Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Michael L. Printz Adds to ALA Awards Legacy

1/25/2012 Update: At the recent ALA Conference, the award winners were announced and the 2012 Printz winner was Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley.  Click here for more information. 

For many years, beloved Kansas librarian Michael L. Printz was considered by many to be the backbone of the American Library Association (ALA). After Printz died in 1996 at the age of 59, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA, a branch of the ALA) memorialized him by bestowing the Michael L. Printz Award to the best young adult book published the previous year. While fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and anthologies are considered, so far the prize has been awarded to eleven novels and one graphic novel.

While the Printz Award program is relatively new, other ALA prizes are not. Generations of parents, students, librarians, and teachers have trusted the reputation of books that have won the John Newbery and Randolf Caldecott medals, the first of ALA’s annual awards for exemplary literature for children and young adults. Since 1922, ninety books have won a Newbery, and since 1938, seventy-three a Caldecott; and the metallic seals on their covers automatically speak of their quality.

Whereas many John Newbery Award recipients focused on motherless children, the ALA aimed to use the Printz Award to recognize a different type of book: one with an edgy, ultra-current focus on situations relevant to the lives of modern adolescents. These books explore conflicts sparked by crime, teen pregnancy, separation and divorce, parental death, physical abuse, drug abuse, social ostracism, and sexual promiscuity.

The repercussions of having received such an honor are far-reaching. If you are a parent, you already know that when choosing books for child readers, the very sight of the raised gold seals on these books evokes feelings of trust and artistic competence that helps drive sales.

Such exposure, extended through the word-of-mouth influence of school librarians, has to have a significant impact on an author’s career. Walter Dean Myers, who won the first Printz Award in 2000 for Monster, has continued as a trailblazer with his recent appointment as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

As in the Newbery and Caldecott tradition, runners up for the Printz Award also receive a prestigious designation. A silver seal is affixed to their covers that contains a large “P” and the words, “Honor Book.”

Author A.S. King (The Dust of 100 Dogs, Everybody Sees the Ants) earned this honor for her novel, Please Ignore Vera Dietz (see here for a previous BRP post highlighting a clever craft technique she used). I asked King if she’d share how being chosen as a Printz Honor Book has impacted her career in general, and specifically boosted sales of Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Since books sales are reported infrequently, and she received this honor just one year ago, she can only guess that it has boosted sales. She noted that sales of the paperback, due out in 2012, will eventually paint a more accurate picture. But translating a prize into sales isn't always a direct process, King says.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz being picked as a Printz Honor book certainly impacted my life and career in many ways,” says King. “I have had more school and university visit requests, for sure. I believe it raised my profile and built bridges that I hadn't had before—bridges that can impact every part of a writer's life.”

Additional Resources
Complete list of ALA and YALSA Awards
2011 Printz winner Paolo Bacigalupi's (Ship Breaker) interview with A.S. King

Thanks to Drew University PhD candidate Stephanie Cecchini for providing helpful information for this post!

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. The first chapter of her memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place, modified as a stand-alone essay, was published online by Mason's Road, the online journal of Fairfield University's MFA program. She blogs about Healing through Writing.

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  1. Please Ignore Vera Dietz sounds excellent. I will have to look out for it.


  2. Elle: It's definitely a great read. All of the Printz winners and honor books are a good place to start for great YA lit.

  3. This is the first time I've heard of the Printz award. I like that it recognizes edgier books for YAs.

  4. I love reading YA and children's books. I read a lot of them when I volunteered in the school library when my kids were young. Always enjoyed the books that were chosen for awards.

  5. Very interesting. I'd not heard of this award before. Children's and YA books are good reading for adults too!

  6. I've been following the ALA conference on Twitter and linking to some of the assorted awards announcements. Very interesting for anyone who loves children's books!

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