

        • Kelly Kelly

          Just looking at the numbers ordered in my system, for every copy we have of Everybody Sees the Ants, we have 2 of Chime. There has been so much more buzz for Chime (fallout from the National Book Award kerfluffle)? Odd that they have an equal number of starred reviews and King has a previous Printz honor and still isn’t on any “best of” lists? Thanks for revisiting star reviews in your blog post. Very interesting!

  5. Jessi Jessi

    Such an interesting breakdown of it all! Love the visuals and will spend the rest of the evening puzzling over the implications. :)

  6. The four books on all lists are my new “Must Reads”. Thanks.

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