For most of us, that phrase – award season – conjures images of red carpet glamour, of overlong speeches getting cut off by music, of the ubiquitous predictions and speculation sucking away all of the surprise on award’s night, of Joan Rivers passing judgment on the fashion sense of starlets.
And while, yes, I watched the Fashion Police on E! the day after the Grammy’s and I’ll be right there on my Mom’s couch this coming Sunday at our annual Oscar party, I’d like to take the time to acknowledge a different kind of award season that I love, regardless of its lack of red carpet.
I refer to the annual announcement of the American Library Association’s literary awards and “best of” lists for childrens’ and young adult fiction!
You may remember the Caldecott and Newbery Medals from your days as an elementary student. I know I still recall reading Newbery Medal winners like Shiloh, Maniac Magee, Number the Stars and the Giver when I was but a lass – they remain some of the most memorable books I have ever read and certainly helped forge my identity as a reader.
And Caldecott Medal books – well, as an elementary school librarian, I run a ridiculous two month long Caldecott unit in which I force my first graders to look at, rate and eventually vote for the best of the best gold medal Caldecott books. I’m in the middle of it right now and it is possibly my favorite time of the school year. The kids like it too, I guess.
(Last year’s winner, you are asking? The ever-so-awesome So, You Want to be President? illustrated by David Small – I think the caricature of a nude William Howard Taft being lowered by crane into the White House bathtub really clinched it with the 7 year old boys!)
Despite my everlasting love and excitement for Newbery and Caldecott, my heart’s true passion is young adult literature and in January I get very excited for the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.
Seriously, just saying it gives me goosebumps!
Each year ALA branch YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) generates three lists that I particularly look forward to: The Printz Award winner and nominees, the Top Ten Best Fiction (formerly Books) for Young Adults and the Best Fiction (formerly Books) for Young Adults.
During the months of January, February and March I find myself positively drowning in high quality young adult novels culled from these lists. My library requests list swells to the double digits and I find myself struggling to find a place to store all my library books when they finally come in.
It manages to keep me super-busy and yet I barely even read all the books on the lists – probably not even by half, actually. The Best Fiction list is long and frankly, I find that I often disagree with the choices.
This year for example, two of my favorite young adult novels – Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins and Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins – failed to even earn places on the super-long Best Fiction list. Plus five years ago, a certain vampire romance made it onto the TOP TEN list so…yeah.
Not an infallible guide, these lists.
While I quite enjoyed this year’s Printz gold medal winner – Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi – and can support its win, the only runner-up I have thus far read was Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King and I thought it was stupid. Yeah, that’s right Printz committee – stupid.
Plus, YA literature celebrants tend to pick books that sound soul suckingly depressing in their one to two sentence descriptions. Like I get that the teen condition is largely about angst but does every award winning book have to be so heavy?
This year’s Printz books are about: a post-apocalyptic dystopia, a girl who is drugged and abducted, a teen who finds his father’s corpse, a girl whose dead best friend is haunting her, and a nihilist who causes his classmates to “search for life’s meaning” in a “bold, unsettling tale”.
Cheer it up a bit, Printz committe!!
This is why I surf all three lists for books that sound like my speed.
It is how I ended up with Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson : a summer road trip drama-comedy-romance that I got from the library last week. It was exactly what I needed to perk up a gray and dismal February. I mean, sure the main character recently had recently killed her father in a car crash, and her brother was in rehab – but it definitely was cheerful-ish I swear!
(I have a whole big stack of ALA notable books still to get through, but out of them all Amy and Roger sounded the least depressing of the bunch…but then, I have way more list to get through as well…)
Now- each year the committee consists of different voters (and only a handful at that), and obviously the selection pool of books is different, so not every years’ top award winners are super-bleak.
Not every years’ top award winners are super-good, either.
You just have to hit the Printz awards at the right year if you are looking to the list as an intro into the world of young adult fiction.
For example, you could completely skip over 2008. Seriously – BLERGH. Worst year ever, and unfortunately the only year I had the pleasure of attending the awards ceremony in person. While I did get to stalk my favorite YA writers who were all in attendance, I had to sit through speeches by authors I did not care about discussing books I hadn’t really liked.
Head instead to 2007 or 2009 – holy crap are those both good years! I can personally attest to the high quality of 4 out of 5 books honored in each year.
Those were great years for young adult literature: all M.T. Anderson and John Green and Marcus Zusak and Terry Pratchett and other really just solid authors writing solid books. If you are thinking that you would like to try reading some young adult books but aren’t sure where to start, start in 2007 or 2009.
Regardless of the hit-or-miss alignment of ALA award winners with my personal tastes, I love YA book award season for no other reason that it gives me tons of titles to consider. Even when I find myself disagreeing with a lot of the selections, I am sure to find a few books that remind me just how much I love young adult literature.
Every year, I somehow manage to forget that the book awards are coming. This is how I end up miserable at the end of January, lamenting the fact that I have nothing read/watch/do that could possibly offer me any entertainment/purpose/joy.
At least until I get my email notification from ALA, or I notice the ALA AWARD WINNERS banner across the top of website where I shop for books for my job, that is.
Then I get busy reading.
And let me tell you – there is entertainment and there is purpose and you bet there is joy.