Friday, February 1, 2013

2013 Printz Award Committee Experience

Those ladies below were in constant contact with me over the past year. Why? Because we served on the 2013 Printz Award Committee for the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association.
Back row: Sharon Rawlins, Francisca Goldsmith, me, Krista McKenzie, Sarah Bean -Thompson, Assitant Laurie Bartz
Front row: Meghan Cirrito, Louise Brueggemann, Chair Sharon Grover
Not Pictured: Lexi Henshel , Booklist Consultant Dan Kraus

This committee has been a dream of mine since I learned about it back in library school at its creation in 2002. What? An award given to the best darn books in young adult literature? Let me at it!  

I've been reading young adult books since I was a young adult. In the late 1980's, I was lucky to see a shelf of teen titles at the Waldenbooks in my local mall, but at least I had a mother who bought "good" young adult books for her high school library. So even though my high school library was full of Michener and adult historical romances, I was able to get my hands on the good stuff. 

So, what's the purpose of the Printz and why was I so excited to be selected to serve on the committee? Because it's the top committee of YALSA's book awards--it's the Newbery of middle grade lit and the Caldecott of picture books. It's the one that people will be talking about--adults and young adults. It's an award that causes a book like The White Bicycle to jump from #896,262 on the Amazon sales list before the awards ceremony to #1,471 on the day after the ceremony. This award is important to school libraries and public libraries--it guides our purchasing and helps us shape our collection. Sure, we have the "popular" books like vampire romances and sports biographies, but this award assures us that we have books for our teen (and adult) readers who love a challenge. 

In this year's case, readers of In Darkness will be horrified at the brutal setting of the slums of Haiti, but incredibly moved by the gifted intertwining of historical fiction and contemporary ghetto. Honor winner The White Bicycle is a sweet tale of a 19-year-old with Asperger's Syndrome trying to become more independent. The simple narrative is more complicated than you may think on first read. Code Name Verity needs no introduction--it's a kick-ass World War II spine-tingler with female spies, friendship, and an ending that will make you cry. Dodger is a Dickensian tale of a street rat turned hero--think Aladdin without the Disney.    Aristotle and Dante Discover the Meaning of the Universe is a poetic tale of self-discovery for two Hispanic teens. This book is so awesome that it also won the Stonewall Book Award and the Pura Belpre Award

The Printz committee members aren't allowed to discuss what other books we looked at or what led us to create the list described above.  The paragraph above doesn't explain why the books won the award--it's just my descriptions of the books.   This year I read hundreds of books and hundreds of parts of books. For the first time since college, I read a novel with a critical eye--noting passages, quotes, and questions that I had as reading. I read books and re-read books. It was a lot of work, but so, so worth it. I feel like I'm going to have a difficult time turning off the "Printz critical eye" as I go back to just reading adult and young adult books for fun.  

There's been a lot of discussion this year about whether Printz should have teen appeal as a factor in its charge.  The word "popular isn't listed in the charge, but the term "literary merit" is.  That, my friends, is the whole purpose of the Printz Award.  There are plenty of other lists out there like Best Fiction for YAs, Popular Paperbacks for YA, etc., that help people find good, popular books for teens.  But the Printz is one-of-a-kind. You might not love some of the Printz books, but, if you read them, you'll have plenty to discuss with other readers. And that's the whole point.  These books should make you feel, think, dream, want--and that's why I'll always read quality young adult literature.  

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