What’s Wrong With the Printz?
Debbie Reese recently noted that ALSC had added language in support of diversity to their committee manuals, but YALSA has had that language in the Policies and Procedures since the inception of the Printz Award: “Librarianship focuses on individuals, in all their diversity, and that focus is a fundamental value of the Young Adult Library Services Association and its members. Diversity is, thus, honored in the Association and in the collections and services that libraries provide to young adults.”
While 4 books written by people of color have won the Printz Award (MONSTER, A STEP FROM HEAVEN, THE FIRST PART LAST, and AMERICAN BORN CHINESE), only 3 have won Honors (CARVER, ARISTOTLE AND DANTE, THIS ONE SUMMER). In contrast, the Newbery Medal, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the National Book Award have each recognized 4 winning books by people of color in the same time span, but both the Newbery and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize also named 9 honor books (or finalists), while the National Book Award recognized a whopping 14 finalists! None of these other awards had diversity written into their criteria so explicitly, yet they managed to honor it much better than the Printz did, and that’s disappointing, to say the least.
While the Printz has recognized a pair of nonfiction titles (JOHN LENNON and CHARLES AND EMMA), the Newbery managed 4 in a similar time span (and with much fewer honor books); The Los Angles Times Book Prize had 7 finalists in that span, 2 of which won the award outright; while the National Book Award had 9 finalists with 1 book going the distance. The Printz has recognized other genres that are recognized less often (memoir, poetry, comics), but so too have the other awards.
Many will remember that in the early years of the Printz Award there was much discussion about the overlap in the ages 12-14 served by both the Newbery and Printz with many ALSC members wanting to cede those books to YALSA and many YALSA members wanting to take those books from ALSC; we’ve heard less of that talk from the YALSA end in recent years because it’s painfully obvious that the Printz committee has no intention of serving those readers with only 4 middle school titles in 16 years: SKELLIG, THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY, and NAVIGATING EARLY. Once again, both the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize have a much better track record of serving both ends of the YA spectrum–and the Newbery serves the younger end much better, too.
Why use the full complement of 4 honor books year after year after year if you’re not going to embrace the breadth of your charge and honor diversity? I love the Printz Award as much as anyone, can point to brilliant picks by each and every committee, but the collective omissions are starting to wear me down. Can we fix this, please?
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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