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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

New Kids on the Block

I doubt this is news to anyone, but the Morris shortlist was released the other day.

Three of the five were on our original contenda list (although we’ve only discussed two so far), and a fourth was a late addition thanks to reader response when we first discussed (and almost dismissed) it (we will definitely be revisiting it now).

(The fifth was on the books that made a best of year list but that we had oops! missed pile, so NOW it’s on our list, twice over.)

This kind of recognition automatically puts a book higher in the public estimation. But does it actually affect or correlate with Printz recognition?

As always with a YALSA award, we look first to the Policies and Procedures for guidance. The Morris Award P&P are lovely to behold: concise and clear, providing guidance without coming across as prescriptive. Very different indeed than the Printz P&P, which (as was pointed out early on), could be mistaken for a work in progress. (I was thinking about the lack of recognition for the Printz the other day after that lovely PW writeup about the Newbery and Caldecott awards, and I wonder if the lack of professionalism exhibited in the Printz policies is even more of an impediment to recognition and brand awareness than the relative youth of the award.)

Anyway, here is the purpose statement:

The William C. Morris YA Debut Award celebrates the achievement of a previously unpublished author, or authors, who have made a strong literary debut in writing for young adult readers. The work cited will illuminate the teen experience and enrich the lives of its readers through its excellence, demonstrated by:

  • Compelling, high quality writing and/or illustration
  • The integrity of the work as a whole
  • Its proven or potential appeal to a wide range of teen readers

There is more in the specific criteria, but this sums it up pretty well.

This is different from the Printz criteria in several ways.

For starters, proven or potential appeal is in there. More than that, this strikes me as the critical element: “illuminate the teen experience and enrich the lives of its readers through its excellence.” That’s the kind of language I was wishing existed in the Printz P&P when I talked about Paper Covers Rock. Obviously, what this language means in the context of any given book is open to interpretation, but to me it means the books considered need to be about and for teens, not just published with that label; this also could be useful criteria to look at when determining whether a book skews too young since the wording allows content to be factor in the discussion of whether a book is a candidate.

And, of course, Morris candidates need to be debut works, which narrows the playing field quite a bit. (Does anyone have any numbers on what percentage of the year’s pubs are debuts? My not at all scientific sense (from attending lots of previews and reading catalogs) is that it’s a solid number but less than 25%, and even that is probably significantly upping the numbers.) So the playing field is considerably smaller than the Printz playing field.

Now, we’ve had debuts take the Printz before (Looking for Alaska is of course the one most of us point to first; how i live now was also a debut, and that’s without even looking at honor titles). But this year we have a lot of very strong contenders from established authors who have been honing their craft for quite some time. Not that debut authors aren’t honing their craft, but I’ve read enough dedication and acknowledgment pages to know how important a good editor is, so it stands to reason that an author who has been working with an excellent editor for a while has grown that much more as a writer and is thus that much more likely to be hitting it our of the park when it comes to excellent writing.

Getting back to the point… In the context of the year’s popular frontrunners for the Printz (per public opinion), what does this additional accolade mean?

Probably not a ton, I suspect. It might be an extra nudge that an on-the-fence reader needs to place a book a little higher on his or her personal top five, but at this point, stars and accolades are probably secondary. Most of the committee are likely to be hitting reread territory and that close scrutiny and analysis means a lot more than outside criticism and recognition.

So which of these, if any, do you think will make the Printz list? Which do you think deserves the Morris? And is anyone else heartbroken that The Returning didn’t make the shortlist?

About Karyn Silverman

Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.


  1. Maybe your guess about the fraction of debut novels is about right. Corroborating evidence (but not definitive proof): in a guest post on The Hub, Kelly Jensen of Stacked has a numerical round-up of four of the “Best of 2011” lists, and she says that 25.4% are debut authors.

  2. Karyn Silverman says:

    Thanks for that link again, Elizabeth: I had browsed through that post briefly when it came across my Twitter feed and then forgot that debuts were covered. And it’s an excellent breakdown and well worth reading for anyone who missed it!

  3. It’s possible that The Returning wasn’t eligible, since it was published in Australia in June 2009 (under the name Bloodflower) and the Morris rules seem to indicate that the US and foreign editions have to be within the same awards-eligibility year.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      You know, I read that line in the P&P a few times, trying to parse out the meaning, wondering if it was that The Returning just wasn’t eligible at all.

      Here’s what it says:

      The award winner(s) must not have previously published a book for any audience. Books previously published in another country, however, may be considered if an American edition has been published during the period of eligibility.

      (Italics mine)

      And then lower, we have the line about eligibility:

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

      Put those two together and I read it as a debut published earlier in another country IS eligible when it is pubbed here–by that reading, The Returning should be eligible. But the language could be taken more than one way. Any Morris folks out there want to comment on what the official interpretation has been?

  4. The one I thought was missing was What Can’t Wait by Ashley Hope Perez.

  5. A Morris person will have to set us straight! To me, this reads that the period of eligibility is the same for both, meaning both the foreign and US editions would have to be published between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of 2011, and it was published in Australia in 2009 and thus not eligible here. But who knows!

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