Readers of my blog know I am quite obsessed with the Youth Media Awards announced each January at the end ALA mid-winter meeting. This year I was shocked by two things when the announcement of the winners were made. 1. There were only two honor books selected by the Printz committee. Usually four honor books are announced. 2. The Newbery Medal winner is a picture book. I decided not to say anything about these two things until I read the books in question. Why complain if I ultimately agree with the committees' decisions? Well, I finished all the books this week and now I can criticize their choices.
The Printz Award committee selected Bone Gap by Laura Ruby as the #1 YA book of the year. It was a solid choice. The book incorporates Greek mythology into a modern story set in the Midwest. There is a bit of a romance, full of adventure, magical realism, and even a medical mystery. The mythology doesn't hit the reader over the head. Bravo Printz committee. Good choice. The two honor books were The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick and Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez.
Marcus Sedgwick is no stranger to the Printz having won the Printz Award in 2014 with Midwinterblood and an honor in 2011 with Revolver. This year's selection, The Ghosts of Heaven, is a complicated set of four stories which are connected through space and time by the same themes of spirals and making decisions on faulty or incorrect information. The book is brilliant. It deserved the Printz honor.
The other honor recipient, Out of Darkness, is set in Texas in the 1930s. A Mexican teenage girl, Naomi, moves with her half-siblings to live with their father. Their mother is dead. Naomi has great misgivings about moving in with Henry, the children's father, because of the way he treated her mother when she was alive and the way he acted around her. But she moved with her siblings, wanting to protect them. Racism is alive and well in Texas in the 1930s and Naomi doesn't fit in at school with her classmates. She and the twins make friends with a African-American boy who lives in a neighboring community. Naomi and Wash Fuller fall in love. It is, of course, a forbidden love and must be kept hidden from everyone. Just about the time they decide to run away together a tragedy strikes their community. The school explodes killing around 300 students. This school explosion really happened in New London, Texas in 1937. The double tragedy is what happens to Naomi and Wash in the aftermath of the explosion.
As much as I liked or admired Out of Darkness I really thought several other books were more worthy of a Printz honor than this book. In it the racist climate of the 1930s was well defined and the characters were well developed for the most part, though I thought most were a bit flat and singular in their motivations. I was most interested in details pertaining to the explosion and the aftermath. Yet the details were fairly sketchy considering the long length of the book, over 400 pages. I actually found myself speed-reading through sections of the book where I found the details a bit repetitive and tedious.
In comparison I felt three other books were more or at least just as worthy to receive a Printz Honor: Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman; Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin; and Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege on Leningrad by MT Anderson.
At least Most Dangerous and Symphony for the City of the Dead both won a Youth Media Award. Most Dangerous won the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. Symphony for the City of the Dead won a Sibert Honor. Both are awards for nonfiction books. Challenger Deep, which had earlier won the National Book Award, got nothing at the Youth Media Awards ceremony. Nothing! The book takes a serious look at what it is like to sink into mental illness from the inside-out. The book is thoughtful as well as insightful and so well-written. I felt certain with so many great books about mental health this year this book would at least garner a Printz honor. When the committee selected only two instead of four honor books, it was as if they were saying these three books weren't as worthy as the other two, and they were. They totally were. It still makes me angry to think about. Gr.r.r.
Since I am a high school librarian I don't often pay much attention to the Newbery Medal because the award usually goes to middle grade books. This year, however, the Medal was awarded to a picture book, The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena. The story is about a little boy whose grandmother takes him on a bus ride. During the ride she helps him to see and appreciate things in his world which he didn't appreciate before: music, vision, and people living in different circumstances. The story closes with the boy and his grandmother helping out at a soup kitchen. The book is darling. DARLING. And the artwork is fun and colorful. But a Newbery Medal? This book did win a Caldecott honor, too. It is pretty confusing these award categories which overlap.
If I had any say in the matter I would make a much clearer distinction between the award categories. Printz Awards would go to books written for high school students (gr. 9-12+); Newbery Medals would be awarded to books written for middle grade readers (Gr. 5-8); Caldecott would still go to the best illustrated book but a new category would have to created for emerging readers (Gr. 2-4). Well, obviously I don't have any say in who gets what award. I just wish I did.
I appreciate all the work the members of the selection committees do but this year I disagree with a few of their choices.