For the first time in 55 years, the U.S. National Book Foundation has given its top award to an author of young people's literature.  The best-selling and sometimes controversial author of young people's books, Judy Blume has received an award for a lifetime of excellence in writing.

Judy Blume began writing young people's fiction in the 1970s.   Her books have sold more than 75 million copies and have been translated into more than 20 languages.

The chair of the National Book Foundation, Deborah Wiley, says her group decided to honor Ms. Blume with its Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Medal because of the far-reaching impact she has had on American culture.

"You can turn to your neighbor tonight and, if she is under 55, Judy Blume was one of her best friends from the ages of nine to 15," she said.  "If she is over 55, Judy Blume was her daughter's best friend in those years.  Few writers in America have had such an enormous impact in encouraging children to be children, and adolescents to be adolescents, and inspiring them to develop in their own ways, in their own time, in accordance with their own dreams."

At the National Book Foundation's annual awards ceremony, 11-year-old Abby Boyle read from one of Ms. Blume's most popular books, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

 "We moved on the Tuesday before Labor Day.  I knew what the weather was like the second I got up.  I knew because I caught my mother sniffing under her arms.  She always does that when it is hot and humid, to make sure her deodorant is working I do not use deodorant yet.  I do not think people start to smell bad until they are at least 12.  So I have still got a few months to go," Abby read aloud. 

Ms. Blume's willingness to write about topics that adolescents are curious about has drawn countless young girls and boys to her books.  But her sexual frankness has also angered groups and individuals who see her writing as too explicit for young people, and who have attempted to prevent many of her books from being used in school and offered by public libraries.  According to the American Library Association, Ms. Blume is the second-most frequently banned author of the past 15 years.

Speaking to an audience of booksellers, authors and literary agents, Ms. Blume struck back at those who have tried to censor her.

"I never dreamed my books would become a target of the censors," said Ms. Blume.  "I mean, this is America, right? Aren't we supposed to celebrate our intellectual freedom? That's what my parents taught me.  That is what I learned in civics class in the 6th grade."

Ms. Blume recently compiled a short story collection called Places I Never Meant To Be, which features original works by writers of young adult literature, pieces that have been banned elsewhere by censors.

Each year, the National Book Foundation awards $10,000 prizes to the authors of what it calls the best books of the year in fiction, non-fiction, poetry and young people's literature.

The foundation chose novelist Peter Hautman for the young people's literature award.  His book, Godless, is about a teenage boy who invents a new religion in his hometown.

"Those of us who write for young people do a lot of what I call 'memory work,'" he explained.  "Trying to remember what mattered to us back then, why it mattered, and by what strange logics and emotions we did the peculiar things that we did.  But mostly what I remember, going back, is what it was like for me to read, what it was like for me to open a book and pour myself into it, to immerse myself in a fictional universe.  I would give anything if I could be 14 years old again, reading Lord of the Rings.  Reading is powerful magic at that age."

Author Kevin Boyle won the non-fiction award for his book, Arc of Justice, a Detroit-based saga of murder and civil rights in the 1920s, beating the 9/11 Commission Report, which had also been nominated in the non-fiction category and details the investigation into the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The fiction award went to novelist Lily Tuck for her 19th-century love story, The News from Paraguay, and poet Jean Valentine won for her anthology, Door in the Mountain.