Printz Awards – ALA Annual Conference 2011 Final Night

Monday night, my last night at ALA Annual Conference 2011, @LizB tweeted, asking if anyone knew a good place to eat before the Printz Awards. @foodandbooks answered that the Palace Cafe is a good one, and I asked Liz if I could join her, and I tweeted to my roommate, @inked2ways, and it actually worked! Liz, April and I met up (tweeted up?) at the Palace Cafe and had a delicious dinner before the Printz Awards and a great time talking.

One thing I love about the Printz Awards is that ALL the honorees give a speech, not just the big winner. Also, it is not limited to American authors, but is for any distinguished books for young adults published in the last year. This year, that meant a lot of delightful accents to listen to!

I thought it was a bit ironic that the Printz Awards happened the same night Megan Cox Gurdon of the Wall Street Journal posted another follow-up to her article that caused a stir, claiming YA is horribly dark. (Okay, I’m linking to my post about it, not to her post — It’s gotten enough attention.) The fact is, all the books honored are indeed dark. But they are outstanding books. And the speeches all pointed out so many reasons why they are powerful books, and truly worthy of celebrating.

First up was Lucy Christopher, with her utterly adorable accent. She now lives in Wales, but moved to Australia when she was 6, so I’m not sure exactly how to categorize her accent. I only know it was fun to listen to! Her Honor Award was for her debut novel, Stolen. It was kind of mean to have the debut author go first! Though the order is determined alphabetically, so no one intended to be mean. How brilliant to win such an honor with her first book!

Her speech was fabulous! She talked about researching her book. She traveled to the Great Sandy Desert, which she says is aptly named. Among others she thanked, she thanked the “bemused customs official” who let her bring orange sand from the Great Sandy Desert to New Orleans. She’s never felt so close to something so wild.

She made the same comment Karen Slaughter made about Southern writers at the Author Gala Tea: She had to turn to books because the library was the only air-conditioned place when she was growing up.

She wanted to get across the emotions of fear and excitement, alienation and yearning, because those emotions define a teenager’s world.

Her message: “Be brave.”

All writers are immigrants.

Books help young people be brave.

A. S. King was up next, honored for her book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz. She had the audience practically in tears as she described how, when she was a teenager, her mother died in front of her and was revived by hospital staff, but then was in danger for the next several months. (We cheered when she said that her mother is still alive today. But she didn’t know that would be true when she was a teen.)

She came right up front talking about the issue of darkness in books. She said, “Great satire begins in a place of darkness.”

Adults are important in teens’ lives, but “There IS no bubble to grow up in.”

Adults would like to keep their teens in a bubble, but “teens know that the rainbow-colored bubble doesn’t exist.”

“If we’re supposed to ignore everything that’s wrong, how are we supposed to make it right?”

As she talked about her own mother and how they discussed books, she gave us a magic question to use on our teens: “What do you think about that?” Use it on the news, on books, on injustices you see around you. You’ll get some answers that surprise you, and your teens will come to understand that you respect their thinking.

The fact is, we try to build our own bubble as we grow up. There are things adults don’t want to talk about. “Now what do you think about that?”

“Our time on earth is too short to ignore reality.”

The next speech was by the handsome and dashing Marcus Sedgwick, who had a melting deep voice with a British accent. He told a story about trying to be suave and having a glass of wine spill in his lap the first night of the conference, and all us ladies were thinking that it didn’t matter what happened to him, the moment he opened his mouth and talked, he was suave as far as we were concerned! (My notes just say “Incredible accent!” I find I remember what that means.)

He was being honored for Revolver, an unquestionably “dark” book. It was his tenth book, but the first where the feeling in his head got down on paper. He went to the Arctic part of Sweden to research the book. He told about walking on the ice gingerly — until they heard Volvos driving around.

He said he’d heard about the kerfuffle about dark YA on our side of the Atlantic and that it happens regularly over there, too. He thinks it’s much more to the point to get children reading at all.

He was subtle about the violence in his book — but he did that because it’s better writing, not because he thought young people couldn’t handle it.

“We run the risk of underestimating teenagers.”

“We all go through being a teenager and then run away as fast as we can.”

And I love this question, perfect for the “Darkness in YA” discussion:

“What better place is there to address tough issues than a thoughtfully written book?”

Janne Teller, author of Nothing, gave the final Honor Book speech. She had a lovely Danish accent. She tried to apologize, telling us that she only speaks through stories, and then gave an outstanding speech. She said that being from Denmark, getting recognition from America was a fiction itself.

She always writes about things she doesn’t understand and learns through story.

In Nothing, the teens in the story become fanatics in their search for meaning.

“All the largest questions in life are very simple.”

“Teenagers ask these questions that adults can’t answer.”

She did get some strong opposition to her book when it was first published in Denmark eleven years ago. She said that the kids, unlike some adults, see that the book is about hope and light even though it’s dark.

“This is a tough time to be human, especially for young people.”

“Young adults can take everything, much more than adults. That’s our hope for the future.”

Finally, Paolo Bacigalupi, the winner of the 2011 Printz Award for Shipbreaker gave his speech. He was particularly pleased that a science fiction book won this honor. (I’m with him here!) His father introduced him to science fiction, and it was his gateway drug to reading. “Genre fiction was my crack and I smoked a lot of it.”

“Literature and ship-to-ship battles can coexist.” (Yes!)

“Science Fiction asks big, important questions. These questions are worth asking!”

Yes, he wrote about a dark, bleak future. But he’s only going to be wrong if people face reality to come up with solutions.

“You need to get past PR Orcs.”

“As wealth increases, empathy decreases.”

Then he started talking about how stupid and short-sighted people are to cut library funding. (You go, Paolo!)

“The rich hoard information as well as wealth.”

“Dysfunctional and ignorant democracy is a great place for wealthy people.”

“We’ve decided to fund our present wars rather then affirm our future prospects.”

“Librarians are at the dikes holding back the tide of ignorance.”

“Wither our libraries go, our society goes.” (Preach it, Paolo!)

After getting completely jazzed up and being as proud as could be to be a librarian who works with young people, I went to the reception. I talked with many wonderful people and authors, including Nancy Werlin, whom I met last year at the Printz Award Reception, and her husband. (I am determined that next year at this time, I WILL have read her books, which I have heard great things about.)

Of course, I had to get pictures with the honorees. Here I am with Paolo:

He looks happy, don’t you think?

And here’s the still-adorable-up-close Lucy Christopher:

And of course I wanted to meet the dashing Marcus Sedgwick:

All in all, it was a fabulous way to finish up ALA Annual Conference 2011! Nice and interesting people, rousing speeches, and new books added to my hugely long I-Really-Really-Want-To-Read-That List! A lovely evening indeed.

Bravo for YA Literature!

A month ago, I posted about YA Saves and YA Saves, Revisited. Today I listened to two internet radio interviews with the author whose essay in the Wall Street Journal started the kerfuffle. I wouldn’t have listened, but the interviews also included two brilliant YA authors. The first one included Maureen Johnson, and the second one Lauren Myracle. Both were eloquent in defense of YA Literature.

Laurel Snyder posted a nice reaction to the first interview. And after listening to both interviews, there are things I want to say.

1. It seems silly to me to say that YA is getting darker. The article began with a description of a mother going into a big box bookstore and being unable to find a book for her teenage daughter, because “all” the YA books were too dark. I am a librarian. I happen to know that there are many “light” YA books out there. It seems especially ironic that Meghan Cox Gurdon was on air with Maureen Johnson today. Because Maureen’s books are wildly popular — and yet in my review of Suite Scarlett, posted long before this fracas, I described it as “light-hearted fun.”

She also makes the point that YA didn’t really exist until the late sixties. Well, when I was a teen, we just read adult books. Current YA is not darker than adult books. Is she just objecting to calling it YA? The teens will find it anyway, I think. But how can you say that YA wasn’t around when we were kids, but then say it’s darker than when we were kids? Personally, I think the genre is broadening and expanding. There are PLENTY of light books being written, too.

2. She dismissed librarians’ objections that if the mother had consulted a librarian, she could have easily found appropriate books. I still think that’s a very legitimate objection. The light books DO exist. I am very aware of outstanding YA books. I’m not a big fan of dark books myself, and I find plenty of YA books that I love. But I see those books that don’t appeal to me being loved by teens and making a difference in people’s lives. I strongly disagree that there are not many “light” choices for teens being published today.

3. She said that she is NOT in favor of banning books, and she is not in favor of censorship. So what, exactly, was she trying to say? That publishers should not publish so many dark books? That it should not be called YA? That writers should not write this “dark” material? How is that not censorship?

She also stated more than once that 12 to 14-year-olds are children. Does she think that by labelling a book for “Young Adults,” publishers or librarians are saying that it is appropriate for every 12-year-old?

My response would be Absolutely Not! Just as not every book in our Juvenile Fiction section is appropriate for every 2nd-grader.

As a matter of fact, 12-year-olds are some of the most difficult people for which to do Readers’ Advisory. Because there are often many books they will love in the Juvenile Fiction section, and many books they will love in the Young Adult section. So you normally need to show them both sections of the library and explain that they will like some of both sections.

Now, if Meghan Cox Gurdon was simply trying to say: Parents! Be aware that there’s some “dark” material in YA books these days! Be aware that not every book labelled for 12 and up will be appropriate for every 12-year-old!

Well, if that’s what she was trying to say, more power to her. But I did get the impression she was saying that dark books are bad for kids and should not even be available to them — despite all the outcry on the #YASaves hashtag on Twitter with stories of people whose lives were changed for the better by “dark” books.

4. I think a big part of this issue is the question of protectiveness versus overprotectiveness. I have two sons, ages 23 and almost-17. I was much, much more protective with the first one. But as he grew and pushed back, I realized he was strong enough and smart enough to deal with things I didn’t want him to have to think about. My younger son has a lot more freedom — won by his brother! — and I think he handles it well, and I like talking him about what he thinks, even when it’s so different from what I think.

The thing is, somewhere between 12 and 18, our children DO become adults. I’d rather they grappled with some of the dark issues in the safe pages of a book, while they are still under my roof.

But I realize that’s just me. I have many friends who are much further on the side of protectiveness, and when I was a new mom, at least, I had many friends who were much further on the side of letting the kids find their own way.

Yes, parents should be aware that there’s some dark stuff in YA books. Then they can decide whether trying to keep their kids from that is what they want to do — or not. For some kids, having books talk about issues no one else will talk about is life-changing, even life-saving.

As a librarian, I’m proud to have books available for all of those kids. And I’m proud that I’m damn GOOD at helping each reader find a book that they will enjoy.