Guest Post: Sarah Wethern on Printz Award-Winning Books

Firstly, a big thank you to Melanie for hosting me today. I’ve long been an admirer of her blog (and her cute dog!) and am very excited to be here at Reclusive Bibliophile. My name is Sarah Wethern and I am running for YALSA’s Printz Committee. You may know me from my own blog YA Librarian Tales. Why would I do this crazy thing, where I’ll be a slave to books all year?? (Okay, that is kind of a moot point because I’m definitely already a slave to books!) The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature is YALSA’s highest honor for young adult literature. It’s basically the Academy Awards for teen books and I’m very excited about the possibility of being part of its legacy.

The Printz has a tradition of choosing the very best in teen literature. I’ve not always agreed with their choices, but I enjoy dissecting the winner and honor books to better understand why these particular books were chosen. When all is said and done, I do have some clear favorites. I tend to respond more to the Printz Honor Books than the winners for some reason. The 2012 Printz winner, Where Things Come Back, impressed me, but perhaps not quite as much as Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, an Honor. I still think about that book and the skilled storytelling within. Puck and Sean live on in my head as does the beautiful but dangerous island of Thisby. That is the power of the Printz Award though, to showcase and award those books that truly delight the mind and expand one’s reading horizons. I love that I was able to travel to small-town Arkansas with two boys just as much as I was able to travel to an imaginary island with horses that do not exist anywhere but this book, but both of these books made those settings and those characters real and vibrant.

Another of my favorite Printz books, yet another Honor title, is A.S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz. I fell for Vera and her father and, heck, even the Pagoda. The creativity and imagination that King uses in all her books stands out absolutely brilliantly in Vera Dietz. This is perhaps an ordinary story at first glance but the snappy character of Vera, as she tries to heal after losing her best friend, takes this story to the next level. The writing subtly showcases Vera as she comes to terms with losing Charlie and with the changing nature of her relationship with her father. This book. THIS BOOK. It still grips me and it’s one I enjoy re-reading because I feel like I’m always getting something new out of the relationships and out of the emotions. A.S. King takes the father-daughter relationship to a whole new level of amazing.

Then, there are the Printz books I just could not finish. 2010 was a particular year for this phenomenon. Libba Bray’s winner, Going Bovine and the Honor Book, The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey. I see the merit in both of these titles. The writing is incredibly well-done, inventive, and dynamic. It leaps off the pages, but in this case, it didn’t quite capture my heart. There is merit in that I think, particularly for me, as it has forced me to consider that I’m not always going to like every book I read for the Printz Committee but I want to be able to dig past the initial like/dislike reaction I have to a book to understand and appreciate its other qualities. I have become a more discerning reader as I have pushed my reading boundaries and I know that even if I cannot necessarily get into a story, I can move past that to truly dissect the text and discover what potential it has for the Printz Award.

And then there is the year of 2009 where I pretty much fell in love with the entire Printz Award, winner and Honor Books. Jellicoe Road, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Nation, and Tender Morsels. This was the year of reading excellence and I still look at those books on my shelves and remember my first time reading them, the excitement of that experience, way before they were awarded Printz accolades. There was something in 2009 for every reader in my humble opinion. A great fantasy escape, strong female characters, excellent writing. 2009 stands out for me as a year of great reading and the Printz Committee astutely honored several of the finest books written that year.

I am by no means a Printz expert. I am still making my way through the early years of the award. This is particularly important to me because I love history and I feel it’s very important to know the history of an award, to know its beginnings and how it has continued to evolve and grow. I want to serve on the Printz Committee because I’ll be helping to make my own mark in the vastly changing and growing world of young adult literature. I hope I will have the chance to put all my preparation and learning to work by serving on the 2014 Printz Committee, so if you are a YALSA member, I hope you will consider voting for me in this election season. ALA elections opened on March 19 and run through April 27. It’s so important to vote so please take the time to help improve and enhance the way ALA is run.

Thank you so much for having me Melanie!

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