In 1979, Dr. Janelle Paris, professor of Library Science at SHSU, identified a need for a children's choice book award that represented Texas and submitted a proposal that represented the joint effort of the Texas Library Association's (TxLA) Children's Round Table (CRT) and Texas Association of School Librarians (TASL). Prior to this effort, 21 states had previously established their own version of a state-based children's book award. With the support of TxLA and TASL, a planning committee of school and public librarians and one library educator began their work.
Though many children's book awards had existed prior to the Texas Bluebonnet Award - Newberry and Caldecott amongst them - few had focused on what children themselves choose to read. TBA was focused on changing that trend. The intent was and continues to be for Texas children in grades 3-5 to annually select a favorite book from a master list of 15-20 titles that included fiction and nonfiction published in the three years prior in the United States.
The first award was presented in the April of 1981 based on voting that January from a master list provided in March 1980, a practice that continues today. The reading list for the following year's award is released shortly after, providing librarians and teachers and their patrons ample time to read through the list in anticipation of the January vote.
The book that won the 1981 TBA? Beverly Cleary's Ramona and Her Father. 661 schools had registered to participate with students casting 28,742 votes, 3,679 for Ramona. By 2020, the 40th anniversary of TBA, the number of participating school and public libraries has ballooned to 1,115 with over 103,967 students casting votes.
Overall, the purpose of the award is "to encourage the children of Texas to explore and read with discrimination a variety of quality books; to recognize children's personal reading interests and selections; to honor those who create children's books of superior quality."