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Someday My Printz Will Come
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Stop Playing Games with My Heart (More Best Lists)

This week brought us not one but two great lists!

On Monday, Kirkus Reviews posted the Best Teen Books of 2011, and it was FULL of surprises. Surprises in the whoops, I missed that book entirely category, so color me chagrined (I imagine it a sort of blush color, to suit the physical manifestation of the emotion).

I’m consoling myself with the repeated mantra of “Best and Printz are not the same.” They’re not mutually exclusive, but the overlap can be slim depending on how best is defined and given that the Printz Award goes to one book and an honor goes to no more than four books; whereas we can have hundreds of books defined as best in a list (although usually not more than 100 on any single list).

And then, on Thursday, we finally got the full School Library Journal list! Which was happily less full of surprises.

Kirkus recognized 42 teen books and SLJ’s list has 18 fiction titles that are definitely YA; an additional 8 are in that nebulous area where they are recommended for an age bracket whose upper end covers lower YA (usually grades 5-8, which means ages 10-13, roughly). I’m going to say that those are too young, because if I were on the committee, I’d be ruling them out (unread) for that same reason. The SLJ nonfiction list has an additional five or so titles with potential YA appeal, although only one is exclusively and explicitly YA per the age recs: Bootleg, which is also on the Kirkus list.

It really hasn’t been a good year for nonfiction.

No surprise, the fiction books that made both lists were also on our list of contendas (proof that my scientific method works!). The consensus titles: Anya’sGhost ; Between Shades of Gray; Blink and Caution; Bootleg; Chime; Daughter of Smoke and Bone; A Monster Calls; The Scorpio Races; Stay With Me; and White Crow; additionally, Kirkus has Okay for Now on their children’s list, while SLJ puts it for grades 6-9, which makes it just scrape into more YA than children’s territory.

And as long as we’re talking numbers, we also have a few discrepancies between these two lists that are corroborated by the previously discussed PW list: Beauty Queens was recognized by Kirkus and PW, as was The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Boat of Her Own Making, while How to Save a Life did not make the Kirkus list but did make SLJ and PW’s lists.

But really, whatever about the consensus stuff.

What about all those dark horses? Books that we missed but that showed up on one of these lists? What about crossover with the BFYA nominations?

All of the SLJ-exclusive picks that weren’t on our radar and/or hadn’t made our contenda list were on the BFYA nomination list (Flip; My Name is Not Easy; Why We Broke Up; Glow). Of those four, Why We Broke Up might yet make our contenda list; I started it in ARC and liked what I read, but given the illustration component really felt I needed to experience the finished version give this its full due consideration. The other three slipped by us unregarded.

The Kirkus list, though, had ten titles that hadn’t made the BFYA nominations, making them dark horses indeed! (Although, in all fairness, five of them are Sept-Dec pubs, so they are eligible for BFYA next year too.)

The dark horses: Finding Somewhere; Isle of Blood; Mangaman; Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers; If I Could Fly; Island’s End; Misfit; Tighter; and Tilt.

I read Tighter, and I thought it was really solid, but not knockout. Isle of Blood has been suggested a few times in comments and real life conversation and there’s a copy on Sarah’s coffee table even as I type. Any love for any of the others?

What about the two nonfiction titles other than Bootleg, I.M Pei and Black and White?

And finally, what about all the Kirkus best books that did make BFYA but that we ignored? Lots of them seem really commercial, so I suspect that they fall into the  zone between great reads and great writing. But there are a few I haven’t gotten to that I’m wondering about now: Under the Mesquite; Virtuosity; Winter Town; and This Thing Called the Future.

So, what surprised you? What’s missing from all of these lists that you want to champion? I’m lamenting the lack of recognition for The Returning, Welcome to Bordertown, The Piper’s Son, and Steampunk.

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. I am heavily under the spell of Chime right now, so I am happy with the love it is getting.

  2. I enjoyed Tighter but felt the author previous novel was stronger, Anya’s Ghost was good but didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. I did not like Island’s End and also thought it felt more MG than YA. I started If I Could Fly and Misfits couldn’t finish either. Why We Broke Up is in my pile.

    Under the Mesquite is very good. Its one of the few verse novels this year that I liked. I know its probably a long shot but keeping my fingers crossed for What Can’t Wait by Ashley Hope Perez. It should at least be a finalist for the Morris award. Its one of the strongest YA debuts I’ve read this year.

  3. The overlapping titles didn’t surprise me, but it was some of the outliers that did. My head scratcher is that Where Things Come Back didn’t make any of these lists and it was one of the most solid titles out this year.

  4. Yeah, why is Where Things Come Back not getting more attention? It’s so good, and very Literary (while not being obnoxious about it).

  5. Jonathan Hunt says

    I have two complaints. 🙁

    First, the age range for the Printz is 12-18 and we should really consider books for the 12-year-old just as seriously as we do for the 18-year-old. Thus, things that encompass the lower end of the age range (such as grades 4-7 and 5-8), things you have dismissed, should really be considered. I wouldn’t read *everything* published for those ages, but I would read the cream of the crop, and I would nominate the ones I found distinguished. After all, SKELLIG was published for ages 8-12 and had an 11-year-old main character. That’s an extreme example, not likely to be repeated given the direction that YA has taken since that first year, but I’d much rather have an excellent middle school book than a mediocre high school book. I’m all about finding excellence wherever it resides in the range.

    Second, I disagree about your assessment of the nonfiction this year. BOOTLEG and FLESH & BLOOD SO CHEAP are both excellent and fall clearly and entirely within your preferred 12-18 spectrum. There is a glut of books aimed at upper elementary and middle school which I would also recommend, namely AMELIA LOST, HEART AND SOUL, DRAWING FROM MEMORY, TRAPPED, AROUND THE WORLD, and TITANIC SINKS! All of them got at least four starred reviews, and they now are racking up best of the year citations. I do agree that these books will face a difficult hurdle if they are perceived as too young by the committee. But it will also be interesting to see if any of them make the shortlist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction (which I believe will be published shortly). Nonfiction is one of those genres where the audience is defined much more by interest than it is by age, and so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them on the shortlist, just as we saw THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM on the inaugural list, even though it was published for ages 8-12.

    • Karyn Silverman says

      Jonathan, I do understand where you are coming from on the ages, but I firmly believe that for a book to be a YA book, 12 needs to be the bottom of the range, not the top. A book for 12-14 I will look at. A book for 11-13 or 14 I could be prodded into looking at. 10-13? I think too much of that range is well within the children’s lit designation, and when there are so many rich and wonderful genuinely YA books, why give preference to a book that is really for a different audience with some slight overlap? And of course, I get to make that call here about overlap books, but the committee might make the call you make and feel entirely differently, in which case won’t I have egg on my face. I do take issue with you saying 12-18 is my preference, though, given that it’s the definition of YA in terms of age designation!

      On the same note, I disagree strongly that “Nonfiction is one of those genres where the audience is defined much more by interest than it is by age.” I work in a high school, and I have bought so many books over the years that were a little young, but that I hoped my kids might pick up for the subject matter. They don’t. They dismiss these wonderful books outright based on packaging, and even if I do convince one of my students to pick one up, the depth of the material is often not enough to satisfy them: the questions they have by 14 or 16 about real world events and people require more than what they find in the average upper middle grade nonfiction, no matter how well written it is. I am sure there are exceptions, but aside from memoir, the nonfiction that succeeds with the teens I’ve worked with, both in my current job and when I was at New York Public Library, has been published as adult. That said, I did mention Bootleg in the post and Flesh and Blood was already on our list. Once the nonfiction nomination list comes out I might look again at some titles I initially passed over as too young. Regardless, that only two come up as genuinely YA seems like it’s a pretty bad year for nonfiction however stellar those two might be.

      Whew. Ok, now that I’ve said all that, I’m ready for more button pushing.

  6. Where Things Come Back is another book I started but couldn’t finish Black and White and Trapped are both very good. Though I think I’d have to give the push to Trapped. But I must say I love that Brimner’s author’s note for Black and White is 3 pages, beyond that he references other books for more information and source notes. Heart and Soul lacking sufficient back matter keeps it from being a contender.

  7. Sophie Brookover says

    This is likely to be the only comment I make here this year, and I hope it’s taken in the very slightly pedantic and 100% loving spirit in which it’s intended. The song I believe you’re referencing is “Quit Playing Games With My Heart”, not “Stop”. (Another good one would be “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”.) Having thus outed myself as having a certain fondness for boy bands of the late 90s, and with earworms firmly in place, I will now get back to my reading! 🙂

    • Karyn Silverman says

      Oh Sophie! I am sure you are right; I am definitely far from the popculture maven you are, and only vaguely remembered the song. Wanna send a link along so that we can all hear it?

  8. Sophie Brookover says

    Oh, you know I’m pleased to furnish URLs to delightfully cheesy (and darn catchy) videos!

    “Quit Playin’ Games With My Heart”, by Backstreet Boys:

    “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, by an almost impossibly young Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty (w/the Heartbreakers as the backup band):

    (On reflection, I retract my cheesiness comment, in re: Stevie & Tom. I’ve always loved the song, and the video is a just a solid, straight-head performance clip.)

  9. Jonathan Hunt says

    Karyn, as you know the eligibility criteria state: “To be eligible, a title must have been designated by its publisher as being either a young adult book or one published for the age range that YALSA defines as “young adult,” i.e., 12 through 18.” Most books published for ages 10-14 are not necessarily designated as young adult, but they are published for the ages in the range (i.e. 12-14), and many of them speak to a YA audience. While A MONSTER CALLS is designated for ages 12 and up, its publisher could have easily designated it for ages 10-14 (or ages 10 and up). If that had been the case–and it could have easily been the case–I would hate for the Printz committee not to consider such a book simply because the publisher labeled it one way rather than the other. What I took exception to in your original post was a blanket statement that any book for grades 5-8 is too young, and you wouldn’t read it–and thus wouldn’t consider it. While I wouldn’t read most books in that range, I would read the best of them, and if I felt they were excellent and had YA appeal, then I would nominate them. Now as to which books you review and consider for the purposes of the blog–oh, well, that’s an entirely different matter; consider what you wish. Maybe I got the two mixed up? Maybe you were talking about what to review for the blog and I took you to mean what to consider for the Printz? From your reply, we seem to be on the same page a little bit more . . .

    As for the nonfiction . . . As you also know, YALSA members work in a variety of settings. While you work in a high school, somebody else may work in a middle school or junior high. We have one colleague in Michigan who works in a 6-7 school and a 8-9 school. So I think many of those middle school titles would be entirely appropriate for her YAs, if not yours–and that’s okay. Of those middle school nonfiction books that I mentioned, the only one I would officially nominate as a Printz committee member would be AMELIA LOST (assuming it was published for 10-14), but since the trend now for the Printz is to go to the top of the range, I wouldn’t be terribly optimistic about its chances. I would also nominate BOOTLEG and FLESH & BLOOD, but the former is really the only one I can really see myself voting for. Now I think two to three good/great nonfiction titles is kind of average. Last year we had three with Freedman, Bartoletti, and Aronson/Budhos. Occasionally, we get more–or we get superior quality like CLAUDETTE/CHARLES or HITLER/LENNON–but those years are few and far between. So perhaps its far to characterize this year as weak compared to the fiction, but not necessarily to the typical nonfiction output. I agree that the high school caliber YA nonfiction is . . . severely lacking. But that’s another story . . . and another rant.

  10. Another vote for What Can’t Wait by Ashley Hope Perez — a very strong debut and an excellent book.

  11. I’m thrilled to see FitzOsbornes in Exile get some love from Kirkus. It’s my favorite YA of the year after Chime, but while that book has gotten plenty of recognition, FitzOsbornes has been under the radar. I might have loved it even more than its predecessor, A Brief History of Montmaray, and that’s saying a lot. Maybe Kirkus will tempt a few more people to seek out Michelle Cooper’s books.

    • Karyn Silverman says

      I definitely loved it more than the first, and had an epiphany the other day about FitzOsbornes and historical fiction and also about how much I loved this book and how it might be worth a closer look, so I am glad there are other fans out there! I’m trying to turn the epiphany into a post, so hopefully within the next week.

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