Saturday, September 17, 2011

5000 Books...But Only One Winner

According to a recent posting on the American Libraries site , there are approximately 5000 young adult books published every year in the United States.

Of course all those books vary widely in content and quality, yet they're all eligible for the Printz Award if they meet the qualifications set forth by the American Library Association:

The award-winning book may be fiction, nonfiction, poetry or an anthology.

Books must have been published between January 1 and December 31 of the year preceding announcement of the award.

To be eligible, a title must have been designated by its publisher as being either a young adult book or one published for the age range that YALSA defines as "young adult," i.e., 12 through 18. Adult books are not eligible.

Works of joint authorship or editorship are eligible.

The award may be given posthumously provided the other criteria are met.

Books previously published in another country are eligible (presuming an American edition has been published during the period of eligibility.)

That's an awful wide net -- much wider, in fact, than the ones determining the Newbery and Caldecott Awards. (For example, those awards are not open to books previously published in other countries.)

Therefore it could be argued that, of the approximately 5000 YA books published each year in the United States, most are potential Printzlings.

So how does the field get narrowed down to just one crown Printz -- a single heir apparent, along with up to four Honor Books (AKA the heir and some spares)?

That depends on how well the books meet the award criteria, which you can read about here.

I would have just cut-and-pasted that criteria here, but it's a long list, open to interpretation, and boils down to two words: "literary excellence."

But determining literary excellence can be somewhat confusing -- especially since the ALA's criteria are "only suggested guidelines and should in no way be considered as absolutes."

One only has to look at the list of Printz winners and over the past eleven years to see how broadly the term "literary excellence" has been used in selecting winners. I've always thought the first year's slate (winner Monster by Walter Dean Myers and Honors Skellig by David Almong, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger) was a somewhat definitive list...though in the years since some great nonfiction has been honored, we've had a graphic novel take the top prize, we've seen Printz selections that range from wildly popular to nearly obscure, and we've had some wonderful surprises and discoveries appear on the list, as well as a few stinkers.

In recent years, the Heavy Medal blog has kept an eye on Newbery possibilities and now there's the Calling Caldecott blog anticipating the year's most distinguished picture book. Following in their footsteps, the Picking Printz blog will look at the titles which seem to be possible contenders for this year's Printz Award. Will we get predict the correct? Probably not...but, hey, last season Heavy Medal didn't notice a certain MOON that was rising overhead either. But it will still be fun and informative to discuss the mighta, woulda, shoulda, coulda been contendas.

So let's start off with a list of titles that would make YOUR personal Printz shortlist. Mine include Recovery Road by Blake Nelson, The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman, Queen of Hearts by Martha Brooks, Chime by Franny Billingsley, and Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. What are yours? Please share them in the comments section.

And feel free to submit any opinion pieces on the award, or book reviews of possible Printz titles, to PRINTZPICKS@AOL.COM. We will probably post most of these as blog entries, though the moderators reserve the right to not publish reviews that fall outside the age range of the Printz Award, reviews that appear to be ringers (i.e. written by the book's own author, spouse, or great-aunt Martha), or titles that don't seem to have a chance in heck of ever winning.

If we're wrong, and the book we turned down DOES end up winning, you will have the last laugh and the right to say "Told you so!" on January 23, 2012, 7:45 a.m. CT, when the awards are announced in Dallas, Texas.

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