Tag Archives: Printz Award

Language, maturity, and awards

Michael L. Printz Award.At Midwest Writers Workshop last year, I got into a conversation with several authors about language and awards lists in YA fiction. One author shared her story of how she decided to remove the eight swear words she’d included in her book after a discussion with her editor, because she worried those words would make her ineligible for some awards lists. This got me thinking a lot about language, maturity, and awards in YA.

As a librarian, I’m very familiar with requests for “clean” reads, a term I strongly dislike, because everyone defines “clean” differently. For some it means no sex, but swearing is okay. For others, “clean” means anything beyond a couple holding hands is out. But no matter what “clean” means to the reader (or more often, the reader’s parent/guardian), it’s clear that there’s a demand for tamer books without strong language. But does having a few f-bombs or a sex scene that doesn’t fade to black mean a book isn’t well-written or worthy of recognition? In my opinion, no. Different books are right for different readers, but being more mature doesn’t detract from a book’s quality — or it’s “rightness” for a set of readers, albeit a different set than those asking for “clean” reads.

I haven’t studied local or state-level lists, but looking at the 2016 Printz Award and the BFYA (Best Fiction for Young Adults), both issued by YALSA, I’m pleased to see that mature content hasn’t kept great books from being recognized. Interestingly, I don’t recall any swearing in Printz Honor book Out of Darkness, though I would never give it to a reader looking for something “clean.” This is a brilliant book, but very mature — without giving too much away, I’ll just say that there’s racism, violence, and sexual assault. And other dark reads like Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not made the BFYA list. I read this book a while ago, and I don’t remember if it has any swearing, but there is other language that some readers could find offensive (such as the characters’ constant disclaimer, “No homo.”)

As a writer, I set out to tell my story as best I can, regardless of language or maturity. I don’t write things for the sake of writing them, but if a situation warrants a swear word, and my character is the kind of person who would swear in that situation, then I’ll have that character swear. I imagine this means I’ll have some tough conversations and soul searching when I start working with an editor. But seeing more mature content in some of the big award winners gives me hope that I can find a way to stay true to my story and still have a shot at those awards.

What are your thoughts on content and awards? Do you censor yourself in hopes that you’ll reach a wider audience?


Youth Media Awards 2016

yma-logo-white-467In my head, I was going to post a poignant reflection on the Youth Media Awards​, announced yesterday morning. But hours later, I’m still struggling to come up with something. Do I celebrate one of my favorite books winning the Morris Award? Brag that back in June, when I first read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I said it should get the Morris? Do I lament that despite all the attention it received before yesterday, I kept pushing Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap down on my to-read list? (That and Out of Darkness are up next now, because the Printz is the award I would most want to win as a writer, and I like to study the masters.) Do I share the story about the one time I met Margaret E. Edwards Award winner David Levithan and could not form a coherent sentence? (Normally I’m more composed. I blame high blood sugar — it was Pi Day. And of course as soon as I walked away I thought of all the questions I wanted to ask him about Two Boys Kissing.)

I don’t have any earth-shattering thoughts or conclusions this year. All I have is a lineup of new reads and listens, a host of authors, illustrators, and voice artists to congratulate, and a slight buzz from watching the webcast of a room full of youth librarians celebrating great stories.

If you want to learn more about the YMAs, or see a list of this year’s winners, check out the press release.

Youth Media Awards 2015

Some people get excited about the Oscars, or the Grammys, or the Tonys. Sports fans may look forward to the Super Bowl, the World Cup, or March Madness. For me, it’s all about the book awards, and my favorites are the YMAs.

For me, a few of the highlights from this year’s Youth Media Awards include: a graphic novel winning a Printz Honor, one of my favorite books winning the Printz Award, and a book on my to-read list that won both a Printz Honor and a Morris Honor. (Can you tell I’m a little obsessed with the Printz Award?) For those unfamiliar with these prizes, the Michael L. Printz Award “honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit,” and the William C. Morris YA Debut Award “honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.” As a YA reader and writer, I pay close attention to these winners for great prose and authors to look out for in the future. If I’m ever unsure what to read next (Ha!), I look to the YMA winners.

This One Summer. I’ll admit, I haven’t read Printz Honor winner This One Summer yet, but I’m thrilled that the honor went to a graphic novel. While I’m not a big reader of graphic novels, I think they too often get a bad rap as being considered “lesser” works. I find this incredibly frustrating, because there are so many stories that can be told so much better with pictures, and I’ve read graphic novels that I think have incredible literary and artistic merit. A recent (and admittedly not the best) example from my own reading is Shawn David Hutchinson’s The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley. Yes, this is a novel, but there are pages of the Patient F comic Andrew draws throughout the book, and those comics do a lot to enhance the story of both Patient F and Andrew Brawley. The images are powerful, and do so much more for the story than a prose description of them would. When people — especially parents of reluctant readers who enjoy graphic novels — look down on the format, they’re doing a disservice to the artists, authors, and readers of these works. So when a graphic novel wins a Printz Honor, even though it’s not my format of choice, I celebrate.

I'll Give You the Sun. The second happy moment for me was seeing Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun win the Printz Award. For me, this was one of those books that I picked up almost on a whim. I’d heard good things about it, but it wasn’t at the top of my to-read list. But the audiobook was checked in when I needed a new one, so I picked it up. And I was completely blown away. The prose is absolutely gorgeous, and the characters have some of the most authentic, well-developed voices I’ve ever read. And the plotting, wow. Seriously, I couldn’t wait to get in my car and listed to more of this book just to spend a few more minutes in Noah’s head. The way he views the world is fascinating. When one of my favorite books wins my favorite award, it makes my whole week.

The Carnival at Bray. Finally, the yesterday’s YMAs ensured that an author who was already on my radar jumped up my to-read list. I’ve been planning to read Jessie Ann Foley’s The Carnival at Bray because it was nominated for a Morris Award, and because our new teen librarian mentioned possibly inviting her to speak here next year. Now that The Carnival at Bray won a Printz Honor, this book is going from the “maybe I’ll read this someday” section of my to-read list to “definitely check this out.” Plus, it’s set in Ireland, and I don’t read nearly enough books set in Ireland.

So, those are my highlights from the YMAs. What are your thoughts on the winners? Any that surprised you? Any books you wish had won that didn’t? Please share in the comments!

For a full list of the Youth Media Award winners, check out YALSA’s book blog, The Hub.

Youth Media Awards

Being an avid reader and writer of YA fiction, I get really excited about the announcement of the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards. It’s actually a bigger deal to me than the Academy Awards, Emmys, Oscars, Grammys, and just about any other awards ceremony you can think of.

I love the awards not only because of the contagious anticipation felt by librarians across the country (#alayma was trending for a few hours on Twitter last Monday), but also because it alerts me to books and authors that may not have been on my radar. And, the awards give me great recommendations in multiple formats. Want an audiobook? Check out an Odyssey winner. Graphic novel? Try one of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens — the list includes both fiction and nonfiction titles. (Okay, a spot on the list isn’t an official award, but it’s still a nod of approval, and I trust it for reader’s advisory.)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the awards, here’s the rundown on my favorites. These are just the ones given by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), but you can find the whole list of awards and their winners on ALA’s website.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods. Alex Awards

These go to the ten best adult books that will appeal to a teen audience. (Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, the amazing audiobook I just finished and highly recommend, won this in 2012. Apparently even the adult books I read are teen books in disguise.)

2014 Winners:

  • Brewster by Mark Slouka
  • The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
  • Golden Boy: A Novel by Abigail Tarttelin
  • Help for the Haunted by John Searles
  • Lexicon: A Novel by Max Barry
  • Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
  • Mother, Mother: A Novel by Koren Zailckas
  • Relish by Lucy Knisley
  • The Sea of Tranquility: A Novel by Katja Millay
  • The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

Edwards Award

This award honors an author for his or her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.” This year the Edwards went to Markus Zusak for The Book ThiefFighting Ruben WolfeGetting the Girl, and I Am the Messenger.

Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature

Midwinterblood. This is awarded to “the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit, each year.” Popular past winners include John Green’s Looking for Alaska and Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker. My biggest secret (well, not so secret anymore) ambition is to write a Printz winner.

The 2014 Printz Award went to Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick. 2014 Printz Honor books include Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell; Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal; Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, illustrated by Julian Crouch; and Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool.

Nonfiction Award

The Nazi Hunters.This is a YALSA award rather than a Youth Media Award, but I thought I’d include it in this post. The award honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults during a November 1 to October 31 publishing year.

The 2014 Nonfiction Award went to The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb. Finalists include Chip Kidd’s Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, Martin W. Sandler’s Imprisoned: The Betrayal of  Japanese Americans During World War II, Tanya Lee Stone’s Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers, and James L. Swanson’s The President Has Been Shot! The Assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Odyssey Award

This award is given to the “best audiobook produced for children or young adults, available in English in the United States.” I like to boast that I was listening to last year’s Odyssey winner, “The Fault in Our Stars” (written by John Green, narrated by Kate Rudd, and produced by Brilliance Audio), as the award was being announced.

Scowler. The 2014 Odyssey winner is “Scowler,” written by Daniel Kraus, narrated by Kirby Heyborne, and produced by Listening Library. 2014 Honor Recordings include “Better Nate Than Ever,” written by Time Federle, narrated by Tim Federle, and produced by Simon and Schuster Audio; “Creepy Carrots!” written by Aaron Reynolds, narrated by James Naughton, and produced by Weston Woods Studios, Inc.; “Eleanor & Park,” written by Rainbow Rowell narrated by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra, and produced by Listening Library; and “Matilda,” written by Roald Dahl, narrated by Kate Winslet, and produced by Penguin Audio.

William C. Morris YA Debut Award

This award “honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.”

Charm & Strange. The 2014 Morris Award went to Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn. This year’s finalists include Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian, Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, and In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.

If you’re interested in earning some street cred or boasting about how many great YA books you’ve read/listened to (or you just want to talk teen books), YALSA hosts an annual Hub Reading Challenge for all lovers of YA lit — librarians, teachers, parents, teens, and anyone else who wants to participate! The rules are simple: between Monday, February 3 and Sunday, June 22, read or listen to at least 25 of the YA award winners in the format for which they won the award. Everyone who completes the challenge is entered into a random drawing to win a bunch of YA books.

Now that I’ve drooled over — er, admired — all these great YA books, I’m going to get back to Charm & Strange. As usual, every book I was on the waiting list for has magically come in at once. #Librarianproblems

Happy reading!