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Thoughts on Alex: Quick Picks

Our astute reviewer Amy Cheney noticed on Facebook that two of the ten Alex Award titles this year were also on the Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and said:

This might be the first year EVER that two books made both the Alex Awards and Quick Picks. Ross’ book [Juvenile in Justice] and Backderf’s book My Friend Dahmer are on both top ten lists!

I was curious about whether Amy’s intuition was true, so I dug through the lists of Top Ten Quick Picks, and didn’t find any overlap with the Alex Awards. Now my curiosity was really piqued, so I decided to see if an Alex title had ever been on the extended list of Quick Picks, which seem to fall in the range of 60-120 titles, depending on the year.  It was annoyingly difficult to find an easy way of comparing the two lists, but eventually I just copied all of the Quick Picks into a Word file and did a “find” function for all 160 Alex Award winners.  So granted that I could have made a mistake (and please tell me if I did!), I found a grand total of one title overlapping the two lists: Lest We Forget: The Passage from Africa to Slavery and Emancipation, by Velma Maia Thomas, from 1998, the very first year of the Alex Awards.

So we had one Alex winner on the full Quick Picks list in 1998, and now all of a sudden two Alex Awardees on the Top Ten list.  Is this a complete fluke, or is there anything we can make of this?  Well, first we need to look at the charges of the two committees.  “The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults”.  As we’ve discussed before, “special appeal to young adults” can be a tricky subject, and the Policies and Procedures are not terribly helpful.  But it seems clear, from observation of the titles the Alex committee has chosen that they tend to agree with this blog’s practice of trying to balance the literary excellence of adult books with some definition of teen appeal.

The Quick Picks committee, on the other hand, is charged with “identif[ying] titles aimed at encouraging reading among teens who dislike to read for whatever reason”, and it has a lengthy and admirably precise set of selection criteria, which include several aspects of the physical appearance of the book, and items such as having a “high interest ‘hook'”, lots of plot, “clear writing,” and much more. In other words: all teen appeal, all the time.  Certainly the inclusion of such topics as characterization, plot, and style give plenty of room for discussion of a book’s literary quality, but the mission of the committee is to name titles that teens (and specifically teens who have a demonstrated dislike for reading) will read without much pressure.

So, back to our question: does this year’s exceptional overlap between these two committees mean anything?  I’m sorry to disappoint, but the answer is a resounding, “I don’t know.”  Certainly, I noted in my thoughts on My Friend Dahmer, that the committee seemed to have chosen the graphic novel with the most teen appeal out there, and one possible interpretation of this coincidence is that this year’s Alex committee was more focused on the “special appeal to young adults” aspect of their charge than other committees in the past.  But, it’s equally possible that this is simply an artifact of the particular publishing year: two of the better adult books for teens (and we on this blog certainly thought they were among the best), just happened to also have tremendous appeal to reluctant readers.

I’d be more than happy to hear from anyone who has deeper knowledge of the way these two committees work to chime in, but mostly, I’m just excited to see two such excellent books getting so much recognition.

About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark


  1. Despite the fact that my beloved esposa has been on the Alex Committee for the past four years, I don’t have any special insight into how the Alex Committee functions (I love to be surprised). I do, however, KNOW Ann very well, so I am inclined to go with the “artifact of the particular publishing year” argument, knowing full well that committees are more than just one member. I also know that at annual the VERY FIRST BOOK that I heard folks talking about was the Dahmer title. The people talking about the Dahmer book were not members of the Alex Committee and, for all I know, may not have even known that it was an adult title. I just heard several people as I traveled around the conversations who had plenty of fabulous things to say about this graphic novel, “If you only read one graphic novel this year–HELL! if you only read one BOOK this year–read My Friend Dahmer.”

  2. I will be posting my thoughts and comments about this on my blog YA Underground Scheduled to run again around the 20th of March. Thanks Mark for digging through and finding the overlap. I couldn’t have figured that out!


  1. […] Thoughts on Alex: Quick Picks. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  2. […] clean supersedes go. Juvenile in Justice by Richard Ross “goes hard.” I love that it won an Alex Award and a top 10 ranking from Quick Picks—the committees agree with my teens. Wow! May this happen […]

  3. […] clean supersedes go. Juvenile in Justice by Richard Ross “goes hard.” I love that it won an Alex Award and a top 10 ranking from Quick Picks—the committees agree with my teens. Wow! May this happen […]