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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?
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.
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