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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Finding Sleepers

I’d like my book discovery to be this whimsical (and slightly reminiscent of the TARDIS, too!). Failing that, I’ll take any suggestions!
CC-licensed image “Book Exchange” by Flickr user oatsy40

Suggestions for 2013 books have been flowing in, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how we find books, and how we create the contender list that we post come the on-season in September.

(A brief housekeeping note: unlike our fellow award bloggers over at Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott, we won’t go totally dark in the off-season, mostly because if we did, no one would ever be able to keep up with the reading when the on-season rolls around. So we’ll still be around, posting every week or two, from now until August, about what we’re reading and what we’re seeing and what we think may have Printz legs and, if we think there are any hard thorny questions about the Printz worth visiting or revisiting, possibly tackling those as well.)

(Edited to add: well, we kind of went dark because LIFE. But we’re not gone. We’re reading and thinking and we’ll post again one of these days soon and we love and miss you all a lot.)

So let’s talk about creating the contender list. And about crowdsourcing. And mostly about discovering the secret gems.

In the comments on our last post (about early potential contenders), the question was raised of how we can find the serious sleepers, the books without a ton of stars. Which is a really good question, and probably the place we’ve been the least successful.

In an effort to cover a wider range of books and maintain our sanity, we’re also reassessing the “3-or-more stars means we cover the book” rule that we’ve used the last two years — it leaves us reading frantically from a pile with a lot of books that clearly are not actually serious contenders, while missing some great stuff that we should be talking about.

Now, the idea behind the contender list we put together each year is to list books we really believe the RealCommittee is/will be reading, and in that sense the 3-star cut off is not arbitrary — that’s a good baseline to create a pile worth looking at, since they already have a consensus from critics, and the RealCommittee does use stars as one way to find books, and we combine it with buzz to try to broaden the net.

But the RealCommittee members can put books from that pile aside five pages in, or fifty, or 100, and move on; they also receive hundreds of books from publishers and publicists, meaning the books come to them and they are saved a lot of the work of discovery. We’ve got a different charge and, while we get some review books, nothing like the quantity of material that the RealCommittee members receive. Our charge is that we review, publicly, anything that goes on the list (well, most of it, anyway… a few books get away from us every year). Last year, that meant we had a HUGE contender list, just from the stars, which made it hard to get beyond those books — I’m not sure I read a bona fide sleeper last year. And we need to create that list without having seen many of the books yet.

(Plus we end up having to take apart books that are perfectly delightful and deserved their stars but are just not contenders, and we’d like to find a way to instead spend more time looking for new contenders.)


What we’re looking for are better methods of discovery.

Currently, we’ve got: reviews, publisher previews, catalogs, ARCs, Goodreads/social media, and bookstores.

Reviews are all well and good but we can’t read every review ever, so how, other than stars, can we make sure we’re not missing things? Plus, reviewers are people too, which means sometimes a great book gets a terrible review (I’ve been that reviewer a few times), or doesn’t get reviewed at all for whatever reason. Same for catalogs, really — who can read every page of every catalog from every publisher?

Previews are fantastic — I do love being a New York City librarian! — but limited: only a few houses have them and only the big houses, which leaves an awful lot not covered.

Goodreads I adore, and I do find a lot of titles there, but, like all social networks, the filter bubble issue remains– I’m in a circle of like-minded readers, so how do I find the books none of us are reading yet?

As for bookstores…  for a long time, a monthly bookstore visit was something I saw as a professional obligation (and ok, also something I just liked having an excuse to do). But my last few bookstore visits have been pretty disappointing — Barnes and Noble has become all about the commercial frontlist titles, of which there are more every year, while smaller stores just don’t have the shelf space for everything.

So what’s left? What stone have we not turned over? And how do we choose, when we’re still reading, what to put on the contender list? We want better — or at least more — ways to find the best books. What do you think? Where do you look? Or is the very definition of a sleeper a book that no system can discover?


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 think we have to resign ourselves to the idea that some books are going to slip through — for a book like The White Bicycle, that was only held in a handful of libraries and had very few trade reviews, I don’t think there’s any system that’s going to catch it.

    That said, two small suggestions. I don’t think that you (as a group) should impose on yourselves any obligation to review books that get three starred reviews if you read them partway through and don’t feel that they’re serious contenders. That would give you more time to read outside the 3-starred-review list. Also, I think it might be a good idea to actively solicit one-time guest bloggers just on an informal “What’s the amazing book that nobody is talking about?” basis.

  2. Steffaney Smith says

    Roger, thank you so much for commenting on “sleepers.” I actually had a favorite book last year, published in August, I believe — “Prairie Evers” by Ellen Airgood. Ellen has not written many books, so her name wouldn’t have piqued your senses like repeated books from well-reviewed authors will. The reviews in SLJ and BL were really good — I re-read, wondering what kept the book from receiving a star. I just think she wasn’t a known author and no one jumped on a book about a conservative homeschooler diving in to a public school at fifth grade…it was the writing that made it so wonderful, a view on friendship and how sometimes the friend we make, while needing us very much, actually gives us so much in return. There was a wonderful relationship with her grandmother. You’ll have to read this book yourself. Anyway, it is one that got away from awards that certainly deserved recognition. I like the idea of at least one blog in late Fall asking readers to comment on their favorite “sleeper.” I know “Defiance” by Valerie Hobbs is an older sleeper favorite of mine. It may be fun to have a sleeper get some fast last-minute raves and have a chance at beating out a starred selection. Good luck — there sure are enough books out there being published! A lot of work for reviewers and library collection developers-=-who can’t buy EVERYTHING!

    • I love that Defiance was a sleeper favorite of yours, Steffaney. I wish I could give it new coat of paint and send it out there again! Thanks for the mention.

      • Steffaney Smith says

        Good to hear from the author of “Defiance.” The book has readability…not overwhelming to the third – sixth grade challenged male readers — and a perfect classroom read-aloud for April– poetry month! I swear I will not let this book die!

  3. TeenReader says

    I don’t think that every 3-star book needs to be read, but I do think it is a good way to look at things. Every Newbery and Printz winner last year (excluding The White Bycicle, which was so left-of-field that it would be nearly impossible to have found) got 3 stars, and starred reviews are how l’m organizing my reading. So I do think that there is use for it, though religious compliance may not be the answer.

  4. Would it be worth it to really promote a #PrintzContender hashtag throughout the year on Twitter? The difficulty on any social media is getting people to separate the YA they *love* from the YA that actually fits the Printz criteria.

  5. I hear you about Barnes and Noble! It’s the only bookstore in town that carries Young Adult titles outside of the ND Bookstore. I stopped going to BN because all the books are the same! I really need to open a bookstore!!

    Like you, I get several review mags and their newsletters, get all the pub newsletters, and one on new releases from my local library and one from a library somewhere else. I skim through each one – mostly looking at the sum up. I put books on a list based on my trust of the reviewer and the takeaway. I also look at what Jen is reading on Rants. She is one of the few bloggers who really *get* the Printz criteria.

    I agree with Meghan – so many people think a book they love is a Printz Contender. I fight that over at Goodreads! I bring up the criteria – they forget about it again!

    I don’t think anyone outside of the Printz committee had heard of, let alone read, The White Bicycle. But, when I’m looking – I try to find books that sound a little different. I know, I know, not a criteria, but still! It helps me find the books not everyone is reading.

    I also like Meghan’s idea of a #PrintzContender hashtag. Especially this year since I don’t have time to deeply read anything outside of obligations this year!

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