Awards. They are given everywhere for everything: for reading the most pages in schools, for running the fastest mile, for sitting on a flagpole, for volunteering for a charitable organization, to the notable movies and TV programs of the year.

Awards are also presented to writers and illustrators of children's and young adult books. Medals are awarded for the best fiction and picture books and to authors who have distinguished works. These are usually selected by adult panels based on criteria judging literary merit and outstanding quality.Other awards are named by the readers, themselves. The Utah Children's Book Award (like similar popularity contests in many other states) is given annually, selected by school-age children who read and choose favorites from among a list of nominees.

"Children's Choices," co-sponsored by the International Reading Association and the Children's Book Council, lists titles that elementary and middle school students from across the United States select from examining new books.

Awards for outstanding authors and illustrators are selected in foreign countries by panels of book council or library association members.

Recently, Ira Aaron and Sylvia Hutchinson, of the University of Georgia's reading education department, reviewed award-winning books from five English-speaking countries to find similarities and differences among the books selected as "best."

Their research included prizes given during the past seven years for fiction and picture books in Australia (Book of the Year Award and Picture Book of the Year), Canada (Canada Library Association Award and Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Medal), Great Britain (Carnegie Medal and Kate Greenaway Medal), New Zealand (Esther Glen Award and Russell Clark Award) and the United States (John Newbery Medal and Randolph Caldecott Medal).

Aaron and Hutchinson made some interesting findings.

The publishing business in each country is quite unique, they discovered. While New Zealand publishes fewer than 100 titles each year, Great Britain and the United States publish several thousand each. These two countries also reproduce many titles from other countries, while Canada republishes no titles from the other four. Canada also gives nearly equal treatment to French-language books in determining its medal- and award-winners.

Fantasy was the genre most often used in award-winning books from all of the countries. More than half of the books of fiction and three-fourths of the illustrated or picture books were classified as fantasy. This type of book included high fantasy, with time warps, witches and child-tried magic.

Most of the novels, regardless of country, were set in the country in which the book originated. This setting was an integral part of the plot and action of the books. Award-winning books in Australia and the United States were more often set in the past than in the present.

The setting for the picture book award winners was equally divided between the past and present, and the geographical location was not an important part of the story.

While themes were diverse in both fiction and picture books, the "mischievous young character" was dominant. Sometimes these main protagonists border on the naughty, certainly exhibiting self-willed characteristics that would appeal to the younger reader.

Protagonists in the novels and picture books were predominantly male, about five out of seven, and those were about equally divided between child and adult characters. In picture books the roles were held by or shared with animals as often as with humans.

The audience of the award-winning fiction was for 10-year-olds and up. The picture books were for children of all ages, even some designated as appropriate for adults.

Even though award-winning titles are given much attention with special promotion of the books and the author/illustrators, they are are not necessarily best sellers or children's favorites. At least some of the books in the past five years are no longer in print (this is not the case with those printed in the United States), and fewer than five of the books are listed as "Children's Choices" during the years 1982-1988.

Regardless of the stereotypes that still persist (for example, the inordinate number of male characters), the awards are a popular part of the book industry in the United States.

Some panels have designated medals to break the bounds of the narrowest of conventions. One such award is the Coretta Scott King Medal, awarded for outstanding text and imaginative illustrations for children by a black author and illustrator. The 1989 winner of that award for a novel was Walter Dean Hughes for "Fallen Angels" (Scholastic) and, for illustration, Jerry Pinkney's "Mirandy and the Brother Wind" (Knopf).

To promote understanding of other cultures and countries through their literature, the Mildred L. Batchelder Award is given for an outstanding translation published for children. The 1989 Batchelder Award went to Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books for "Crutches" by Peter Harling, translated by Elizabeth D. Crawford.

Another top award announced recently was the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for a "distinguished and enduring contribution to children's literature," which went to Elizabeth George Speare, who is well known for her realistic fiction based on historical happenings in the United States.

Annually, organizations name award-winning lists of books. The American Library Association lists "Honor Books," the National Council of Teachers of English creates "Choice" lists, and social education and science education organizations select titles that meet their criteria for using literature in curricula.

Periodicals and newspapers also publish "best" lists. The New York Times names an annual list of "Best Illustrated Books." The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award has recently named winners that "reflect both the cultural diversity of the United States and the growing importance of children's literature from around the world." The 1988 winners, which feature the black experience, are "The Friendship" by Mildred Taylor, illustrated by Max Ginsburg (Dial), and Virginia Hamilton's "Anthony Burns: The Defeat and Triumph of a Fugitive Slave" (Knopf).

The award-winning picture book was "The Boy of the Three-Year Nap," a Japanese tale written by Dianne Synder, illustrated by Allen Say (Houghton-Mifflin).

Honor awards were given to "Granny Was a Buffer Girl," by Berlie Doherty (Orchard), which also won the Carnegie Medal in Great Britain, and "Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices," by Paul Fleischman (Harper Row), winner of the Newbery Award. "Memory," by Margaret Mahy (Margaret McElderberry Books), an Australian author and artist, was also honored, as was "Where the Forest Meets the Sea," written and illustrated by another Australian, Jeannie Baker (Greenwillow Books). Other parts of the world were reflected in the awards through "African Journey," written by John Chiasson (Bradbury), "Little by Little: A Writer's Education," by Jean Little (Viking Kestrel), and "Stringbean's Trip to the Shining Sea," by Vera B. Williams (Greenwillow).

Internationally many prizes are awarded, with nominees coming from all countries. One of the best-known is the Hans Christian Andersen Award given biennially to an author and an illustrator by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Annie Schmidt of the Netherlands was the honored author for 1988, while Dusan Kalley from Czechoslovakia was the winning illustrator.

-Marilou Sorensen is an associate professor of education at the University of Utah specializing in children's literature.