Author An Na, chair of this year’s panel of judges for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and a finalist for the 2001 award, told the audience at the 70th National Book Awards ceremony, “We’re all gathered here today because we believe in the transformative power of story and words.” Na explained that the Young People’s committee “has the fortunate but also daunting task of reading across all genres, from poetry to nonfiction, picture books to novels.” She thanked her fellow judges—Elana K. Arnold, Kristen Gilligan, Varian Johnson, and Deborah Taylor—for their work, saying, “It was an honor and privilege to serve with such a passionate, dedicated, and empathetic group.”

Introducing the “fabulous five” nominees, Na said, “Our distinguished finalists have written powerful books. And when these kinds of books are placed in the hands of young people, who are stepping forward more and more to play pivotal, essential roles in our changing political and social landscape, the very act of reading and writing becomes revolutionary.”

She then announced this year’s winner: Martin W. Sandler for 1919 The Year That Changed America (Bloomsbury), a narrative nonfiction exploration of the many watershed events that made up a pivotal year in history. In our review, PW called the book “an engrossing resource.”

Accepting his award, Sandler said, “After a lifetime of doing this, it is such an incredible honor.” The author acknowledged his four fellow finalists, saying, “As the elder statesman of that group, I am so confident of the future of young people’s literature, and I want to tell all of them how much I admire their work.”

Sandler then thanked the publishing team behind 1919, declaring, “No book is the result of the author itself, and I’ve had people at Bloomsbury who know that this book is as much theirs as it is mine, particularly [executive editor] Mary Kate Castellani and [senior editor] Susan Dobinick.”

He concluded by saying, “I’ve written 60 books, I intend to write at least 60 more, and I hope I’m back here again to celebrate it with you. Thank you so very much.”

Click here to see our photo essay from the evening.