Printz Award

5 10 2011
(Note: Most of the information in this post  comes from the Michael L. Printz website)

(Seal copyright American Library Association.)

That right there is the award seal for the Michael L. Printz Award — it’s the same seal you see printed on the award-winning books. The Printz Award is an award given out annually for the best literature for young adults by the American Library Association (ALA). The award has been distributed since 2000 in honor of a Topeka, Kansas library member who was a long-time member of the Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA) run by ALA.

That’s a lot of acronyms, but the Printz Award is regarded as the Pultizer of YA.

Recently, I’ve read three of the books winning the Printz:

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (won in 2009)

Looking for Alaska by John Green (won in 2006)

and

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (won in 2005)

When I first started reading the books (Looking for Alaska was the first), I decided to go and check out more on the Printz website. The website has a lot of great information — book lists, acceptance speeches, reports from the chairs–and then I had a question.

What makes books award worthy? What makes them “better” then the rest of the books?

I found a quote from the Printz Award chair this year, Erin Downey Howertown, speaking on this year’s winner, Ship Breaker:

“This taut, suspensful novel is a relentless adventure story featuring nuanced characters in thought-provoking conflicts. [Paolo] Bacigalupi artfully intertwines themes of loyalty, family, frendship, truth, and love.”

So, basically, apparently the book is suspensful, a good adventure story, with good characters and conflict. There are themes of loyalty, family, friendship, truth and love.

So what?

There are plenty of books that are suspensful and adventerous with good characters and plotting, and stories that have loyalty, family, friendship, truth and love as their main themes.

So what made the Printz Award committee choose Ship Breaker over all the rest of the books in YA published this year? What made them choose it over the other novels picked as Printz Honor books?

Here are the Printz Honor books for 20ll, with descriptions from the Printz website:

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

“The rugged Australian outback becomes Gemma’s prison after she is drugged and abducted by a handsome, obessive stranger in a first novel filled with searing imagery and archetypal characters”.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S King

“Vera Dietz wants to be ignored, but the ghost of her ex-best friend won’t leave her alone in this dark comedy that examines relationships, identity, grief, and flowcharts.”

Revolver by Marcus Sedgewick

“In Sedgwick’s grim, chilling story set in the Arctic Circle, Sig finds his father’s frozen corpse as human predator Wolff arrives seeking retribution and a hidden Gold Rush treasure”.

Nothing by Janne Teller

“Pierre Anthon’s nihilsm causes his classmates to begin a search for life’s meaning in this bold, unsettling parable translated from Danish”.

All of the books are wonderful — I have read a few of them — but it made me wonder. All of the books have gotten impressive reviews (many starred reviews from publications like Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal), become bestsellers, and catapulted the authors into YA fame.

And they all have what the chair mentioned — suspensful adventure stories, filled with wonderful characters and themes of love, loyalty, family, friendship, and truth, not to mention that they’re all written well.

So what makes the book triumph? Obviously the Printz award committee has a difficult job, paging through the thousands or hundreds of YA novels presented to them. And every year they choose wonderful books, many becoming cult classics or bestsellers.

But I think that there’s one reason, one reason that sets the books above over every other book they read and seperates the line between Winner and Honor.

It’s simple, and a bit obvious, but there is one reason that books are published. One reason that the commitee chooses them to win the Printz or the Newbery.

The people who see them love them.

They love the books with all their heart: the characters, the plot, the setting. They’re invested in the story and never let go, engrossed in the writing and story. They gush about it to everyone they know and admire the author more.

They adore the story with all their heart, and just know that it deserves to be a winner.

Ever seen a video of editors discussing their books? The editors are always happy — they’re proud, their excited that the story is out into the world. Editors would never intentionally publish a bad book; they publish books that they’re proud of, books that they know will suceed, books that they love.

Watch the Printz speeches — search up “Printz Award Speeches” on YouTube. The chairs who announce the authors are always excited, proud. They choose the books that they love, the books that they know that teens will like.

There is a reason that everyone adores those Printz books. The reviewers don’t just give them out to everyone: they choose the books that they love, the books that they know that teens will love, every one of them.

And that, folks, is why books are published, why books win awards.

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