Zena Sutherland Award for Excellence in Children's Literature

The Zena Sutherland Awards for Excellence in Children’s Literature have been given yearly since 1995. The awards began when art teacher Philip Matsikas, former librarians Donna Schatt and Mary Ogilvie, and former computer science teacher Karen Putman responded to student dissatisfaction with the picture-book awards judged by adults. The awards allow Lower School and Middle School students to become critics in the spirit of Ms. Zena Sutherland.

Zena Sutherland was a former University of Chicago faculty member and still considered amongst the world's most influential scholars of young people's literature. The Zena Sutherland Award for Excellence in Children's Literature is one of the only child-selected book awards in the United States and has grown an international reputation.

How are the awards determined?


Lab librarians Tad Andracki, Irene Fahrenwald, Kelly Campos, Lee McLain, Elisa Gall, and Amy Atkinson spend hours researching picture books published in the current year. They read reviews, professional journals, blogs, and consult with children’s literature experts. They purchase, read carefully, and discuss all promising titles in consultation with art teacher, Philip Matsikas. Together they select approximately 20 titles for the student-led Sutherland Committee.


Sixth grade students volunteer to serve on the Sutherland Committee, supervised by Middle School librarians Tad Andracki and Amy Atkinson. The committee meets for weeks to discuss the titles, often using the criteria that were written while they were in fifth grade. In their discussions, the students consider everything from the author’s choice of words to the way in which the illustrations reveal the story. No detail is too small to be scrutinized, and the discussions often become heated and intense. Their goal is to narrow the list to five books that third, fourth, and fifth graders will vote on for Best Text, Best Illustrations, and Best Overall.

Winter and Spring

Third, fourth, and fifth graders are introduced to the five candidates. They read or are read the books and evaluate each of the books independently and through group discussion in their library class. Fifth graders then determine and write the criteria to be used the following year for the Sutherland Committee.

Members of the Sutherland Committee visit third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms, making presentations on the five books and answering student questions. During these presentations, younger students benefit from the committee’s hard work as sixth graders highlight unique features of each book. The committee also reveals how hard they worked to select a diverse set of books, both in terms of genre and author’s background. 


Third, fourth, and fifth graders vote for Best Text, Best Illustrations, and Best Overall.

The Sutherland Awards Assembly (April or May)

In a ceremony convened by students, the current year’s winners are announced, usually by one of the previous year’s winners. The author or illustrator receives a framed poster of his or her book, made by fifth graders, under the direction of Philip Matsikas, in their visual arts class, and makes a presentation about his or her own work.



2022-2023 Nominees

Sutherland Awards : Nominees and Winners

Click to view a list of all previous nominees and winners. 1995 to Present.

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