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Mike Jung Selected as Judge for Upcoming National Book Awards

Mike Jung, a Cataloging and Acquisitions Librarian at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Library at CIIS and noted author of children’s books, discusses his selection as a judge for the 2024 National Book Awards

April 12, 2024

Mike Jung, who oversees Cataloging and Acquisitions for the Laurance S. Rockefeller Library at CIIS, has a passion for writing books for children and young people including the ever-popular Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2012) in which the hero of the story, Vincent Wu, races to protect his family, friends, and the entire city of Copperplate after his own hero, Captain Stupendous, meets his demise at the hands of a giant robot. He would follow up with two more immensely popular titles, Unidentified Suburban Object, (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016) and The Boys in the Back Row, (Levine Querida, 2020).

So you can imagine his great surprise when he learned he had been selected to serve as a judge for the Young People’s Literature category for the 2024 National Book Awards. The two words that quickly came to mind? Flabbergasted and disbelieving!

“I didn't have the faintest idea I was even under consideration, so reading the email from the National Book Foundation was more than a bit surreal. I still haven't entirely wrapped my mind around it, to be honest,” Jung said in amazement. “I do feel confident describing it as the biggest honor of my professional life, if only because the National Book Awards are right up there at the apex of critical recognition for any writer in America.”

There is an air of humility in Jung’s voice as he described his selection, especially since he’s neither a best-selling author or a major award winner, a point he makes when adding that his profile as an author of children’s books is lower than many of the authors who have preceded him as judges. Still, he believes his writing stood out among the many authors considered for this prestigious honor.

“My entirely unscientific conclusion is that I was nominated partly because my writing is favorably viewed, but also (and possibly more so) because I myself am viewed as a meaningful voice of analysis, advocacy, and progress in the industry,” Jung explained. “That feels like maybe an overly generous shovelful of praise to dump all over myself, but I'm going with it.”

And while it is previous judges who nominate prospective judges, it is the National Book Foundation that makes the final decision.

“The email inviting me to be a judge was a total surprise. Nobody tells you you're being considered for the position, which is probably wise, given my and my friends' propensity to flip out while waiting on publishing news.”

Jung was mum about the elements he and other judges use to review potential winners – all the judges must remain silent on the process. 

“We're sworn to secrecy about the deliberations process, you know, it's all very cloak-and-dagger,” Jung notes. “Safeguarding the integrity of the judging process is rightfully a priority of the National Book Foundation. Books? What books?”

As for his own inspiration for writing books for children and young people, Jung says he was drawn by his love of books at an early age, particularly the years between eight and 12. 

“They, in many ways, were the most formative years of my life, for good and for ill. Books for children also align perfectly with my natural inclinations as a writer, because writing for kids requires a high degree of earnestness, vulnerability, and emotional expression. Those things are all right in my wheelhouse.”

Jung’s works have been recognized throughout the nation, including the Georgia Children’s Book Award, the Iowa Children’s Choice Awards, the Kansas NEA Reading Circle, the Oregon Battle of the Books, the Washington Library Association Book Awards, and the Texas Bluebonnet Awards, among many others. 

Jung said the prestige of the National Book Awards and their ability to shape writing is not lost on him.

“Participating in the selection of the National Book Award winners is thrilling, daunting, and more than a little nerve-racking, because the choices we make during this process absolutely will lift a select number of books and authors to a plane of critical standing, commercial viability, and historical longevity that's very difficult to otherwise attain,” Jung explained. “The opportunity to contribute to the ongoing development of the American literary canon in such an immense way is not something I take for granted, because how often do such opportunities arise in life? I'm enjoying it more than I know how to say.”

Learn more about the National Book Foundation and the National Book Award ↗

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