Printz Award: chosen for literary quality or popularity

Yes, I’m finally getting around to writing about the winners of the Printz (and other ALA Youth Media) awards this year. I got really sidetracked by cleaning, working, and watching Beyonce – and the stupid Ravens win the Super Bowl – this weekend.

But I’m here now and I feel a bit bad complaining about the Printz award winner and honorees because I know that I’m a pretty hard person to please and that even if I was on the committee to chose the books, I’d still probably not be happy about the selections. I also often want to have things both ways. What do I mean? I mean the hard lines that are drawn between the books that are good because of ‘literary quality’ or because they are truly ‘literature’ and the ones that are good because they are popular or fun to read. Those demarcations can be stupid.

It’s dangerous to even bring up the issue of popularity here because as the ALA says, the purpose of the Printz award is, “to select from the previous year’s publications the best young adult book (“best” being defined solely in terms of literary merit).” So yes, it’s supposed to be about literary merit but I think that in that quest there are a lot of books that are automatically left out or not even considered because they wouldn’t be expected to have literary merit. I don’t have a problem with literary merit, either. I just think that sometimes choosing those type of books, slapping a Printz award sticker on them can be a one way ticket to NoCirculationsville. I can’t remember what professor I had in grad school at Simmons, but she told a story about seeing the display of Newbery winners at her library and immediately avoiding them to walk the other way. She didn’t want anything to do with those, those were the type of books that would get assigned in school because they were so great.

I can understand that desire not to read what could be considered the “classics” or the “great books.” Because I was a huge dork in school (still am, sadly) I LOVED reading The Return of the Native in English lit senior year while the other students planned a mutiny. (Full disclosure: I adore Thomas Hardy, have read almost all of his novels, and think Tess of the D’Urbervilles might be one of the greatest books ever written. I love sad books, what can I say? Though, Jude the Obscure might have been too sad for me. Definitely one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read, with Rotters by Daniel Kraus a close second.) So I liked reading the great books and I love them, but I also read a ton of science fiction and fantasy and still do. Sometimes you’re really looking for that up-put-down-able story or a new world or just something different that you feel you can’t get in those books. I think that’s fine. I think we need both books to challenge us, the ones that we appreciate and love for being truly great, and the books are in the genres or have the relationships in which we are really interested. And yes, when those great books are often assigned because it is important to read them, it can make it hard to see the appeal in times of recreational reading.

I guess this is all to say that I wish the Printz would take popularity into consideration a little bit when choosing books. Or at least  that they should not overlook genres that can have hidden gems in them. Like Beth Revis’ Across the Universe or Daniel Kraus’ aforementioned Rotters: two books that fit squarely into genres but aren’t the type of genres that usually get recognized: sci fi and horror. Both have great writing and really thought-provoking themes and ideas. One (Rotters) will totally give you nightmares and Across the Universe might, too. But why is it that the genres other than historical fiction or contemporary fiction are so rarely recognized? Because they are too much fun? I’m not sure.

And yes, there have been more popular books in the past that have won like Bray’s Going Bovine or Green’s Looking for Alaska. I can’t keep Looking for Alaska on my shelf it’s so popular (and so frequently stolen). And I have loved the more literary books like McCaughrean’s The White Darkness, which I might have been the only person who like that one.

I guess that I don’t really know what I want other than just to say: John Green should have won again for The Fault in Our Stars. Was there a more popular or better written book written last year? I think not. I dare you to contest that statement.

Basically, I just want the Printz award to be whatever I want it to be and I’m going to pout about it until I can get my way. Like a grown up. So there.

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