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Printz winners by the numbers

Inspired by Kelly’s awesome “Best of” Books by the Numbers post and the upcoming Printz Award announcement, I decided to take a numerical look back at previous Printz winners. Because the Printz is a relatively new award, first given in 2000, it’s a pretty short list, but it’s still worth looking at! The first Printz winner was Monster by Walter Dean Myers, who was recently appointed National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature–proof that YALSA’s committee members knows how to pick ’em! Let’s start by taking a look at the authors.

50% male, 50% female

Gender-wise, we’ve got an even split, with six men and six women writing (and, in one case, illustrating) the winning books. Obviously this year’s winner will swing the scales one way or the other, but it’s great to see such balance in the award’s first twelve years.

Since we’ve been covering the Morris Award finalists, I have debut authors and works on my mind.

25% yes, 75$ No

Of the twelve Printz winners, three, or 25%, are debut works: A Step from Heaven by An Na, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, and Looking For Alaska by John Green. Like Kelly, I defined “debut” as an author’s first novel, not his or her first young adult work. It’s interesting to note that roughly the same percentage of debuts appeared on the “Best Of” lists as have won the Printz. I wonder if that also corresponds to the percentage of YA novels published each year that are debuts.

Before I talk about the content and format of the books, a disclaimer: I haven’t read all of the Printz winners. For the books I haven’t read, I relied on reviews and jacket copy to categorize the books by genre and to make judgements about the diversity of the characters. If you disagree with me, let me know in the comments!

First, I want to look for diversity in Printz winners. “Diversity” is a complex and faceted concept; for sake of simplicity, I broke it down into two simple categories: books with a queer protagonist and/or a protagonist of color.

I was glad (and not surprised) to see that nearly half–5 out of 12–Printz winners feature non-white characters, but I was shocked that there’s not a single LGBTQ protagonist to be found among the winners! My guess is that this statistic would be a little different if I’d included honor titles, but even so, I’m surprised. I think of YA lit as representing diversity in a range of ways–race, class, sexuality, and gender–but perhaps I’m being too optimistic. (Malinda Lo, in an extremely through analysis of LGBT YA lit, notes that there were only 11 LGBT YA titles published in 2010.)

As if the breakdown of “diversity,” wasn’t difficult enough, I decided to look at the Printz winners by genre, too, and here’s where I really started wishing I’d read all the books before writing this post.

If there’s one thing I learned trying to put the Printz winners into genre categories, it’s that Printz committees like genre-benders! Sure, some of the winners fit easily into specific genres. Last year’s winner, Ship Breaker, is pretty clearly science fiction, and Looking for Alaska and The First Part Last are contemporary fiction. But what about American Born Chinese? Is the story of Chinese-American teens contemporary fiction? Sure, but that’s only one of the narrative arcs in the graphic novel. There’s also a mythic story about the Monkey King. Fantasy? It’s great for a book to have elements of both, but it makes choosing a single genre a little tricky. What about the 2010 winner, Going Bovine? Reviewers seem unsure whether the action is real or hallucinatory, and Goodreaders have it shelved under Realistic Fiction, Contemporary, Science Fiction, AND Fantasy. Postcards from No Man’s Land, the 2003 winner, includes historical and contemporary storylines. Hmm.

I ended up using broad categories to resolve some of these issues. Speculative fiction encompasses science fiction and fantasy, and anything with a contemporary story about regular teens growing into adulthood got stuck in contemporary fiction. Only Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness (the 2008 winner) didn’t seem to fit either of those categories; it’s the single mystery/thriller in the graph.

The final breakdown of the 12 existing Printz winners is by format. Although nonfiction and poetry titles have been named Printz honors, all but one of the winners was a traditional novel. The lone standout is American Born Chinese: the 2007 winner is the only graphic novel to receive the award.

Looking at the numbers, what can we predict about this year’s winner? It will probably be fiction. It’s likely to have been written by an established author. It might be contemporary, realistic fiction but it also might include some genre-bending elements. There’s a pretty good chance that it will feature racially diverse characters; it’s less likely to have an LGBT protagonist. Can anybody think of a great book from this year that fits all those qualifications? I can think of quite a few, actually….

The most exciting thing is this: the Printz award is young enough that the patterns aren’t too established. It’s entirely possible that a nonfiction graphic work by a debut author about young LGBT people will be this year’s Printz winner. Tune in January 23rd to find out!

— Emily Calkins, currently reading (and loving) Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma


  1. You’re a person after my own heart! I love analysis like this. You’re right, though, that the Printz Award is too young to have established patterns. And like all other awards, choosing the “best” of anything is incredibly subjective. It’ll be interesting to see what the committee picks. (I note that the gender breakdown of the committee is 83% female, 17% male. and 50% are from Western states!)

  2. Emily Calkins Emily Calkins

    I wonder if all the committees have been so heavily female (my guess is yes!) I’m also excited to see what they end up picking. Only a few more days!

  3. […] we’re gearing up for this year’s Printz Award, the Hub takes a look back on previous winners. Emily Calkins has put together some great stats like: authors by gender (pretty even split), debut […]

  4. Wow, I love this analysis. I’m still not sure what my picks are for the award/honors, but I’m definitely excited!

    • Emily Calkins Emily Calkins

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I can’t decide what my picks are either. I keep thinking I’ve settled on something, and then I’m reminded of another great book I read this year…..

  5. “…not a single LGBTQ protagonist to be found among the winners!” – that’s quite terrible.

    Lauren Myracle’s ‘Shine’ would have been a great win, or James Howe’s ‘Totally Joe’. Or how about the John Green/David Levithan ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’? I agree, it does seem like a glaring omission when the YA genre is meant to be all-inclusive and explorative.

    Wonderful post!

    • Emily Calkins Emily Calkins

      Thanks! I haven’t seen many LGBT titles mentioned in Mock Printz committees this year either, sadly, but you never know what the committee will pick. Hopefully we’ll get an LGBT win soon!

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