Kings and Printzes: Teen Read Week 2015
So, the King of Hearts playing card has two hearts on it. About a dozen years ago, I tried – unsuccessfully – to have YALSA compile an official list of two heart books; that is books that made BOTH BBYA and Quick Picks. This list would contain titles with literary quality yet also accessible to reluctant / striving / struggling / whatever you want to call them readers. In my 2006 book, Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers, I compiled a list (with some misses) of such titles up to about 2005, this project updates that list. I’m teaching a YA lit class aimed at teachers in an urban education program, so I think this “two hearts” list, more than Printz winners (not that there’s anything wrong with them) might be of more use / interest to these potential teachers.
Most of the titles which make both lists are realistic fiction, extreme realistic fiction such as After, Cut, Girl Stolen, Living Dead Girl, What Happened to Cass Bride, and When Jeff Comes Homes. There’s very little non-fiction, but a growing number of graphic novels. The list contains, rightly so, several Margaret Edwards winners, such as Laure Halse Anderson, Jacqueline Woodson, and Walter Dean Myers. Also it is heavy on books for authors that should be dusting off a place on their mantle for that lifetime achievement award. Several names pop up a few times, like Todd Strasser, Alex Flinn, Gail Giles, Terry Trueman, Matt de la Pena, Paul Volponi, and Coe Booth, author adept at wrtiting quality books accessible to non-readers often featuring kids of color.
One thing that is very interesting – and I wish someone who researched YA lit would pick up on this – is many of the early Printz books also appear on this two hearts list, books like Monster, Speak, Hard Love, Stuck in Neutral and (swallows hard, sighs) Looking for Alaska. But of late, with the exception of Eleanor and Park, books which are accessible, as measured by inclusion on Quick Picks, fail to show up on the Printz list. What does that say? I don’t know. Are the Printz book totally divorced from any sense of will a teen read this? And if so, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Again, no answers, just questions.
A few things have changed: there is no longer a BBYA, instead there’s best fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels. Also Quick Picks seems to ebb and flow sometimes including lots of “high lo” titles (like my The Dojo series) and then other years rejecting such titles (such as books in my The Alternative series, even though one got a starred reviewed in Publishers’ Weekly). It seems what is accepable literay quality varies greatly on Quick Picks between non-fiction and fiction, but that could be more what the committee gets to read more than anything else
With that long preamble, here are Two Hearts books from Printz years, those books that appeared on both Quick Picks and BBYA (or later Best Fiction, Best Non-Fiction, or Best Graphic Novel). The cover photos and annotations via Novelist. If I missed any, let me know.
Thanks for compiling this list, Patrick! My reluctant readers usually look for books they consider to be NOT physically intimidating (i.e. “big” books) so they were thrilled when I picked the “smaller” books on this list and made a display of them. It’s where they immediately head when a teacher assigns a self-chosen book for an assignment. Also, I have found that Printz books hold very little appeal to my students. Like you said, there’s nothing wrong with Printz books, but there are other books out there that, as you say, might be of more use / interest. Printz books are well deserving of the merit on which the award is based, but their appeal is typically limited among the YA set, at least in my experience.
Yes, the Printz books are “totally divorced of any sense of whether or not a teen will read this.” The criteria for the Printz award does not take into account appeal at all, and is only interested in literary merit.
From the ALA website on Printz criteria:
What is quality? We know what it is not. We hope the award will have a wide AUDIENCE among readers from 12 to 18 but POPULARITY is not the criterion for this award. Nor is MESSAGE. In accordance with the Library Bill of Rights, CONTROVERSY is not something to avoid. In fact, we want a book that readers will talk about.
Librarianship focuses on individuals, in all their diversity, and that focus is a fundamental value of the Young Adult Library Services Association and its members. Diversity is, thus, honored in the Association and in the collections and services that libraries provide to young adults.
Having established what the award is not, it is far harder to formulate what it is. As every reader knows, a great book can redefine what we mean by quality. Criteria change with time. Therefore, flexibility and an avoidance of the too-rigid are essential components of these criteria (some examples of too-rigid criteria: A realistic hope – well, what about Robert Cormier’s Chocolate War or Brock Coles’ The Facts Speak for Themselves? Avoiding complicated plot – what about Louis Sachar’s Holes? Originality – what about all the mythic themes that are continually re-worked? We can all think of other great books that don’t fit those criteria.)
What we are looking for, in short, is literary excellence.
All forms of writing—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art, and any combination of these, including anthologies—are eligible.
The following criteria are only suggested guidelines and should in no way be considered as absolutes. They will always be open to change and adaptation. Depending on the book, one or more of these criteria will apply:
Design (including format, organization, etc.)
For each book the questions and answers will be different, the weight of the various criteria will be different.
That’s why there are various awards and selected lists; to account for the various needs of different readers. Also, there is a different committee each year, and those committee members read hundreds of books. Yet each committee may come to a completely different decision each year. Even with criteria, there is some amount of subjectivity to it.