Winners for the 2020 Outstanding Works of Literature (OWL) Award Announced

Introducing the top fifteen books of 2020!

At BookPal, we believe in the power of books to ignite continuous learning and growth. Three years ago, we created the Outstanding Works of Literature (OWL) Awards to recognize books that do just that.

Every year, it is our pleasure and honor to announce the winners in each category—and this year is no exception. In our fourth year of the OWL Awards, we’ve continued to reflect the various trends within the three most popular overarching themes among our clients: Business, Education, and Miscellaneous.

The result is fifteen categories, for which we had several hundred submissions. After narrowing the submissions down to a longlist of 5 per category, then a shortlist of 3 per category, our editorial team has selected the top title in each category. We invite you to take a deeper look at each award-winning title for your 2021 planning and consideration:


Big Idea

The Future is Faster Than You Think
The Future is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives by Peter H. Diamandis & Steven Kotler

Technology is moving far more quickly than anyone could have predicted. Where will we be in a decade?  Authors Diamandis and Kotler discuss and present how wave after wave of exponentially accelerating technologies will impact both our daily lives and society as a whole. Diamandis, a space-entrepreneur-turned-innovation-pioneer, and Kotler, bestselling author and peak performance expert, probe the science of technological convergence and how it will reinvent every part of our lives—transportation, retail, advertising, education, health, entertainment, food, and finance—taking humanity into uncharted territories and reimagining the world as we know it.

“For anyone remotely interested in what the future of technology holds, this book is for you. The authors present logical and well-thought-out arguments for technological advances in a variety of fields. Business leaders and entrepreneurs will want to keep this as a reference for ushering their companies to the future.”



Leading with Gratitude
Leading with Gratitude: Eight Leadership Practices for Extraordinary Business Results 
by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton

In this evergreen book and topic, we are reminded of just how important it is to show and lead with gratitude. Especially in 2020, we have seen how gratitude helps to alleviate any tensions at work and at home, and how it transforms the culture of our workplace. By showing gratitude to all of those in our lives (on our team and at home), we are leading in an exemplary way for all around us and creating a practice that benefits our collective mental health and well being.

“A good read to expand on during 2020. Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick present the most applicable approach to leading in the global marketplace of ideas: with gratitude always at the forefront and at all levels. It’s now more important than ever for the tips, principles, and suggestions they present (not to mention the real-life cases and stories from leaders all over the world!) to be taken into account for leaders at all levels, and in all industries and organizations. Would highly recommend it to any leader or team member in an organization or family (a must-read for everyone!).”


Management & Culture

The Leader's Guide to Unconscious Bias
The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias: How to Reframe Bias, Cultivate Connection, and Create High-Performing Teams by Pamela Fuller, Mark Murphy, & Anne Chow

This book will help you take action in empowering ways that will transform the culture of your workplace.  By identifying the biases of your leaders (and of everyone, for that matter), one can begin to understand and identify which biases have resulted (or will result) in harm to the team or organization. This book is a call to arms with actionable steps to improve, understand, and acknowledge how to grow and evolve one’s mindset so that the organization builds a more inclusive culture for all.

“This is a thoroughly important book for leaders and readers of all stages in business. Unconscious bias is something we all have to contend with and something we should all be aware of, especially if you’re in HR or a leader or manager within an organization. Examples such as pregnancy bias or bias towards someone who would get a bigger raise than you ever got as a manager are everywhere you look in our current lives and workplaces, and the first step is awareness. This book will be important for years to come and will be a resource that many people will come to value, read, refer back to, and assign to others in their organizations. Superb, thorough work!”


Sales & Marketing

The Forever Transaction
The Forever Transaction: How to Build a Subscription Model So Compelling, Your Customers Will Never Want to Leave 
by Robbie Kellman Baxter

Developing and cultivating strong, robust, and long-term customer relationships has never been more important. How do you create brand ambassadors and customers who rave about your company or brand?  How do you create your tribe—like those customers who love Spotify, Nike, LinkedIn, or Target? For one, you start to consider the long-term benefits of subscription-based products and services, even if it means radical changes to your existing business model. Allow Robbie Kellman Baxter to show you how!

“When I first started reading this book, I didn’t think it would be something I would be interested in, but the author did a great job explaining how membership and subscription-based works. She also provides examples of how a company that doesn’t have recurring revenue can transform into one that does. Any company looking to build a strong long-lasting relationship with their clients should read this book.”


Women in Business

Unapologetically Ambitious
Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers, and Create Success on Your Own Terms by Shellye Archambeau

Shellye’s pioneering, personable style of writing presents her story as one of the first African American female CEOs in Silicon Valley. Her ambition is prevalent from a young age and one cannot help but glean inspiration from her in every chapter. She conquered and shattered ceilings and walls around and in front of her at every level to accomplish her goals both professionally and personally. No challenge is too great for Shellye, and not only does she seek out the advice of others who’ve gone before her, but she has an incredible ability to make time for and mentor others on her way. This is a book that will inspire every woman in business to seek out and plan for the life and career she endeavors to have.

“An incredibly written book! Shellye’s story is very inspiring. The risks she took, the challenges she faced (in male-dominated teams and environments), and the sacrifices she made in both her professional and personal life are nothing short of amazing. She is authentic, honest, genuine, and forthcoming with strategic, actionable advice for women of all stages of life.”


Picture Books

I Am Every Good Thing
I Am Every Good Thing 
by Derrick Barnes & Gordon C. James

The confident Black narrator of this book is proud of everything that makes him who he is. He’s got big plans, and no doubt he’ll see them through. He is creative, adventurous, smart, funny, and a good friend. Sometimes he falls, but he always gets back up. Other times he’s afraid because he’s so often misunderstood and called what he is not. So slow down and really look and listen, when somebody tells you—and shows you—who they are. Timeless and important, this book will help educate children and adults alike about acknowledging the beauty of everyone around you and about empowering and lifting voices who may have in past been wrongly overshadowed.

“This book is exactly what kids need to read today. A celebration of self-affirmation that will empower any reader, especially young Black boys. The beautiful and vibrant illustrations add to the rhythmic text to create a memorable read-aloud book.”



Tune It Out
Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner

From the author of the acclaimed Roll with It comes a moving novel about a girl with a sensory processing disorder who has to find her own voice after her whole world turns upside down. With help from an outgoing new friend, her aunt and uncle, and the school counselor, she begins to see things differently. Soon, she learns that a sensory processing disorder isn’t something to be ashamed of, and music might just be the thing to save her.

“I really enjoyed this book. I liked seeing a main character with a disability not usually depicted in kids’ literature. It made the challenges she faced and overcame that much more poignant. I feel that many readers will see aspects of themselves in Lou, or at least develop empathy for others.”


Middle School

When Stars are Scattered
When Stars Are Scattered 
by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed

Hope and heartbreak coexist in this incredible, thoughtful, and moving graphic novel about growing up in a refugee camp, as told by a Somali refugee, Omar Mohamed (who lived the story) to the Newbery Honor-winning creator of Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson.

“This book is beautiful! I cried many times as it touched and moved me in many ways. I think every kid needs to read more books about social inequality. It is beautifully written and makes the reader appreciate where they were born and how fortunate they are to be born in America. The graphics were very creative and well-illustrated. It’s a sad story with a wonderful ending. Very moving and touches on so many important issues not discussed in school.”


High School

We are Not Free
We Are Not Free 
by Traci Chee

From New York Times best-selling and acclaimed author Traci Chee comes We Are Not Free, the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II. This book centers on fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco, who become a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted. Their lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps. Paralleling the world of today that still brings hate on certain groups of people, this book examines the hate brought on the Japanese—highlighting the young Nisei and how they must rally together as racism and injustice strive to pull them apart.

“This book was incredible. This topic is not usually talked about in YA novels, and it needs to be talked about more! You could tell the author put time and care into researching and making sure this story was historically accurate as well as accessible to readers. She did a great job giving each character and their chapter a unique voice. Their relationships with one another were well developed and really brings the reader into the story. Overall, a fantastic, timely, and relevant book which I will recommend to anyone.”


Advanced Reading

Transcendent Kingdom
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi’s stunning follow-up to her acclaimed national bestseller Homegoing is a powerful, raw, intimate, deeply layered novel about a Ghanaian family in Alabama. Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief—a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Exquisitely written, emotionally searing, this is an exceptionally powerful follow-up to Gyasi’s phenomenal debut.

“Yaa Gyasi has such a beautiful way with words. While this book deals with some incredibly hard-hitting topics, I truly felt the emotion in her words and found a sense of beauty in how she portrays the characters and the scenes.  She beautifully and subtly shows the damage an absent father and a depressed mother can inflict on their children while also letting us know the pain felt by African Americans in a deeply racist region. She reminds readers that our brokenness is beautiful and that we are all just humans working towards something better. This novel is a masterpiece and deserves nothing but praise!”


Health & Wellness

Think Like a Monk
Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day by Jay Shetty

Jay’s life and story presented in Think Like a Monk combine the ancient wisdom of the Monks with his own experience at an ashram—providing a unique reference for all of us on how to break patterns of negative thoughts and tap into the inner peace within all of us. A gifted storyteller, he weaves personal examples of his own growth and thinking as well as how this wisdom can impact your life from day one of implementing the principles discussed in his book.

“This really blew my mind with how simple changes in your thinking and approach can really change you for the better. It is highly readable (seriously a page-turner!) with many tips and advice that are easily applicable to everyday life. I recommend this book for anyone looking for personal growth with tips from a modern-day monk.”


Gift & Special Interest

The 99% Invisible City
The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design 
by Roman Mars & Kurt Kohlstedt

A guidebook to the unnoticed yet essential elements of our cities, from the creators of the 99% Invisible podcast, this book reveals stories baked into the buildings we inhabit, the streets we drive, and the sidewalks we traverse. Roman Mars and co-author Kurt Kohlstedt zoom in on the various elements that make our cities work, exploring the origins and other fascinating stories behind everything from power grids and fire escapes to drinking fountains and street signs.

“This book is simple yet entertaining. It’s easy to pick up and read and is a great starting point for those curious about city design (or those who are generally curious about how the things around us work). It touches on a wide array of topics such as politics, culture, society, evolution, environmentalism, and more. This, coupled with the beautiful packaging, makes it an excellent gift book. I would proudly display it on my shelf and can see myself re-reading and sharing it with others.”



We are Called to Be a Movement
We Are Called to Be a Movement by William J. Barber

The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II of the Poor People’s Campaign delivers an impassioned and inspiring sermon calling for a moral revival to save the heart and soul of America. This rousing call to action encourages communities to come together and renounce the politics of rejection, division, and greed while lifting up the common good, moving up to higher ground, and reviving the heart of democracy.

“With all the turmoil in the world today, this book is a great reminder of the power we have to enact change. Reverend Barber writes in a clear and impactful way that is sure to inspire all who read his words.”


Politics & Current Events

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings. Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more.

Caste is nothing short of incredible and a must-read for everyone. Wilkerson expertly presents and crafts her arguments, which are all richly and deeply researched. The realities of our lifetime are the culmination of hundreds of years of people creating and adhering to a caste system that should never have been. Until we recognize and admit our past and current wrongs, we will never be able to heal. This is a book that will stay on my bookshelf forever and a book that I will continually come back to for further reading, reflection, and growth.”


Biography & Memoir

by Glennon Doyle

Both a memoir and a call to action, Glennon Doyle is back with another inspiring and soulful book about her life. Only this time, it’s all about how she started to become untamed by avoiding the constant desire to please others and to start living for the only person who truly matters: one’s self. You must honor your own inner voice and self in order to begin living authentically, and this book will show you how to do it courageously and sincerely.

“I truly love this book. The authenticity with which Glennon Doyle writes is stunning, appalling, and gratifying. She does not shy away from difficult topics (alcoholism, bulimia) and she bravely bares her soul in every piece. This essay-style memoir is the third installment of her memoirs, and it is by far the best in my opinion. It is her commitment to authenticity and honesty that draws me in to each of her books. The world doesn’t have enough honesty and truth and to see a woman unabashedly go after what makes her feel happy and whole is a great thing.”


Congratulations to all the longlist, shortlist, and category winners of this year’s OWL Awards! BookPal would like to extend a special thanks to all publishers and authors who submitted their titles. We appreciated all of them, and look forward to the inspiring and groundbreaking titles to come in 2021!


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This post was written by Karlyn Hixson, Director of Strategic Partnerships & Editorial at BookPal.  She is currently reading Everything Inside: Stories by Edwidge Danticat.

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