In my ALA rundown, I shared a couple of things I learned about the Stonewall Award and about the Batchelder award. Last year, I wrote an entire blog post about how important it is to field nominate books you love and that are eligible for the selection and award lists.
Two of the books I nominated this year from the field ended up on the lists I nominated them for. That made me so happy.
All of that said, I thought as a means of sharing some of the thoughts I’m having about this year’s awards and in light of knowing that there are rules to these lists not everyone knows about, I’d make a bullet point of FYIs about the Youth Media Awards, field nominations, eligibility, and more.
On Award/Selection List Reactions
* First and foremost, the committees making these lists and choosing these awards work tirelessly to do this. They are not paid. Many pay their own way to not only attend these conferences to do their committee work, but there are times they are paying their own money to acquire the books. These committees are reading hundreds of books to get a sense of what’s out there, and they are reading with the mission of their committee at hand. That means those on the Quick Picks committee are reading books with a keen eye toward books that are of very high appeal to teen readers. Those on the Printz are not reading the books with interest in teen appeal but instead are reading with an eye toward literary merit. Committee members are reading anywhere from 200 to 400 books and many of those are rereads. This is more books than almost anyone else reads in a year.
* As such, whatever opinions people have about what’s missing and what’s been “shut out” are fine to have, but it is not okay to then share those opinions with those serving on the committees. It’s rude. Likewise, just because a book doesn’t appeal to you, it doesn’t mean the book doesn’t appeal to a reader out there. So the argument that “no one likes that book” is just ignorant. Obviously, a committee out there did, and they did so with an eye toward potential readership. And no, potential readership does not mean readership for all. Sometimes, it means highly specific readership. Which, of course, is still readership. As someone who watched the process for the Alex from the inside, I’ve been bothered by how many people have said sort of weird things to me. I watched the committee deliberate, defend, and become incredibly sad about favorite titles making or not making the lists. It’s not an easy process. And I promise that whatever title you felt like was shut out or was overlooked was most likely NOT.
* People on these committees don’t have an agenda to shut out titles. They aren’t out to get anyone. They’re out to develop the best possible award and selection lists possible.
* Popularity in the main stream and “best-seller” does not an automatic in make. Sure, John Green earned a million accolades last year for his book. But that doesn’t mean a Printz is his to have. Nor does it mean he automatically is one of the top ten best fiction titles for young adults. The reactions by those believing this to be the case are short sighting committee work.
* Additionally, there are no “onlys” here. Again, I return to the John Green point because the number of posts pointing that he “only” got an Odyssey Award are not only devaluing the Odyssey Award (which is an incredible honor!), but they’re also further devaluing the work of the committees who chose to select other titles for their lists/awards. Again, nothing is owed to anyone, despite how well they’ve done elsewhere. If that were the case, what would the point of committee work like this be?
On Field Nominations/Award Eligibility
* Anyone can field nominate titles, unless they are the author, editor, or publisher of the title. I’ve outlined this before. Didn’t see a title you loved on a selection list? Rather than say the committee overlooked it, why not nominate it and know that it was looked at? I can say that every single one of the field nominations received on the Alex was discussed in some capacity and I believe every single one of them was read by a committee member (I say I believe because there may have been a title or two that were deemed ineligible or outside the scope of the committee that were field nominated).
* Best Fiction for Young Adults includes titles published between September 1 of the previous year through December 31 of the current year. This means that the BFYA list for 2013 included titles from September 1, 2011 through December 31, 2012. What this means is that titles published between September 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012 are eligible for BFYA 2014. So titles like Anna Jarzab’s The Opposite of Hallelujah and Adele Griffin’s All You Never Wanted can be nominated for the coming year’s list as soon as nominations open. So can books like Emily Hainsworth’s Through to You and Tiffany Schmidt’s Send Me A Sign. Guess what books are on my list to nominate?
* Passionate about a book you’ve read? NOMINATE IT as soon as you think to do so. The form takes almost no time. Even if the book doesn’t end up on a list, at least you have the peace of mind knowing you did your part. Because you can complain all you want to about how things shake out, but unless you’ve also stepped up, the fault is partially yours.
* You can nominate titles for the big awards, too. Spend some time reading the eligibility requirements on YALSA’s site.
* Are you a member of YALSA and still unhappy? Then volunteer to be on a committee. Can’t get on a committee? Get your name out there to be an admin on one. See the process or be a part of it.
* Most importantly: trust the process. No one is taking shortcuts here. No one. The people on these committees want to produce the most amazing lists possible. They are just as heart broken as anyone else when titles don’t make the cut. Sometimes, they’re also not happy about what does. But it is part of the process.
Additional ALA/Division Award and Selection Lists
* ALSC, the children’s services division of ALA, also produces a list of notable books, which includes titles not only for children, but also younger teens. Here is this year’s notables list.
* RUSA, the reference/adult services division of ALA, also produces a list of books. Becky over at RA for All gives an incredible rundown of what these lists are for, and she has the links to their best titles, including lists made of genre fiction.
* There’s also the Amelia Bloomer Project — out of the Social Responsibilities Round Table and Feminist Task Force — for books that are particularly feminist. Learn about that here and see the notable 2013 titles.
* Don’t forget about the Stonewall Awards, for titles with LGBTQ at the heart of them. This project is out of ALA’s LBGT Round Table. Like the BFYA, the eligibility for titles on this one allows for prior year titles — meaning that books like AS King’s Ask the Passengers and Kirstin Cronn-Mills’s Beautiful Music for Ugly Children are eligible in 2014. So maybe it’s worth nominating them over there if you’re so inclined.
* But wait. There’s ALSO the Rainbow List out of the LGBT Round Table. You can learn all about that here, and you can check out this year’s list.
Of Final Note
* There are some committees that operate entirely closed, like Alex and the Printz. This means that discussions aren’t open to anyone at ALA. There are some committees, like BFYA, which are entirely open. But in either case, there are levels to which members can and cannot speak about the process and decision making. Asking about it can, in many ways, be rude or come across as offensive. Asking, for example, how one book made it and not another is rude. Asking what the criteria were outside of what’s listed on the YALSA website is also rude. Don’t do it. It puts committee members in an awkward position and compromises their work.
Trust the process.
I hope that’s a valuable amount of insight for anyone who is wondering why things happened as they did this year. Likewise, I hope it’s motivation for anyone who has considered nominating titles to just do so — and of course, I hope knowing about the other amazing lists produced and vetted by librarians at ALA further expands your literary horizons.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).