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>How to fix BBYA

>Liz Burns and Marc Aronson have been keeping an eye on the Best Books for Young Adults drama. That list is going to become strictly YA fiction; the Alex Awards (adult books of potential interest and value to teens) and) list will get bigger, thus picking up the adult book slack; and the new YALSA nonfiction award will publicize its list of nominations, thus theoretically increasing the visibility of nonfiction.

The reason given for the change is that too many books get nominated for BBYA and committee members feel overburdened by the reading. But if I have this right, only one committee member (or YALSA member) needs to nominate a book to get it onto that big list. When I was on BBYA back in dinosaur times, this nomination process produced some true stinkers, books that were only nominated because someone felt bad about not doing something for a book he or she got free in the mail. (Let’s hope the nonfiction award contenders are going to be nominated with a bit more rigor if they are going to be publicized as recommended books.) Why not simply increase the number of nominations needed to, say, three? A book that has only one nomination for a choice made by a committee of fifteen is not going to make the list, so why waste everyone’s time?

I also worry that the decision is shortsighted. The money in children’s publishing right now is in YA fiction, aided by a now-passing boom in the teen population and an adult crossover readership, which will also pass once adult publishing figures out how to make even more money from these readers. At its best, the BBYA list displays the intersection at which YA librarianship is supposed to live: fiction and nonfiction, adult and juvenile, words and pictures (graphic novels are also banished from the new list and relegated to their own.) I think what the new system gives us is a bunch of bitty lists whose individual and collective power will be considerably diminished. It’s similar to what happens when you have give out too many awards–whoops, that’s another post.

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. Anonymous says:

    >Hear! Hear!

  2. >I find BBYA vital to my collection development so I'm not excited about the changes.

  3. >I can't wait for the post about too many awards. My mind already boggles at how many the ALA is passing out. I do a bunch of work with Caldecott books at my elementary school and the kids are completely befuddled by the fact that practically every book has SOME sort of round gold or silver sticker on it.

  4. Cindy Dobrez says:

    >Amen and pass the gravy. Bookends posted about this before Midwinter and we have an update today.

  5. Jennifer Schultz says:

    >Looking forward to the "too many awards" post as well. As for BBYA, I wish they wouldn't tamper with it. I guess we should be happy that they didn't eliminate the list entirely.

  6. >I think this is a drastic solution to a problem that could be solved in a number of ways without changing the character of the BBYA list (or any of the other awards/lists). For example:
    1) Change the voting/nomination process for getting a book to the table for discussion
    2) Subdivide the committee into two subcommittees, one that looks at fiction and the other, at nonfiction, and then combine their final lists as BBYA
    3)Get people on the committee who were willing and able to read a great number and variety of books
    4) Wait a few years until YA books have glutted the market and the pendulum swings back

  7. >Ed Spicer made exactly the same suggestion — increase the number of nominations required, but the Board did not listen. Note, too, that the NF Award nominations list must necessarily appear after the finalists are announced, thus a year or more after the books come out — it is a window into the past, not a selection of current books.

  8. >Increasing the number of nominations needed will worsen the problem we already have–that success leads to more success (more reviews, more awards, more notice), and good books that are overlooked get overlooked some more.

  9. Anonymous says:

    >I just don't get how the requirement of more nominations lessens the burden on the committee to READ! If someone– anyone nominates a title, don't I as a committee person need to go read that title and see if I agree? Isn't that my responsiblity?

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