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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

HULK SMASH

7006096262 97d816160f z HULK SMASH

Get it? Get it, guys!?

A long time ago, we started out thinking and talking about the Printz policies and procedures. And do you know what I said? What I typed, I mean?

Yeah, but who wants to be on a committee that picks a book everyone hates, y’know? I guess this is a good opportunity to talk about POPULARITY (since the criteria are yelling…) versus APPEAL. And whether either of those concepts have any business being in the conversation that is actually all about QUALITY.

Karyn pointed out the difference between popularity and appeal, and mentioned that appeal is, in the end, a pretty subjective concept. She also pointed out that at the Printz table, you have the luxury of stepping away from the question of appeal and just focusing on questions of literary excellence.

And then I stepped in and beat on the drum a little more about teen appeal and how that’s an important part of our work as librarians and shouldn’t we think of the teens WHAT ABOUT THE TEENS?? HULK LOVE TEENS, WANT TEENS TO READ NICE BOOKS. (OK, Hulk has nothing to do with this post at all, but we just saw The Avengers and so now all I want to do is type like HULK. WITH CAPS. SMASH SMASH SMASH.) Back then, we moved on to other parts of the P&P. Because we had a lot of words to cover and more thoughts to share.

But I’m still wondering: Can something be both really excellent and really boring? And, as my notes for this blog post so eloquently said, “appeal teens reading quality what is YA anyway arg halp!”


There are two basic schools of thought on the appeal issue: one camp feels that all books have appeal, at least potentially — some teen, somewhere will read and appreciate any given book and that’s good enough. And the other camp falls somewhere along the lines of: not all books marked as YA (or 12 to 18, or grades 7 through 12, or however you care to define “teen”) work equally well for enough teens to be meaningfully called “a book for teens.”

(I may have gotten that first school of thought wrong; as you probably guessed, I’m more in the second. I just checked myself and called Karyn because I know she’s more sympathetic to that first camp. She very intelligently said, “It’s about trust — in the author, the editor, the publicist, the reviewers; a huge team of people have worked with this material and carefully considered questions of audience.”)

But as I write this blog post, all I’m doing is coming up with questions. (THIS HULK’S CRI DE COEUR.) So I will pass these questions on to you.

If some books leave the table because of a lack of appeal…well, what is appeal, anyway? Just because you can imagine a teen that might read a given book, does that mean that the book actually has an audience? How big of an audience ought a book have? And how is that not, then, just a question of popularity?

And if you can’t find a teen reader (or can’t even imagine one), do you listen to your fellow committee members and let their teens guide you? Is that enough? (I’m asking this one very philosophically; there are very few Printz winners that have zero teen readers in my experience. They may not be the books flying off the shelves, but they are getting read by some teens.) But assuming that there is a subset of teens who would find a book appealing, can a book be too niche?

Do you have to test Printz books with teen readers? How much weight would their voices carry at the table — what would that process even look like? Coming from Quick Picks, I cannot actually imagine putting that practice (bringing only teens’ voices to the table, doing as much as you can to leave out the librarians’ voices) into place at the Printz table.

And yet. AND YET, SAY HULK. I want the Printz to have teen readers. I want it to be a useful pick. I am fine for the Printz winner (and honors!) to be aspirational — to be books that might not otherwise get talked about and might not otherwise find their way into teens’ hands. But all of that just leads me to my most hated phrase ever, the phrase that brings out my biggest HULK SMASH impulse: proven or potential appeal, found in lots and lots of policies and procedures. “Potential appeal” are weasel words. SMASH. They’re words that allow us to forget our adult privilege and (possibly) begin imposing our own, adult taste on books that are not meant primarily for us as an audience. (NOT that adults can’t read and enjoy YA, NOT HULK’S POINT AT ALL.)

Let’s return to my point: HULK WANT GIVE TEENS NICE BOOKS TO READ. How do we make sure the Printz does that?

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About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.

Comments

  1. This is a very tough question. As an adult, I have enjoyed quite a few Printz titles, but a vast majority of them, I feel, has no teen appeal whatsoever. Like, for instance, Tender Morsels. I admire this book, I am glad it won awards, but teen appeal? – there is none.

    Also, I remember having a conversation with a group of friends about one of the last year’s honorees – The Returning. I don’t know even one person who truly enjoyed reading this novel, even though many acknowledge its merits. So for me, in addition to the appeal, there is a question of readability and enjoyment. In my mind, an excellent novel can’t be boring, otherwise, what is so excellent about it? A reader’s enjoyment should be always a factor in assessing any work of literature.

  2. Beth Saxton says:

    Are there two questions here?

    1. Does the current Printz criteria allow the committee to consider teen appeal?

    I feel like the answer is no. Certainly the committee can consider if a book is a actually young adult but appeal is a tricky thing.

    2.Should the Printz criteria be changed to account for this?

    I’m not sure. I feel like that’s why we have BFYA Top Ten, BFYA, Quick Picks etc. If I had limited funds I would probably purchase the BFYA Top Ten before the Printz Honors.

    Yet, if the Printz is to be about literary merit, and I think something should be, should it not be decided by widely read adults qualified to discuss things like pacing, characterization, theme etc.

    Also, even if we do get rid of our adult privilege I’m not sure teens who would be approached for this kind of feedback don’t have their own. Lets take a book for the sake of argument, like Leverage (which I had issues with, but put that aside we’re not talking literary merit anymore). Does it have teen appeal? I’m sure the answer that most BFYA committee members came back with was yes since it’s on the top ten.

    Does that book appeal to my inner city teens? Not at all. Are there lots of teens that wouldn’t touch Between Shades of Grey with a 50 foot pole? Lots. But what does that really mean as far as the book? Do you see why appeal is a really sticky thing when we’re talking about best? Appeal to what teens? How many characters of any minority have been in the Teens Top Ten in the last 10 years?

    Certainly all teens do not have the same taste.

    Doesn’t adding that in just make for a more subjective choice? Is that helpful?

    On a more practical level I think that teens read books they hear about, and if they aren’t hearing about Printz books from their teachers or librarians than that is another problem all together.

  3. Jess says:

    My brain is too fried after 5 on a Monday to respond intelligently to the Hulk’s burning questions, but I just have to chime and respond to Tatiana about The Returning – I’m an adult, sure, but I genuinely enjoyed reading it. Easy? No, but I did enjoy it. I will sleep on the question of popularity.

  4. tess says:

    Well, I’m sixteen and very much in the first camp. YA, as a genre, has enough readers’ choice awards throwing out accolades to paranormal romance novels. That’s why I value the Printz – there’s no condescension. Honestly, the whole, “will enough teenagers like it?” thing puzzles me slightly. Surely awards-giving bodies for adults don’t worry about appeal to the same extent (or maybe they do, I’ve never been a part of one, obviously)? IMO, the main criteria for the Printz should be literary excellence, full stop.

    Also, with regards to what Tanita said, I just want to throw out that Tender Morsels is one of my favourite books and I genuinely enjoyed reading The Returning. So even though the teen appeal for those books might be limited, it does exist.

  5. Maureen E says:

    I wonder if part of the problem is defining what we mean when we talk about teen appeal this way. After all, teens are hardly a monolithic entity. Do we mean that a book should appeal to some particular group of teens? Or is it more of a lowest common denominator idea? Obviously (in my opinion), a book given an award for being the best teen fiction should have some teen appeal, but it’s hard to say that a particular book has no appeal for any teen anywhere. It seems like Sarah’s original post wants a broader teen appeal. I tend to think of that as sacrificing something, but then I think I’m more in the first camp anyway. As usual, I’m thinking out loud.

    Also, I’m another reader who really enjoyed The Returning.

  6. Hmm…As a school librarian I usually find myself reaching for Printz winners and honors when a student needs a book for a school project. Also when teachers are looking to use YA in their curriculum.

    I agree with Beth and tess. There are a lot of other awards/booklists out there concerned strictly with reading appeal. Sometimes you get crossover – the literary excellence of the Printz with an addictive read – but sometimes what appeals most to the bulk of YA readers is too fluffy (or vampy) for an award like the Printz. I guess this places me in the first camp. If a book is well written it will appeal to readers somewhere. Rarely is a book both well written and a DNF. Just because a book is ‘difficult’ or ‘traumatic’ go get through does not mean it won’t have teen appeal. I am time and time again surprised by the thirst my teens have for touchy subjects an adult “wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole” (note: I’m quoting a school administrator with this one).

    And tess the teen reader above just proves that we should remember that our YA readers are smart. They know the value and enjoyment of a well written book…even if they love their fluff just as much. Printz needs to focus on a well written book first and reader appeal second. It doesn’t need to be the prom queen…but it’s gotta be smart enough to graduate in the top 10.

  7. Karyn Silverman says:

    Somewhere along the line I might have confused “comment” with “blog post.” So apologies in advance for this tome.

    Ok, first, I’d like to further unpack what I mean when I say “trust.” I am trusting that a book with thematic scope/resonance/depth that speaks to adolescent concerns and developmental assets has YA appeal, even if it doesn’t have popularity or commercial appeal. And actually, there is a reason that “wide” is a modifier for appeal– because appeal in and of itself doesn’t imply a size or range.

    I trust that if there was nothing in the book to speak to a (not all) YA reader from that perspective of thematic scope, much less plot and character, etc., the book wouldn’t have been published as YA/received good reviews/been lauded by any of the YAlit world peeps I know.

    I also trust the teen readers of the world, many of whom read adult-marketed books as much if not more than YA, and whose comprehension of and appreciation for Literature can be significant. Again, I’m not talking all teens; there are dozens of factors that dictate what and how each of us reads (interests, cultural background, education, previous reading, etc.) So there are some teens who don’t want anything other than the latest it books. (And adults who only want that, too.) That readership is NOT the audience for the Printz. It will never be. And that’s ok. There are other places for those readers to find the books they want and for those books to shine.

    Anyway.

    Beth, I think you raise an excellent point about kids not hearing about the winners/honors. I have so many thoughts about the mismarketing and advertising of the Printz in general, from the institutional and grassroots levels alike. And I’m guilty of adding to the problem, I think; I debated what to put on our choice list for summer reading, and The Returning didn’t make it. I couldn’t justify recommending a title with a small appeal market, so I went for something more commercial.

    Oh, and also, I was on the RealPrintz committee that recognized Tender Morsels. And if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you definitely know where I stand on The Returning, summer reading choice notwithstanding. I will defend both of those books til death (although hopefully it won’t come to that) as being genuinely YA in thematic scope, which is appealing enough for me.

    So yeah. Appeal is not an item on my criteria list, and this conversation has made me feel that even more strongly (until someone jumps back in for the opposition, anyway). But it sure is nice when the well written is ALSO the broadly appealing, and all this discussion to the contrary, the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

    • Sarah Couri says:

      It sounds like everyone is saying that no book is too niche for a gold sticker (or an honor).

      Tatiana, it’s funny you bring up Tender Morsels. I had actually included a paragraph about it as my example of a possibly too niche book. While I couldn’t rightfully say that it flew off the shelf, it did enjoy (steady? regular? some? not sure which adjective to use) circulation. I loved it, as did my supervisor, and we were quick to talk it up to readers (both adult and teen readers). There were teens who took it, stuck with it, and enjoyed it. They were mostly girls, and they were mostly teens who were asking about retold/reimagined fairy tales. It still required a great deal of hand selling (which is fine, IMO — I’m not asking for popularity here!). There were some teen readers; it sounds like people are saying those few teen readers are enough.

      tess, I would never want the Printz to be condescending, or insulting, or to talk down to teen readers. I really, really don’t want to leave that impression with you (or with anyone!). I do believe that it’s possible to find a book that is both an amazing, excellent read while asking, is this a book that a/some teen(s) will read? (Erg, and I probably would be asking these questions if I were ever to serve on some adult literary award committee. That is most likely why they will never ask me! What can I say, I’m a librarian and I like to see the books off the shelves!)

      While the criteria give a nice list of qualities to look for, finding a Printz winner is quite a subjective process. Your definition of quality may not be the same as mine, eh? And didn’t Sophie point out that even replacing one person on a committee could lead to a different winner? I just feel (heh, quite strongly, I guess!) that if we’re going to ask all these questions about literary quality, it might be good to ask “what is it about this book that speaks to teens?” And I think it would be even more awesome-fabulous if there was a way to bring teen voices to the table to talk both about the high quality of the book and also about what it was about the book that spoke to them.

      Beth, your last question is worthy of a whole other blog post. :-)

  8. Karyn Silverman says:

    I should have just waited– SaraO makes all my points way more pithily than I ever managed. Skip my comment, read hers.

  9. I am trusting that a book with thematic scope/resonance/depth that speaks to adolescent concerns and developmental assets has YA appeal, even if it doesn’t have popularity or commercial appeal.

    Oh no! Karyn said the magic words that raise my hackles every year. “Adolescent concerns.” I just DON’T GET this criterion, and I wish it would go away (how about in honor of Maurice Sendak today?). I’ll repeat my argument of last year: Megan Whalen Turner. And I’ll add an argument this year: CODE NAME VERITY. (I am deliberately pushing your buttons, Karyn, because I know you love it.) CNV is so worthy of consideration, it would be criminal if it doesn’t become a contender, but the concerns in it are not adolescent, they’re adult, and the characters themselves are definitely “new adult,” not “young adult,” given their jobs as ATA pilot and spy. I want to argue that Printz winners almost by definition–in order to reach the literary quality we’re talking about–should have more universal and less stereotypically “adolescent” concerns as their primary themes. This is precisely why many examples of what you’re calling the latest “it” book, or I would argue fluffy contemporaries, fall short of the Printz mark (although I have a vested interest in hoping that it’s possible to have both gravitas and paranormal in the same book).

  10. Jess says:

    I’m finding myself agreeing with SaraO and Karyn. It’s great if the Printz winners have wide appeal, but it’s icing on the cake. The cake has to be amazing on its own to win an award like this (now I want to bake a cake, great).

    Elizabeth, in regards to “adolescent concerns” – it’s an awful phrase, but to me it means books that provide something the teen reader is looking for. Books like Code Name Verity are about young adults who are more adult than teen, but they’re about people navigating the world of ‘what does it mean to be adult’ and ‘how will I live as an adult,’ at least to some extent. I think that’s very much an adolescent concern, especially for teens about to move on to college or thinking about how to live in the world as an adult. I think teens need books that are about adult life.

    Having those books be about pilots and spies and life behind enemy lines just adds a higher level of tension and excitement than books about finding a job after college, but CNV was, to me, very much about friendship. And when I was a teen, my friendships were a driving force in my life, and a book like this would have been exactly about my “adolescent concerns.” Is CNV also more universal? Of course.

  11. Karyn says:

    Elizabeth, Jess, agreed that it’s not a very good phrase, and if someone has something better in mind, I’ll take it! But Jess hits the nail on the head. I’m not talking necessarily plot, and I’m not talking surface concerns (does he/she like me, am I pretty, etc.)– but the big, underlying questions that are the heart of adolescence (and continue to haunt many of us into adulthood) about ourselves (the who am I variety) and the world (why does the world suck would be the teen version, but in the big picture way).
    I’d actually argue that a lot of the fluff is not about these questions despite seeming more adolescent at first glance, but instead focuses on will I get the guy and leaves the other stuff up to Destiny, making them thematically skimpy at best. The ones that delve deeper are the ones that rise above the crowd.

  12. Liz B says:

    Regarding CODE NAME VERITY: My belief is that a book can be more than one thing, so can address adolescent concerns and adult concerns. For “adolescent concerns”: VERITY is about friendship and the strength and power of friendship, and for teen readers, that is a very important part of their lives. Especially in the first part, Queenie examines who she is (a coward) with who she thought she was (bravely imitating ancestors/heroes): it’s about becoming and not becoming who or what we hoped. That is, IMHO, a very adolescent concern: will who they be as adults be who they want to be as adults?

  13. Well, just to be ornery, I don’t think CNV is about “who do I want to be as an adult” since the characters ARE adults. It’s more about “I thought I was a certain person, and then the world changed and I was forced to look harder at who I am and want to be.” So, sure, teens will apply that to their own lives and stage of development, but so will adults, and that’s what makes it a universal theme which is what we should be looking for, and how I personally would prefer to define the contenders. I’m saying more what Karyn’s last point was: adolescents have the same deep concerns as adults (their superficial concerns may be slightly different–there are things you grow out of), and so the GREAT young-adult books are the ones that by definition address deep concerns and are therefore not adolescent novels, but universal ones. And we don’t have to figure out ways of saying, “It really is adolescent!” or massage it to seem adolescent when it’s frankly not, it applies to everyone.

  14. Re-reading Liz’s comment, I see we’re quite in agreement, but what I’m trying to be forceful about is that we should forget about making adolescent connections when we don’t need to, we should actively look for “universal.” Or in other words, when Liz says “a book can be more than one thing” I would say “a Printz should be more than one thing.”

  15. Mark Flowers says:

    Everyone seems to be on my side on this one, but why not through another voice in there: yes, I believe that “no book is too niche for a gold sticker.”

    To one of the specific examples: Tender Morsels was so staggeringly better written than pretty much anything else that year (adult and YA alike) that it would have been a crime not to award it (thanks Karyn!). And thanks to Tess for saying it’s one of her favorites – the YA copy in my branch circs twice as well as the adult copy.

    But even if it didn’t circ at all, that’s not the point. The award isn’t about rewarding books that have appeal, or generating buzz for undervalued books, or anything else except recognizing the highest quality teen books of the year. I, for one, think that is a completely noble purpose that needs no apology or qualification.

    • Sarah Couri says:

      Oh, Mark, you have (probably unwittingly!) launched me into the realm of the philosophical and I am compelled to respond again. I am, in fact, a little on fire in my fervor. Be warned! (Also know: when I am saying “you” in this comment, I don’t mean anyone personally, I just mean the general “you.”)

      “But even if it didn’t circ at all, that’s not the point. The award isn’t about rewarding books that have appeal, or generating buzz for undervalued books, or anything else except recognizing the highest quality teen books of the year. I, for one, think that is a completely noble purpose that needs no apology or qualification.”

      I just…could not possibly disagree more. In a friendly way, of course. :-) I may be alone in this, I recognize that. But this paragraph gave me a new way to phrase my thoughts.

      I don’t think it’s noble to recognize a book that no one cares to read. Obviously we are in the realm of the philosophical here; I sincerely doubt that there is an Actual Winner that is not loved by some teen, if not some teens. But I find it irresponsible to come in to committee work prepared to disregard the people you are ostensibly serving. When I am librarianing, I do not serve Literature. I serve teens.

      I do not think it’s extra, or burdensome, to give teens books (or ARCs). I do not think it’s extra, or burdensome, to talk to them about the books (or ARCs) they are reading. I do not think it’s extra, or burdensome, to remember what they have to say about the books (or ARCs) they have read. I do not think it’s impossible to share those teens’ thoughts at the table — even, in some fashion, at the Printz table.

      I don’t believe that “appeal” has to be a dirty word in Printz land.

      It can be complicated to tease out, sure. And, as Beth and SarahO have pointed out, teens are not a monolith entity. Defining appeal on the QP committee was something we never really stopped doing. But if a book can’t be too niche, is it really that impossible to have to prove appeal at the same time as proving literary excellence?

  16. Hannahlily says:

    This is such a fantastic discussion! After giving it a lot of thought and even discussing it with my coworkers, I think I’m actually most inclined to agree with Sarah. (Sarah, you’re not alone!) Yes, the Printz award should definitely go to the book that is the most well-written; but isn’t part of that well-written-ness teen appeal? This isn’t any old award, it’s an award for teen books, and, as such, I really belive that the books that are named worthy of the Printz should speak to teens.
    I realize I am totally in the minority here, but I think that part of literary excellence is readability; not the only part or even the most important part. I just think that a Printz book should be one that, once a teen picks it up, he or she will want to finish it. not all teens, and not the teens just looking for a light summer read, but those teens who really care about reading a great book. (by the way, I think Tender Morsels, The Returning, and Code Name Verity all fall in this category easily).

  17. Joy Piedmont says:

    Okay, I’ve waited so long to comment, that now there is too much to respond to!

    I’ll just say that I think when we talk about teen appeal, there is a macro- and a micro-level.

    Macro: If you’re a librarian/teacher/parent who is really in-touch with the teens in your life, you should be able to assess appeal in a general sense, knowing that you will find the right teen for a particular title.

    Micro: Appeal is tricky, subjective, and will vary wildly from teen to teen. Unless I poll every teenager on every title, I’ll never know what the micro-level appeal is for a particular title.

    How does this affect Printz? I guess this puts me on the side of “all books have appeal,” but I can certainly appreciate the concern that this attitude can lead to adults imposing their taste on teens. If we look at appeal through a macro/micro lens, I think you’ll find that you can factor in, or disregard appeal without ignoring the teen voice and sensibility.

  18. Mark Flowers says:

    @ Sarah: you say “I don’t think it’s noble to recognize a book that no one cares to read.” I’m trying to think of a more sophisticated response than “well I do–nyah nyah nyah!” ;)

    Seriously, though. I understand that this is a complicated conversation on which I happen to hold a very extreme position. I do think that Hannahlily’s comments could help to bridge the gap. I completely agree that “part of literary excellence is readability” (at least in some contexts, insofar as that is part of the author’s intention), so I would be ok with using “readability” as a criteria instead of (and possibly as a rough proxy for) “teen appeal.”

    Part of our disagreement also stems from this sentence of yours: “When I am librarianing, I do not serve Literature. I serve teens.” I agree with that completely. As a librarian, I constantly recommend books that I personally find uneven, poorly written, or even actively distasteful, because I know that the teen in front of me might enjoy them. I just don’t think the Printz Committee is “librarianing” and think it is “serv[ing] Literature.” I agree with those above who mentioned BFYA, Quick Picks, etc. as ways that YALSA serves the dual needs of quality and appeal. And that therefore there is an opening for an award that simply looks at quality alone.

    I also agree with you that this is becoming heavily theoretically. I hold as a matter of faith that there do not actually exist any books which do not have readers, and I also believe that practically everything marketed as YA (including the “niche” titles we’re talking about) have significant appeal to some group of teens. Nevertheless, I still believe that awarding excellence is a noble end to itself.

    • Sarah Couri says:

      Joy, I think that I will be considering both macro- and micro- appeal in the context of the Printz for a while. I really appreciate your comment and after I sit with it for a while, I may have something intelligent to offer in response. Let’s hope so, I think there’s tremendous potential in using those terms in this discussion. In other words, more later!

      Hannahlily, yay, it’s feeling a bit less lonely out here now! And Mark, maybe Hannahlily’s “readability” is a way to bridge our disagreement. But I do wonder: why not just say “teen appeal” instead of “readability”? We are agreeing that these books have “significant appeal to some group of teens.” Why not prove that by asking teens? As teen librarians, chances are, we are already doing that every day!

      I feel compelled to quote this, Hannahlily, because it made me so happy to read and because I so agree: “I just think that a Printz book should be one that, once a teen picks it up, he or she will want to finish it. not all teens, and not the teens just looking for a light summer read, but those teens who really care about reading a great book. (by the way, I think Tender Morsels, The Returning, and Code Name Verity all fall in this category easily).”

      (And apologies, SaraO, for including the h back there. I just noticed that now.)

      (GAH! And it was Maureen E who talked about the non-monolith-ness of teens! More apologies!)

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      Mark, hear hear!

      I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the following question Sarah raised, obliquely at first and then directly in the comments:

      Why not prove that by asking teens? As teen librarians, chances are, we are already doing that every day!

      And I’ve come to the conclusion that as far as the Printz goes, my response is a big fat NO. For one, not every librarian has ready access to the teen readers likely to like a Printz contenda. When I was at the public library, I had a crowd of older nonreaders and most of my readers were 8th grade or younger. They were going to grow up to read Tender Morsels, or (to go recent) Where Things Come Back. But they weren’t there yet. And that’s with ready access to teens; plenty of those who have served on the Printz are not working directly with teens. So that’s the practical.

      But mostly it’s that micro/macro Joy so eloquently referenced. If I am any good at all at my job, I am qualified to make the appeal call without proof, because I understand teen readers, macrostyle, even if we’re calling it readability and assuming we care at all (although really, I stand mostly with Mark on the more extreme side of this question). Otherwise we risk tossing wonderful books because no one was able to find a micro reader in time. And that seems much more criminal than the occasional winner that turns out to be a bit of a loser (little appeal and little lasting value, when looked at a few years down the line).

  19. Pardon my ignorance, but how can one be on a committee that evaluates teen literature and have or have had no access to teen readers? I just can’t fathom how such person would qualify? There are some requirements as to who can serve on the committee, correct?

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      Tatiana, that’s a great question. I’m thinking of materials specialists and others in central libraries or back offices, branch managers who no longer do teen programming, or professors of young adult literature– there are so many positions in youth services without much youth access. Not having daily access to teens shouldn’t matter if you are talking a professional who stays in touch with the field and really has that macro thing down (and has HAD access to teens in the past, presumably), but could making getting real teen readers a challenge. Also, you need access to a variety of teens to test every book and find the right reader (or determine that there isn’t one, I guess), and that’s a challenge even for those of us who do have our own teens to work with. My current population is light on sports readers, for instance (hi, city kids). Does that mean no sports-centric book ever deserves recognition? But I’d be hard pressed to sell a sports-centric book in my community– Tim Tharp’s Knights of the Hill Country, which made me reassess how I feel about football books, has yet to circulate despite attempts at handselling, but friends in other parts of the country say it moves well.

  20. Sophie Brookover says:

    I have been working on putting my thoughts together for days now, and as I’ve been doing so, of course, so many people have been contributing so thoughtfully that now I feel like I don’t have much that’s new to say.

    I do want to point out that this conversation has been particularly useful in parsing the meaning of “appeal” — I’ve seen related terms like “readability” and “finding an audience”, and I really like that we’re separating YA appeal from commercial appeal & popularity.

    I am sympathetic to what Sarah’s getting at, but I lean more towards agreeing with the argument put forward by Karyn, Mark, Beth & others, who prefer to set aside matters of readership & appeal. Quality & appeal can & do overlap, but Printz is about quality, quality uber alles.

  21. Sarah Couri says:

    Tatiana, Karyn already answered your excellent question and said exactly what I’d have started with. I just wanted to add my experiences at NYPL to illustrate how someone who doesn’t work with teens every day might still solicit teens’ opinions. The NYPL teen programming specialist was on QP a couple of years ago and didn’t see teens every day. He found time to visit the Teen Central TAG and pass out books, get opinions, booktalk, and share the titles. He took that information back with him, and I was able to get him more in-depth opinions from other non-readers as well because he left books for me to share. Another librarian who served on QP while I did is a professor and so worked with LIS students, not teens. She teamed up with a local public librarian and, I think, a school librarian to help pass potential titles out to non-readers and get opinions and feedback. So it’s possible for librarians who don’t see teens every day to still get teen feedback. It’s extra work, sure, but if involving teens in the committee process is important, then it can be managed.

    Anyway. After a week of sitting with this and thinking about it and writing with you guys about it, I think I’ve arrived at what I should have blogged about in the first place, and have been trying to articulate all along. Slow percolator, remember? :-)

    What I’m so hyped up about is actually teen participation in the committee process. Teen participation is, in my experience, what is truly powerful at the heart of teen librarianing. We are in a position to open things up, to be transparent, to get teens involved. I think that’s important and has value. It keeps us honest and truly serving teens, rather than our best guess at what teens want and need. It gives teens tons of opportunities to be active participants and leaders in their communities, in their libraries.

    To put it in the macro/micro context (thank you, Joy!), I heavily privilege micro because I think that teens’ voices and opinions have value. Because I think that a teen opinion is more important than an adult opinion when we are talking about teen literature. Not because teen opinions will differ so much from adult opinions, necessarily, but because I am looking for authenticity to the teen experience. Teens are equipped to speak to that in a way that we adults are not. They can do so through a literary lens, which would be appropriate in PrintzLand — I believe this. I think it’s worth doing. I actually think it’s the most important thing we can do.

    (Obviously, Mark, I am just as extreme as you, just on the other side. Thank you for not settling with neener neener as a response, BTW, because you’ve really gotten me to think about this a lot!)

    The programs and projects that I’ve worked on at the library that teens have led the way on, that teens have been heavily involved in from the conception to the execution have, without exception, been the ones that have been best attended, had the best feedback, and been the most rewarding. I don’t think this has to end at my local level, or just be the way we program. I think that teens can, and should, participate in all aspects of the librarian process (in this case, book selection, really, or literary awards, in the case of Printz) on a national level, too.

    And Karyn, I hear what you are saying, about populations being narrow, but isn’t that why we have librarians from all over the country serving on committees? To me, that just means that when we’re serving on a committee we should reach out to any and all teens we can reach. Rollie Welch worked with teens in a suburban school (where his wife taught) and also reached out to incarcerated teens and juveniles in detention homes while on QP. It’s possible for one librarian to reach a lot of teens. If soliciting teen feedback on titles were an expected, explicit part of all committee P&P, I am sure we’d see lots of librarians reaching out to a wide variety of teens. I think this would be a positive thing.

    I am so enjoying this discussion by the way, and all the thinking you have inspired me to do; I hope you guys are, too. And I know that I’ve moved off into very theoretical All The Committees land, but I do think that this could apply to Printz as well. Without being about popularity. Without being solely about appeal. While still keeping a very literary focus. While still talking about quality. One aspect of quality in literature for teens, surely, is that the books resonate with teens, no? I don’t think it’s crazy to examine that aspect.

  22. Thank you for answering, Karyn and Sarah. And I very much like the conclusion you’ve drawn, Sarah. I’ve been on the side of factoring “appeal” in the selection process, and although some take it as a push for nominating and awarding widely popular titles and putting aside the titles of literary quality, most of us probably can agree that what we actually want is for books both well-written AND with appeal to readers to be acknowledged.

    Although I am not even a librarian, this topic interests me a lot. As I’ve read through various Printz titles, I noticed that during quite a few years (sadly, 2012 was one of them) titles were picked that were SO niche that even I, an adult who has appreciation for quality literature, couldn’t find anything compelling enough for myself to finish, never mind love. How would teen readers react to those winners and honorees, is sad to think of.

    Of course there were years with selections very reader-friendly, notably 2011 and 2009, IMO. Those books I enjoyed a lot. Hope to see similar successes in future.

  23. Sarah Couri says:

    Tatiana, I am feeling less lonely, thank you! :-) And, uh, I totes love 2011′s pick as well, hee!

    I do think it’s important to note, though, that tess is a teen — and was one of the most ardent admirers of Where Things Come Back around these parts. Which is exactly why I think it’s valuable to talk to teens and get their opinions.

    It sounds like, for you, maybe a book can be too niche? Is that fair to say? When does a book stop being too niche, do you think?

  24. That’s a hard question to answer, especially from my, non-professional, POV.

    To me, any book that is selected for its structure and style, at the expense of compelling characters and a compelling plot, is too niche. I know, it’s a pedestrian definition, and yet I am sticking with it.

    Let’s take “Where Things Come Back” (the only 2012 Printz book that I actually finished and felt only luke-warm about). I appreciated this novel’s unique structure, but ask me if I remember anything else about it, and I will fail to name anything except the woodpecker. But ask me if I remember Frankie Landau-Banks or Jonah Griggs or Nailor or Vera Dietz. You bet I remember them and their stories.

    From my experience, books that stand the test of time, are both well written and with appeal (or are compelling, whatever you want to call them). For me, these two factors are prerequisites of literary excellence.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      See, and now we’re moving from “what is appeal” (and whether it matters) to what comprises literary quality, which is the fundamental Printz question. :)

      Tatiana, your definition speaks really strongly to character as a (possibly THE) critical element for you. (Although I am fascinated that you point to Jonah rather than Taylor or Narnie as the character who stands as central in Jellicoe!) There’s a whole conversation to be had about how we rate different aspects as we measure literary excellence, both personally and in groups, and we’ll have it more formally at least once, I’m sure, but I would argue that if we use only one or two measures to determine the excellence of a book, we risk missing great stuff. Last year, the number one book in my collection was Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, which is mostly imagery. And my teens were wild for it. Celia and Marco are really thin as characters– they are literally puppets of forces they cannot understand. Rated for compelling character, I think I’d fail the book! And as far as plot goes… well, it’s practically transparent. And yet, it’s a magnificent read–dreamy, intense, imaginative, beautifully written– and clearly compelling based on the circulation and fan art around these parts. I think a book can stand out without a compelling character or plot by being astounding in other ways– and have standout characters and plot and still fall short of excellence, for a slightly objective* value of excellence.
      *I don’t think there is a truly objective measuring stick, but there are levels of subjective.

  25. Karyn, I am shocked to know teens love “The Night Circus,” truly stunned, because I felt, exactly due to transparent characters and non-existent plot you’ve mentioned (BTW, we’ve had a multitude of conversations about this novel on Goodreads), it would never appeal to younger readers. I could see how a large number of adults would end up reading (if not liking) it due to a very heavy promotion, but teens? Alas, I am wrong again:)

  26. Jess says:

    Tatiana, I think it’s so interesting that you mention Jellicoe Road as a reader-friendly winner – I LOVED that book in the end, but struggled getting to the point where it all made sense. To me, it’s just as niche as Where Things Come Back (which I thought was pretty great, too – not just in terms of theme and structure, but also the characters).

    I’m really enjoying this discussion, and I keep almost being swayed by the appeal arguments, but I keep coming back to literary distinction as the main criteria. I think it would be great if Printz committee members solicited teen opinions, but I don’t think very limited appeal should prevent a book from being awarded the Printz.

    I’ve attended a mock Printz workshop in Portland for several years, which is mostly attended by librarians, but some folks bring along teens. It’s fascinating to hear their reactions to the short list of titles – what they loved or hated and why. They split us up into small groups for discussion, and each group picks a winner. After we announce our winners there’s a large group discussion, and I’ve seen years where a title is completely divisive – librarians will love it, teens will hate it, or vice versa.

  27. Jess, our experiences with Jellicoe Road seem to be very different. I agree, that it takes awhile to put all the pieces together (it took me a good quarter of a book for sure), but almost all of the readers I’ve introduced to this a book (and that’s quite a lot on Goodreads), loved it. (Not sure how many teens were amongst them though.) Whereas I know maybe 2 people loved Where Things Come Back. The most common response to it was middling meh.

  28. I’ve read all the comments above and the thought running through my mind is purely personal and off topic – what about us middle school librarians? My students come in more sophisticated every year. In that they’ve “seen” Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl and wonder why I don’t have them when I have The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Alex Award) or Looking For Alaska (Printz Winner).

    I’m constantly walking the lines between popularity and quality, Newbery and Printz, as well as school and public library policies. Not to mention trying to stretch a budget that has to cover all those things and now the common core’s push for more nonfiction.

    I can’t just buy books for teacher’s to use in the classroom. I can’t just buy books for student’s recreational reading (many of my students, despite their affluent backgrounds, only get their books from school). I can’t just buy books that win the Newbery or Printz, basically because they sit on the shelves and then I have to weed them possibly because they were too young or too old for my students.

    So my personal question -which I hope will be addressed somewhere – what about those children who are between 10 and 14? At the upper end of Newbery (which appeals to some of my sixth graders but mostly my sixth grade teachers) and the lower end of Printz (which appeals mostly to my eighth grade honor students and teacher).

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  1. [...] quote above makes me (Catie) wonder what he would have thought of this blog post and discussion (in the comments) over at School Library Journal, about whether the Printz medal should be given based on “quality” alone or should take into [...]

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