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Someday My Printz Will Come
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Stars in my Eyes (or, Starred Reviews vs. The Printz, round 2)

4688797296 1178e349f6 o 263x300 Stars in my Eyes (or, Starred Reviews vs. The Printz, round 2)

CC-licensed image ("Starry Eyed Gaga") by Flickr user mellydonut. A bit literal, but really, isn't this how we all feel when we read a really excellent book? Also? I find Blythe dolls weirdly compelling.

Between Roger’s piece way back and Sophie’s thoughtful assessment of stars in our playground, I’m not sure what more really needs to be said.

But never let it be said that I passed up an opportunity to air my opinions.

Last week, I read a Mary Poppins of a book.* It deserves a dozen stars. And it won’t, and shouldn’t, be considered by the 2014 Printz committee (the book is a 2013 pub. I had no business reading it. But… it was pretty! And calling my name. And sometimes we need to succumb to siren songs.).

Because perfect, or even merely really excellent, books are not always so big on the Literary. In this case, the writing is pitch perfect, which is not always a given in even a star-earning book. The plotting is tight. The characters are engaging. The world gets a big “mwah” for being so much fun and well established without any needless exposition. It’s well written, but it doesn’t, in the end, offer anything more than a diversion.

Which sounds a bit like damning with faint praise, and it isn’t. A book that offers a diversion is a wonderful thing. And honestly, a book that can make me forget I’m a reviewer or a librarian or a blogger with an eye on the Printz is something decidedly special. Maybe magical. Not once did I wince or find myself imaging how I would speak to this flaw or that choice in a review. In short, I forgot everything except the book, thought about it when I put it down, and spent a few days wishing I were still reading it once I was done.

So if calling it a diversion isn’t faint praise, and I’m going on record that this is an excellent book, probably my second favorite of the year (even if it technically belongs in next year’s pile), how is it not a contender?

The answer to that question is the gap that can exist between stars and winners.

(Note that for the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to lump silver and gold stickers together as winners, even if some technically only honored.)

Now, Sophie spoke eloquently about the criteria piece, and that’s definitely part of it. Different criteria SHOULD mean recognition for different books. But the popularity/appeal issue (not the same, mind you, and if you want to know more, I recommend sitting in on a Best Fiction meeting at an ALA conference) is only one aspect of a star, and it’s entirely possible for a reviewer to assign a star based only on the quality of the writing. In the case of my Mary Poppins book, the writing does deserve the star. Looked at objectively, a book with nothing wrong and with loads of appeal is hitting both sides of the criteria right in the bullseye.

But it takes more than a pretty face.

I’ve always considered rereadability a sort of shorthand for some of the critical components of a Printz winner. Sophie alluded to this as well when she referenced “repeated close readings by nine people — NINE.” Rereadability isn’t, obviously, a thing unto itself (or a word, I think). (Although now that I’m considering it as an objective marker I’m thinking we could start to give books a rereadability score in our reviews. Hmmm…) But a book that can be read more than once and offer more each time clearly has a little something something going on. And it’s usually a something indicative of Literature: plotting so tight that you want to read it again to marvel at the way the pieces fall together, voice or characterization that leaps off the page and welcomes a closer look, layers of narrative or meaning or nuances of language that only begin to be visible on one go.

(You could also think of these as “teachable” books. Not that they are likely to be taught nor—heaven forbid—do they seem designed for teaching, but books that have enough going on that writing a paper (or a 1,000+ word blog post) is a real possibility? Books that, faced with 9 close, critical readers, can’t be argued off the table? Those are the books likely to go the distance. Depth, people! Depth is critical.)

Lots of books that are marvelous on one read lack that depth. There is not a single thing wrong with my Mary Poppins of a book, but I don’t see anything new being revealed on a reread, either.

(I will, however, happily eat my words if I find out it does offer something more when I reread it in its actual publication year.)

Of course, there are books that pass the multiple readings test but don’t fare so well on the single reading test. And that might be why the lack of definite correlation between stars and prizes.

Turn back your clock a moment to the first time you (okay, I) read Jellicoe Road, in advance reader form. The manuscript was riddled with weird typos (as far as I could see, an unfortunate find-and-replace for ms to Ms. resulted in words like “rooMs.” in the midst of sentences). And while it was good, if I’d been a reviewer on a deadline, who had waited until the 11th hour to finish—having possibly procrastinated out of an inability to deal with the typos without becoming irritable—would I have seen how complex and layered of a tale it is? Would I have seen the genre blending and how deftly different narrative tropes had been pulled in to make something new? Probably not, even if this hypothetical me hadn’t procrastinated. And so I would (I hope!) have said good things, but given all of the above plus the way it drops the reader right in without a lot of context, which is likely to hurt on the appeal front, I would probably not have given it a star.

On a second reading, though? That strange start and the disorientation you feel as a reader is a parallel of the experiences of the two main characters. What seemed like the biggest flaw on a first read becomes a strength the second time around.

So yes, that Mary Poppins of a book doesn’t stand up to that. On the other hand, I anticipate it flying off my shelves and being a beaut of a booktalk. And I’ll be first in line to buy the promised sequel. And as much as I treasure the Printz winners, I also adore the Poppins. We need both, and we need stars that aren’t winners and maybe even the winners that aren’t stars. It keeps committee members from taking the easy way out (which is all the 3-star rule in these parts ever was), keeps those of us betting on the YMAs from having it too easy, and it means that there is room in great YA for various flavors of great. All the better to tempt the readers, my dears!

*Practically perfect in every way, of course!

share save 171 16 Stars in my Eyes (or, Starred Reviews vs. The Printz, round 2)
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 (except current events, because she’s too busy reading YA literature to follow the news). 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.

Comments

  1. Beth says:

    Yup. This exactly how I feel about say, Grave Mercy. It’s a great read, several stars, no specific flaws. I’ve been recommending it to everyone who will listen. It is not however the kind of literary excellence that the Printz is concerned with.

  2. Consarn it WHAT IS THE MARY POPPINS BOOK YOU TEASE

  3. Elizabeth, I was just coming here the ask the same question! I figured that Karyn might have reviewed it for a publication, and can’t reveal the name yet.

  4. tess says:

    You took the words right out of my mouth, Elizabeth! Karyn, are you able to tell us what the Mary Poppins book is?

  5. Hannahlily says:

    Love, love, love the idea of Mary Poppins books and I think Beth is right about Grave Mercy being one. I felt the same way about The Disenchantments as well. Enjoyed reading it, loved the characters, the writing, and the plot, but I didn’t feel like it had the depth that a Printz winner needs.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      Speaking of Grave Mercy, Booklist Delivers delivered notice (yes, I realize it’s basically just an ad) that it’s up to 4 stars. Mary Poppins indeed! I haven’t read it yet but my desire to do so keeps ratcheting up, despite the fact that it sounds like yet another book that I should probably not prioritize if I am really looking for the contenda titles.

      Elizabeth, Tess, Jennifer, I am not being coy because I reviewed the book in question for publication. Initially I led with the title, but then instead of making my point I ended up giving a review. And then I thought it would distract from the point for readers as well.

      That said, I will share–eventually! But first, let’s talk about the incisive points I made! Let’s talk about how we identify a book as practically perfect yet not a contenda. What are the clues for you all? Is there a slow burn-fast burn situation for you, where the MP titles are fast burn, love at first sight, and the contendas are slower burning flames needing some fanning?

  6. Mark Flowers says:

    I totally disagree. There are plenty of reasons a book might get a star and not a Printz, which Sophie covered well, but I think that any book that is “practically perfect in every way” is by definition a contender for Printz recognition. As we’ve noted before, one of the marvels of the Printz criteria is that it allows for plenty of room for interpretation, and in my book “literary excellence” can absolutely be achieved by a book which sets out to do something (shallow as it may be) and does it spectacularly.

    You say “The plotting is tight. The characters are engaging. The world gets a big “mwah” for being so much fun and well established without any needless exposition. It’s well written” – to me that analysis is completely at odds with your next line that it offers only “diversion.” What exactly are great characters and world building if not thought provoking? And how can anything that is “well written” not hold up to a second reading? A book emphatically does not have to be “teachable” to be a great piece of literature (again, in my opinion). It needs to be well written, well plotted, with great characters, and maybe great world building.

    (note, I’m sorry if I am coming across a little abrasively – you know how much I value your great contributions on this blog)

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      Oh Mark, I’m heartbroken! I think this is the first time we’ve had a major disagreement. I’ve been thinking between here and Adult Books for Teens that you might be my book soulmate, but alas.

      Plus, I feel busted. I made some grandiose arguments and appreciate being called out, although Elizabeth is the one who actually raised snobbery and the very important question of where and how that might play in to things.

      Back to my Mary Poppins: Engaging is not the same as great! And a delightful world without too much exposition can also be a bit thinly sketched, albeit clear enough in the bits we need. And this is what I am throwing all together when I talk rereadability. Will these delightful characters stand up to a closer look? I suspect not. Practically perfect, after all, can still be riddled with faults. They are small at first glance, and so you get that illusion of perfection. On a closer read, I think the edifice might fall apart. It IS well written, but not brilliantly written. And so– diversion. A delightful few hours (it was a quick read), and an entry into a new series that I know I’ll enjoy for at least one more book. But as a book I can point to as the best of the year? I’m going to stand by my no, and by my arguments for how a book can be great but ephemeral (a Mary Poppins mayfly, if you will) but lack that lasting power that deserves an award. I’ve already forgotten swathes of plot, and remember only the froth and exuberance, because there wasn’t enough there there.

      Which neatly brings us back to snobbery.

      Am I a snob for wanting some oomph in a Printz award winner? I think, as Sophie says in her comment, that that is a forgivable bar to set for a an award for literary quality. But that may be because I was a literature major. I spent a lot of time looking at writing for the writing’s sake, considering voice and language and imagery. I’m sure it’s left an impression.

      I’ve also been reading, reviewing, and sitting on committees in the YA lit world for some ten years now, and I have gotten a bit jaded. (There are some paranormal romances that received stars this year. I can’t imagine why, because I’ve read too many angel books and they all sound the same. But that’s being old and weary rather than snobby, I think.)

      And in the end, with the option to recognize no more than five books, it is an elimination game. Engaging characters and a solid world and good writing are, if not a dime a dozen, happily all frequent enough. How do we get that pile down to 5? By cutting out the effervescent but ultimately shallow in favor of those books we can see still being readable and meaningful one or two or ten years down the line (even if we’re wrong). They might be, again as Sophie points out, about shallow things but they can’t be a shallow treatment.

      Ok, now that I’ve soapboxed a bit more, hit me with the counterarguments!

  7. Jenn says:

    This is a really interesting discussion. I recently finished a 2 year term on the Best Fiction committee, and I think Karyn really captured the distinction between BFYA and Printz. By the end of the year, I think a consensus builds around certain books that have received a lot of accolades and buzz. I found a lot more of these titles on the BFYA Top Ten list than I did on the Printz, and I think then the lines get drawn between very very good books, and books that are highly literary. I think books like Mal Peet’s Life: An Unexploded Diagram, for example, are often very Printz worthy but they struggle with BFYA because they don’t have an inherent teen appeal.

  8. Elizabeth Fama says:

    Well, since Karyn won’t spill with the name of her 2013 Mary Poppins book, I guess I am forced to comment on the meat of the post. I’ve followed the discussion pretty closely and I think no one has been devil’s advocate and dumped this thought on the table, which surely the average American (non-librarian, non-publisher, non-author, non-insider) believes must be true: the awards are given to books that the committee decides fit the budget constraint of “weighty” subject to “well-written” such that the selection can’t be criticized, while stars are not encumbered by that anxiety. This is a harsh way of putting it, but maybe we are in fact dancing around the very issue of, yes, a kind of literary snobbishness when we use the terms “re-readability” and “depth” and “highly literary?” Not that this budget constraint, were it true, is necessarily a bad guiding principle: how “discovered” would WHERE THINGS COME BACK have been without the Printz nudging it into the fore (full disclosure: I haven’t read this)? The prize certainly got hordes of DNF readers to pick up JELLICOE ROAD again and finally push through it to the end, which is a great thing. But that snobby budget constraint is definitely correlated with rejecting fantasy, and thrillers, and humor, and Practical Perfection in other arenas.

    There are two questions, and I wonder how different they are: 1) Why don’t highly-starred books win Printzes? and 2) Why don’t Printz books win more stars? I’m afraid to say it out loud, but literary snobbery answers both. Doesn’t it?

    I may be missing the point entirely on this post. I’ll sit down now.

    (Jenn, I thought LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM, as masterful as so much of it was, had a couple of problems unrelated to teen appeal that might have held me up if I had been on the Printz committee.)

  9. Elizabeth Fama says:

    And I just now found the time to read Roger’s excellent 2006 post about stars, which he linked to in the comments of Sophie’s previous post. I’m particularly intrigued by this sentence: “I had reviewed Aidan Chambers’s Dance on My Grave and felt strongly that it should be starred, but Trev [Jones, of SLJ] felt the potential audience was too small and said no to the star. (‘I hate stuffy stars,’ she says today.) And, as she explained, the journal has to be able to defend each star.” Does Trev’s notion of “stuffy” correspond to the literary snobbery I was (as devil’s advocate) tossing out above?

  10. Sophie Brookover says:

    Briefly — I’ll return to this thread again later this evening, but wanted to capture these thoughts while they’re fresh in my mind: I’m not sure I understand how you mean “budgetary constraints”. For what it’s worth, I didn’t read for “weighty” subject matter, but for interesting themes, well developed. In the case of WHY WE BROKE UP, one of this year’s Honor titles, I can hardly call a terrible first break-up weighty as a theme, but it is universal, and Handler developed it so well that of course I fell immediately in love with it, scribbling YES! in my margins, reading exceptional passages to my long-suffering husband and gasping aloud when the full extent of Ed’s betrayal became horribly clear. It was stronger still for me on re-read, when I could approach Min’s lavish, self-indulgent, glorious cri de coeur knowing exactly how things had played out and WHY she was so toweringly furious.

    As for literary snobbishness, well, this is a literary award, not an “everyone loves this book!” award, which is itself very different from what you’d get with a “let’s give the awards to the books with the most stars!” award. One person says snobbishness, another person says quality! I say it’s about being discriminating, in the best sense of the word.

    Finally, one more thing we haven’t addressed: the irreproducible alchemy of each year’s committee — that group of nine thoughtful people and which of the criteria strike them as MOST important, which books fit the most important criteria best, and so on. More later!

  11. Beth Saxton says:

    I think as well when we talk about literary snobbery and budgets and whatnot we should also remember that different readers need/like/read different books. I think there are lots of places for readers to find out what everyone else is reading, there are not many places other than the Printz and like awards for readers who want truly excellent books. I think it was Liz Burns that pointed out even if only a couple kids in each high school appreciate something like Jellicoe Road or WTCB that’s still an awful lot of kids out there that got something they aren’t getting from another book.

    Sophie talked about Why We Broke Up, so I’ll talk about the Scorpio Races. It’s not absolutely the theme or plot of the book on it’s face, is it a “good read”. For Printz it is how skillfully the author executes it. For example Stiefvater’s Thisby is incredibly realized.

  12. Sophie Brookover says:

    Karyn asked: “Am I a snob for wanting some oomph in a Printz award winner? I think, as Sophie says in her comment, that that is a forgivable bar to set for a an award for literary quality. But that may be because I was a literature major. I spent a lot of time looking at writing for the writing’s sake, considering voice and language and imagery. I’m sure it’s left an impression.”

    No, it doesn’t make you a snob! Or, if it does, then I am calling for a more nuanced vision of snobbery, one which encompasses embracing excellence as a GOOD thing. That’s what I meant by discriminating, in the best possible sense. And I wasn’t even a literature major! (East Asian Studies, represent!)

    As Karyn also wrote, Printz is, at its core, an elimination game. I read, or started to read, several hundred books last year for the 2012 Award. In the end, at the table, we were fiercely debating waaaaay fewer than that, and those way fewer titles were a fraction of the total # of titles we nominated.

    There’s a huge difference between an elimination game, where there can be only ONE Winner (plus up to four Honor titles, yay!), and awarding stars, for which I’m unaware of any editorial floors or ceilings.

  13. Mark Flowers says:

    Karyn – we can still be soul mates! In fact, I think we probably agree more than it appears, and we’re differing more on rhetoric. Since you aren’t telling us the title of your Mary Poppins book (and I wouldn’t have read it anyway), perhaps we should talk some different examples. To me, when you say “practically perfect” but not weighty, I think of a book like ANGUS, THONGS . . ., which I think was quite rightly awarded a Printz Honor. But perhaps you think that ANGUS is completely re-readable and hence, doesn’t fall into the same category as the book you’re talking about? I guess the trouble I’m having is imagining a book that is well written, tightly plotted, etc etc that *isn’t* re-readable. Can you give us a different example?

    Also perhaps contributing to my cranky attitude is the fact that I think last year’s Printz was given to a book that was oh-so-”literary” but (imo) deeply flawed, in a year that was replete with practically perfect (but perhaps less re-readable?) fantasy novels like GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS and DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE. Of course, my own personal favorite was a completely different “literary” novel (EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS), and I too am a recovering English Major, so maybe I’m just holding a grudge.

  14. Elizabeth Fama says:

    I hope you all realize I was just poking the debate back to life when I brought up the “snobbery” concept. (It’s Sophie’s fault for tweeting that she wanted more comments! I am like Roger Rabbit in the “shave and a haircut” scene. TWO BIIITTS!) I think literary quality is essential in a winner, of course, along with re-readability, and Karyn’s notion that the winner should be “meaningful one, two, or ten years down the line.” I’d add that innovation is another great thing to look for (and perhaps that’s another thing WHY WE BROKE UP had). For the record, I don’t think literary quality should mean that the winners can never be fun, though.

    Not to hand out post topics for you, but this discussion has indirectly brought up the very interesting subject of “the committee.” Nine people have to agree on the Printz, whereas stars are handed out by many, many reviewers, subject to a single editor or small committee concurring or vetoing (according to Roger S.). This means the “alchemy” of each Printz committee (Sophie’s phrase) is crucial, and I would argue, makes the whole game of predicting the Printz winners (though not the contenders) virtually impossible…not that it’s not ridiculously fun to play along.

    So…I for one would someday love to hear about the alchemy of committees and how they work together as a unit, how nine different people come to a unanimous decision; the odd way in which it’s possible for the winner not to be any individual member’s top choice (I’ve heard of this happening with the Newbery), and how charisma, eloquence, silver tongue, bluster, passion, and intellectual reasoning bring some unexpected books to the fore and unceremoniously drop others. You guys have been in the trenches. SPILL.

    Also, I wonder about what factors sneak into the minds of committee members, secretly, furtively. Do you hesitate when it’s the author’s debut? Does partiality slip in for venerated authors? Is it difficult to rise above your genre preferences to see the value of books that aren’t to your taste (I can’t do this with movies)?

    And procedural things: in the early rounds, when you have piles of hundreds of books, I think you’ve said that a “problem” or weakness results in a book being laid aside, unfinished, at that point (unless resurrected by buzz or by another committee person). But when you have the finalists winnowed down to 10 or 20 books, do you ever become focused on blemishes as a group, just because you need SOMETHING to make your decision? Or do you start to discuss more abstractly instead?

  15. Sophie Brookover says:

    Elizabeth, these are all such wonderful questions! Thank you! (And don’t feel bad about stirring the pot — we WANT lively discussion here!)

    I want to clarify a misconception (one which I held for a long time, myself): the Printz Award doesn’t have to be a unanimous decision. It’s a consensus decision. To quote the voting procedures:

    http://www.ala.org/yalsa/booklistsawards/bookawards/printzaward/aboutprintz/criteria

    Voting Procedures

    Members must be present to vote. Proxies will not be accepted. Following discussion, balloting will begin. Paper ballots will be used and tallied either by the chair or her/his designee(s). On each ballot each member will vote for her/his top three choices. First choice receives five points; second choice receives three points, and third choice receives one point. Members are reminded that, at this point, they are voting for the winner, NOT for honor titles. A separate ballot will be conducted for honor titles. To win, a title must receive five first-place votes and must also receive at least five more points than the second-place title. If no title meets these criteria on the first ballot, any title receiving no votes is removed from consideration and a period of discussion of remaining titles follows. A second ballot is then conducted. Balloting continues in this fashion until a winner is declared.

    Honor Books

    All nominated titles are eligible for honor book consideration. Following the selection of a winner, a straw vote is conducted. Any title receiving no votes is removed from consideration. A formal, weighted ballot will follow. Based on the results of this ballot, the committee will decide if it wishes to name honor books and, if so, how many.

    The key take-away is that it’s the combination of number of first-place votes AND earning at least 5 points more than the second-place title that wins a book the gold.

    To answer your final question about focusing on blemishes — well, yes, definitely we did that. We’re looking for The Best Book of the Year, recognizing that there are no perfect books. Naturally, due to taste, the pool of books as a whole and other factors in the air, some criteria will weigh more heavily than others throughout the process (and in the end, what was most important as a pushing-over-the-top or deal-breaking factor was probably not exactly the same as anyone else’s). I found that it took us a while — reading, discussing F2F and via e-mail, reading some more, taking notes, discussing some more and reading some MORE — to hash out our collective priorities.

    Speaking only for myself, my biggest priorities were authenticity of voice, successful development of themes & characters, and the sense that the books I voted for would be ones I’d be proud to point to years & years hence and say, “This was a winner/honor title the year I served.”

  16. Sophie Brookover says:

    Aaaand, I just re-read your comment and want to respond to this question, too, since it is a GOOD one:

    “Is it difficult to rise above your genre preferences to see the value of books that aren’t to your taste (I can’t do this with movies)?”

    For me, no, it wasn’t difficult. In fact, serving on Printz taught me to re-evaluate horror & mystery, two genres I don’t read much of ordinarily. We had a number of really good conversations about the importance of acknowledging our preferences while moving beyond them to evaluate the books based on the criteria. The process works!

  17. Joy Piedmont says:

    I hope this doesn’t go too far away from the discussion here, but I’d like to make a movie analogy. So, when stars are awarded to a book, this signifies an exceptional review. I equate this with when a summer popcorn movie gets a great review in a major publication. A perfect recent example of this is Owen Gleiberman’s review of “The Three Stooges” in Entertainment Weekly: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20483133_20574333,00.html

    Gleiberman gives the movie an A-, but does that mean that it will show up around Awards season as a nominee or winner? No. The Academy Awards and other film honors are meant for filmmaking that is exceptional, innovative or both. Movie reviews are still largely meant to inform the public of what is worth seeing, whether that movie is a slapstick comedy, an action film, or a romantic comedy.

    What this illustrates is that reviews (for any art form) assess a work to see if it accomplishes what it should. Going back to the “Stooges,” Gleiberman clearly feels that the film delivers in every way that it should as a modern remake of comedy slapstick, making it a satisfying viewing experience for the people who want to see it (and perhaps even those who don’t). When he gives an A grade, it doesn’t signify great art, it just means the movie is fun.

    We can award stars for books that do exactly what they’re supposed to do, even if they’re not exceptional examples of the art form, but an award like Printz must single out the cream of the crop. Does this make sense? Forgive the movie analogy, but in my life I’ve spent much more time thinking about movies than YA lit.

  18. Sophie Brookover says:

    Joy, I think you’re absolutely on to something here. No need to apologize for the movie analogy! Some may take issue with the notion of the Oscars as celebrating only the very best in filmmaking but I agree with what you’re getting at.

    Starred reviews are certainly something that my fellow committee members & I paid attention to on Printz (as we are doing here on the blog) but it’s no guarantee come awards time. Maybe someone should create a Venn diagram of stars vis-a-vis Printz. Volunteers? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller?

  19. Elizabeth Fama says:

    Well, Jen B. didn’t include a Venn diagram, but her summary in this comment to Karyn’s “Reading, Reading, Reading” post gives a whole lot of information. The gold Printz winners really AREN’T correlated with multiple stars (although there’s perhaps a correlation with silver winners). Multiple stars might actually be negatively correlated with winning. (Jen B., can you e-mail me and I’ll do a statistical analysis if you can help me get more data? fama[dot]elizabeth[at-sign]gmail).

    About Joy’s comment: I’m not a reviewer (and you probably are!) but my gut feeling is that stars aren’t awarded to “books that do exactly what they’re supposed to do, even if they’re not exceptional examples of the art form.” I think the standard is considerably higher for stars–that something does have to be exceptional about the book. It may not reach the standards of a Printz award winner, but it can’t just to its job well. For movies, the equivalent to a star might be that reviewer’s top-10 list at the end of the year, not just the A he gives to many movies.

  20. Liz B says:

    Beth, I need to give credit where credit is due — I’m sure it was MT Anderson who made the observation about just one reader in each library is a lot of readers. But I’m not sure where; if it wasn’t him, it was another equally smart YA author.

  21. Beth Saxton says:

    I think Mark’s comments (and others) are just reminders of how subjective this process really is. No two people really read the same book, one person’s fantasy masterpiece is another reader’s pacing nightmare.

    For example, think of all the praise heaped on Okay for Now, then read what KT Horning has to say about it.

  22. Joy Piedmont says:

    Great point, Elizabeth: “I think the standard is considerably higher for stars–that something does have to be exceptional about the book. It may not reach the standards of a Printz award winner, but it can’t just to its job well.”

    I’m actually not familiar with the book review process, despite knowing slightly more than nothing about movie reviews–in my pre-library life, I was an entertainment blogger–and it makes sense that the criteria is really different. Although, I would still say that inclusion in a movie critic’s top ten list is not quite the right equivalent to a starred book, because critic’s top tens usually represent the same group of films which will be academy-award worthy.

    Beth, I think you’ve summed it up beautifully; reviews and awards are subjective, but they sure make for interesting discussion, no?

  23. Sophie Brookover says:

    Beth, I agree about the subjectivity angle, but would you say it’s fair that on our committee, we saw our passionate love for certain titles get tempered not only by the subjective taste of others but also more objective, critical discussion? I think we all used both techniques to bring out the strengths & weaknesses of many books, including our winner & honor titles.

    To me, that’s why it’s so important that an award like Printz have a good-sized committee. I honestly don’t know how the Newbery & Caldecott folks do it (15 members on each). You need one heckuva STRONG chair to ride herd over so many opinionated people!

  24. Beth Saxton says:

    Sophie – Absolutely. I think we all had books we loved that in the end just didn’t measure up. It’s hard not not talk about specifics. It’s the committee uniqueness that I was getting at- I think a different committee would pick some of the same books and some of our near-misses would be honored and vice-versa. Even if half the committee had been different people the final outcome would have been at least a little different I’m sure.

    I do think that no matter what when good books get recognition it’s a win all around.

  25. Sophie Brookover says:

    Yes, I totally agree. There are also books that, prior to that big weekend in January, I didn’t think would engender as much discussion as they did! And some books were elevated in my estimation through those discussions, too.

    I also agree about good books getting recognized – through stars, selection lists, awards, and impassioned discussions on blogs & Twitter (to say nothing of F2F conversation!) being a win.

  26. Carol E says:

    I don’t know how other people pick the one very best book of the year and those few that almost deserve that honor, but the criteria are in place to help a group of people do just that. One year I served on a committee — not the Printz —where we were comparing apples to plums to grapes and needed something beyond– does the book succeed in doing what it sets out to do. One of those titles was a Mary Poppins in characters, setting, voice, plot and yet it remained very forgettable. I think that what some are talking about here as depth is actually about the universality of the theme. If the theme is wear clean knickers just in case something happens, that is not going to resonate and hold me on rereadings like the psychological underpinnings of vanity– a more universally resonant theme. I want to be different for having read the book. I want to see the world in a new way, and it’s that quality that makes it a prize winner and gives it that lasting impact. Because prize winners have to stand up to the test of time.

  27. Jen B. says:

    Elizabeth – I just sent you the spreadsheet I put together. Look for it from JABViolin[at-sign]aol. I’m not wholly convinced of it’s accuracy, but it’s at least an approximation of the data on stars vs. Printz. I noted for each title whether it received a star or not from the six journals we use in our deparment: Booklist, the Bulletin, Horn Book, Kirkus, PW and SLJ. DR stands for didn’t review – it occurred to me that if a review journal didn’t review one of the titles that might skew the data some. Looks like it didn’t happen real often though. ???? means I wasn’t sure if it was reviewed or not, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t get a star. (I meant to send you all that info in the body of the e-mail, but hit send a little early). I’m excited to see if you come up with any more trends – I’m good at collecting and organizing data, but have a hard time making conclusions from it sometimes!

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