My daughter spent a good share of 2012 reading books for a special teen Printz book club. As fate would have it, my supervisor at Hedberg Public Library, Sharon Grover, was the Chair of the 2013 Michael L. Printz award committee. Early on, she knew she wanted a diverse number of teens reading along with her -- and discussing the titles. My daughter - an avid reader - at that time a sophomore - stepped up to the challenge. And it was, indeed, a challenge for her and all involved. She was asked to read books across the entire spectrum of Y.A. (some books waaaay out of her comfort zone) -- just like the real Printz committee does. For those who have ever entered a Y.A. section -- you know that there are books to appeal to almost any and every imaginable (and unimaginable) person from age 12 to 30. How on earth does one go from thousands of possibilities to ONE medalist ... well my daughter was about to find out over the course of more than a year ...
My daughter found herself reading everything from romance to historical fiction to sci fi/fantasy to contemporary light/contemporary heavy to non-fiction and more ... they really read themselves silly.
To Sharon's credit -- she taught those kids to look at books critically -- in a way very different than you do in most English classes. At first, my daughter baulked at this ... "Why does it need to be literary?" Answer - "This is an award looking at the very best that the YA world has to offer teen readers." "Oh." A few months later ... "I thought that book was a lot of fun, but it really wasn't all that well-written" and a few months later ... "that book had so many layers -- the voice, the point of view, even the setting connected back to the theme..." You can imagine the grin on my face listening to my daughter and her friends talk like this about LITERATURE ... YA LITERATURE.
Now, I have lurked on the YALSA Listserv over that past few days ... and I know of the arguments (some not so genteel) about the nature of not only the Printz - but the other awards - that they so often go to books that nobody wants to read.
Guess what. The teen Printz committee had a mock Printz about a week before the real award -- their winner was: IN DARKNESS by Nick Lake. I talked to my daughter and her friends about this, as I thought the award winner would be John Green - or Libba Bray - I'd seen my daughter toting around their books this year, and enjoying them ... but apparently IN DARKNESS won quickly by a wide-margin ballot (which the adults did not participate in .. the kids even picked the books they wanted to nominate). That speaks volumes (or at least should) to the critics of these awards.
Have you read: Why Some Teens Don't Read YA by Beth Kephart? You should ... it's an enlightening essay that, I think, speaks to what teens really have to say about what they like (and don't like) to read.
To the passionate YA librarians who seemed to think literary = boring ... I suggest you sit down with someone like Sharon Grover and do some serious reading and dissecting of the books in your collection. Take a wide sweep of every genre. You will find high-quality, literary works lurking EVERYWHERE ... I kid you not. You might find yourself enjoying the hard work of reading a book that is out of your comfort zone - or that you might even think is a bit complex for the teens ... or maybe not ... but please don't automatically discount the idea that teens are not willing/able to actually enjoy reading at a very high level when challenged to do so ... that's where the Printz comes in -- an award for the very best the YA Publishing world has to offer. Some years it's highly literary -- and other years it's high teen appeal -- and the best years -- it's both -- either way teen librarians gain some more quality titles to share with teens. Win-win. (Keep on doing what you're doing Teen Librarians! Our kids NEED you!!!!)
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And to close -- I really didn't think I'd end up writing a NF rhyming picture book text about the ocean this month ... but I have the thick reference books sitting next to me to prove it ... my favorite new ocean creature: Yeti Crab.
Happy January, folks.