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>A correction and a repeated complaint

>Re the Printz Award: I posted a while back about how I thought American Born Chinese, published by First Second Books, was not exactly eligible for the award, since it did not seem to me to be expressly published for young adults, an explicit criterion. But I have since heard from the award Chair Cindy Dobrez, who explained to me all the evidence the committee took into account in deciding the book’s eligibility. I’m convinced.

But while I’m again on the subject, let me whine just one more time about how wrongheaded this criterion is. By limiting the eligible pool to books designated by their publishers as being young adult books and specifically announcing that “adult books are not eligible,” YALSA puts the job of determining what a young adult book is into the hands of publishers rather than those of librarians. It essentially limits eligibility to books published by juvenile publishing houses or divisions, as they are the only ones to give age designations to their books. It rewards a very specific (read: large) kind of trade publishing, as a small press does not have the kind of resources that would allow it to designate a book as young adult if it thought the book could reach an adult market as well.

What has always interested me about library work with young adults is the way it blends materials for children and those for adults in service to an audience poised between the two. But YALSA–which derives a lot more financial support from children’s publishers than it does adult–has become too beholden to the juvenile end of things. The annual Best Books list became so disgracefully bereft of adult books that the organization had to add a whole new award program, the Alex Awards, to make up for it–rather than making Best Books the kind of “best of both worlds” list it should be. (It seems that whenever ALA’s youth divisions are called out for overlooking one kind of book or another, the solution is found in creating yet another award.)

I think teens want to read adult books. Why don’t we want to honor that?

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >I adore my local public library and one reason is that their Young Adult section is cheerfully, chaotically omnivorous — some real children’s books, lots of “official” YA, literary classics kids might read about or hear about in school, graphic novels, reference works, and every adult writer who most appeals to young readers for reasons good, bad, or prurient — Stephen King, Alice Walker, Ayn Rand.

  2. Andrew Karre says:

    >I’m curious about what YALSA will do with Laura Wiess’s SUCH A PRETTY GIRL, which came out last month from MTV Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster that does a lot of “official” YA and “official” adult for younger adults) as an adult trade paperback original, at least in terms of price and bookstore placement. Not only does the story clearly appeal to YALSA young adults (narrator is 15), but the book has endorsements from YA stars like Ellen Hopkins alongside woman’s fiction authors like Luanne Rice. The author speaks at SCBWI conferences, has a prominent children’s book agent . . . So, which will it be?

  3. >I’m playing the devil’s advocate, because I do love HB…but doesn’t the Horn Book limit books reviewed in much the same way? I.e., only books published specifically for children/YAs? And, mostly, books by large publishers?

    A finicky librarian

  4. Roger Sutton says:

    >Good question, Finicky, but reviewing books from juvenile publishers is our chosen part of the universe. (I wish we did review more from small presses; I also wish children’s books from small presses were better!) The Printz Award is for Best Book Published for Teens by a Juvenile Publisher, and while that is their chosen part of the universe, I don’t think it respects the way teens read. Plus, Mike Printz was a friend of mine and he would be horrified, I think–Mike worked as a high school librarian and provided adult books to teens as a matter of course.

    Supporters of the award as-is say that it is designed to promote good YA publishing, but I think it only props up a certain business model whose success or failure is beside the point.

    To Andrew’s question–wasn’t Perks of a Wallflower an MTV book? I believe it was therefore disqualified for Printz consideration–I believe Michael Cart, a prime mover behind the award, can confirm that.

  5. Andrew Karre says:

    >Yes, PERKS was an MTV book (in fact, SUCH A PRETTY GIRL’s cover makes the comparison between the two) and it was officially adult, but that was 8 years ago . . . It seems like we’re in a different YA universe. YA sections in bookstores and libraries are much more aligned with adult sections than with the children’s area, or so it seems to me (in my much shorter experience).

  6. rindawriter says:

    >I will be VERY interested to see how Sherman Alexie’s new novel, “Flight,” which has a young hero, works out in all of this…very interested indeed. Altough I have a feeling it will be promoted as an “adult” book…oooohhhhh…..fiddlestublewipplefudge…….

  7. Garret Freymann-Weyr says:

    >Hi. As you know, I enjoy your blog and your pithy style. I do think most of this discussion is one best left to librarians and other experts. But it is verging on (or at least, the last line of your post is) a discussion which I really want to see, hear and observe. Does anyone working in YA land — writers, editors or reviewers — think that any of our books should push an adult book off of the list? Of course teens should read for pleasure (we all should!) But who decides that a teen’s (or tween’s) idea of pleasure only involves books with characters to whom they can relate? If your expectations of a teen reader includes tales of suburban girl’s first boyfriend, but doesn’t include, say, E.M. Forster (who also, funnily enough, has written this same plot), then how will readers learn to transcend their own comfort zone? Or learn to read for language, for epiphany, tone and joy? I have no answer, but I would love to see our books judged by the same criteria used for “adult” books. When I see “Teens will love it” in a review, I think, wow, that tells me nothing.

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