Awards, Honors, and a Discussion

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It’s been a week now since the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced, and since everything has been released and announced, let’s recap and discuss- narrowing the focus on teens.

First, weren’t you so overjoyed about all the diversity represented on the lists? Let me count the ways:

Characters with Disabilities: 2 Alex Awards titles and a YALSA NonFiction

Characters who are Persons of Color: FIVE Alex Award titles, the Newbery Winner and an Honor title, and the Morris Winner

Characters who are GLBTQI/QUILTBAG: the Printz Winner and an Honor selection

Authors of Color: a Printz Honor selection, the Newbery Winner and an Honor selection, a Caldecott Honor selection, and Morris Winner, as well as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, the Margaret A. Edwards Award, and the 2016 Arbuthnot Lecture

THEN there’s the crossing of the awards….

a GRAPHIC NOVEL won a Caldecott Honor and a PRINTZ Honor

The Printz Winner is a Stonewall Honor book

The Newbery Winner is a Coretta Scott King Author honor selection, while the Coretta Scott King Author Winner is a Newbery Honor selection

I was walking on air I was so elated with everything! And for all the diversity, and for all the melding of the lists and awards, and when it seemed that this year everyone was on the same page… my phone started to explode.

And the rumblings began.

Across Twitter, and listservs, and the exhibits floor, and in meeting rooms in Chicago, and across library land, the discussions and debates began. To me, it seems that it’s been a bit more pointed this year, a bit sharper, a bit more critical. Maybe it’s because I’m paying more attention this year, or maybe it’s because of the fact that this is one of the more diverse lists so far, and that’s got more people paying attention. Maybe it’s because of the depressing Superbowl ads the night before. I don’t know.

A lot of librarians and publishers that I talked to were overjoyed with the selections, and that there were a lot that already had appeal to a variety of readers. While teen appeal is nowhere in any of the charters of the awards and is not taken into consideration, it’s a huge subject of debate- why have an award book if no one is going to read it? Why should I spend my selection money on it, when I can use it on something else that my teens WILL read? And that’s something that every materials selector will have to decide for themselves:  you know your audience, your teens, and your area. These were selected as the best books for their respective categories, and what you do with that information is up to you. Schools are doing away with having assignments relating to reading YMA books in favor of state awards, and a number of libraries are starting to interfile their Newbery and Caldecott collections.

I’ve heard nothing but positive responses to the author/illustrator awards, either- Donald Crews, Sharon Draper, and Pat Mora have been outstanding in their works, and deserve all the recognition they can get.

As always, there’s been the debate over why some particular book was an honor book instead of the winner, mostly concerning The Newbery Medal with regards to Brown Girl Dreaming and The Crossover. Why there were only two Newbery honor books but six Caldecott honor books. How Brown Girl Dreaming can be a Newbery Honor as well a Siebert honor, yet it’s the Coretta Scott King Winner, and the Youth National Book Award Winner. People trying to apply logic to awards and lists created by people with passion and soul, who debate and hold secret vote after secret vote and come to the point of tears when a favorite book is cast aside. There are whisper campaigns and private talks to try and move people to a particular book before a vote- this is very intense and gut-wrenching work, and this is AFTER reading through all of books that fit the criteria.

What has been extremely disheartening and disappointing was the reactions regarding the genre crossovers. I heard and still have been hearing a LOT of disappointment and negativity about This One Summer winning a Caldecott and a Printz honor. And the first thing people bring up when I ask why? IT’S A GRAPHIC NOVEL. Um, and so? Stories can be told in graphic format, and yes, while the Caldecott award tends to skew more towards the picture book area, it’s really about time that a graphic novel held an honor. (Note: While The Invention of Huge Cabret won in 2008, it’s considered juvenile fiction and not a graphic novel- check your library’s collection if you don’t believe me.) Not to purchase it on the sole fact that it’s a graphic novel is a bit much.

Another big “issue” that I keep hearing is appropriatenessThis One Summer isn’t appropriate for the Caldecott, see, it’s a Printz honor book. Grasshopper Jungle has such language in it, it’s an ADULT book- it should be in the Alex Awards, not the Printz. In fact, Grasshopper Jungle shouldn’t be anywhere, really, because of the language and it’s being made into a movie already- that alone should prove that it’s beneath the value of the awards.

I do understand the plight of elementary school teachers and librarians having to explain to adults that yes, the Caldecott does go up to 14 so no, while This One Summer isn’t a picture book, it did “win the picture book award” and no, it’s not going be appropriate for your elementary-aged child. I totally get it. And yes, it may be a challenge, but we as a profession should be up to that challenge. I do understand the challenge of librarians in less than accepting communities who will have to explain that yes, a GLBTQI book won the excellence in young adult literature, and an honor book for excellence in young adult literature is about a mutant plague that causes humans to hatch into alien bugs and the narrator questions his sexuality as well. And both books talk about S-E-X. So no, it may not be appropriate for your AR high reading 10 year old. But when the movie comes out in a couple of years and you don’t recognize it from the book, I bet they’ll go see it.

The final big thing I keep hearing is “inclusive diverseness”. What they mean by this is that the same books kept winning- The Crossover being a King honor and the Newbery winner, Brown Girl Dreaming being recognized three times, etc. This just floored me. We had over 100 VOLUNTEER librarian and library specialists reading thousands of books across the spectrum, and they independently create their own winner and honor lists following their own criteria and judging procedures set forth by their organizations. Locked away in closed sessions, they independently came out and said that these books were the best for their charge for this year based on their committee’s viewpoints. And this is too inclusive, too narrow, because while it’s recognizing the most diverse variety the Youth Media Awards has probably ever had, the titles fall onto different lists?

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Every year there’s always discussion about the awards- why did THIS win, why didn’t THAT win, how will teen read this? That the awards aren’t reaching their target audience because there’s no appeal for teens, and no one will read them. This year it seems more pointed at the types of books- how they don’t fit the norm that a lot of people have come to expect, or how it’s going to make things harder because the books are too “challenging” for their community, or how there’s not enough variety.

Guess what? Things are changing. And it’s for the better- there’s no hidden agenda, there’s no over-sensitivity,  there’s no selective targeting of authors. What has happened is that the awards committees are more aware of the diversity available (slim that it is currently), and found that the diverse books were wonderful. Awesome. Brilliant. Worthy of recognition. SO much so that they crossed into various lists, and stretched the social canon of the awards.

This is a good thing. Trust me.

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