I love being part of the Youth Media Awards. There is nothing like being in that room during the announcements and eagerly awaiting the titles of each award to appear. I was thrilled, shocked, and surprised with this year's choices which always makes for a fun experience.
One thing I saw on social media and heard in the crowd murmurings after the announcement over and over again was how pleased people were that this year the books had appeal. It always went along the line "finally, a book that's popular/I can teach/give to kids/put in my library/say I enjoyed." But that's not the point of the awards. Yes, it's nice when a chosen title is cherished and loved by many (it's never all-every book has a critic). But that's not the point of the awards.
The Youth Media Awards such as the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz are given for excellence in literature to a child (or young adult for Printz) audience. These books are for excellence in text and art, for literary quality and merit. The criteria states "Committee members must consider excellence of presentation for a child audience." Nowhere in the criteria of these awards does it say the books must be bestsellers, be popular, be teachable in a classroom, or have wide appeal for the majority of readers.
Why do we demand such appeal factors and popularity from our children's and young adult book awards? We don't hear such outcry and push back over adult literary awards such as the Pulitzer or the National Book Award. Do we expect only books for children and teens to be appealing and are we more accepting of "boring and not appealing" books winning adult literary awards? Or do we just have a hard time defining literary merit when it comes to books for youth and instead want to focus on the readability and popularity of a selected title?
One thing I thought about often when I served on the 2013 Printz Committee was how to define literary merit. It's something the committees think about and discuss a lot throughout the year-it's at the forefront of every reading and every conversation. One way I thought about it was how often I am told that children's and teen books have no literary merit, are fluff, or are not well written. For everyone who sees the value in books for youth there is always someone who does not. I thought about finding the book that proved this value-that showed that books for youth have just as much literary weight as any other award winning book. Sometimes those books of high literary quality aren't the bestselling, popular, most beloved books, and that's okay.
What we seem to forget during the Youth Media Awards is that there are books for every reader. Just because we deem something unappealing doesn't mean there isn't an audience for it.
Not everyone will love every book and that's okay. That's our right as readers. But we have to remember to respect each readers right and remember that the Youth Media Awards are given not because of popularity or supposed appeal, but for literary quality. And it's not our job to agree with all their choices or love each choice made, but to respect and appreciate the hard work each committee member put into this past year of reading and appreciate the search of literary merit in children's and young adult books, regardless of how appealing each title may appear.
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