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Best Fiction for Young Adults vs. Printz

Probably my favorite YALSA book list is one that we didn’t mention in our Youth Media Awards wrap-up last week (because it wasn’t put out until after the YMAs): the Best Fiction for Young Adults list (BFYA). BFYA has been around for just two years, but it evolved from the Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA), the only difference being that the current list excludes nonfiction, graphic novels and nonfiction, and adult fiction. The BFYA/BBYA provides a list of “titles published for young adults in the past 16 months that are recommended reading for ages 12 to 18. The purpose of the annual list it to provide librarians and library workers with a resource to use for collection development and reader’s advisory purposes.”

The full list is often in the range of 100 books, but the committee also produces a Top Ten list. There are, of course, huge differences in the function and purpose of the BYFA Top Ten list and the Printz Award, but both are essentially looking for the very best YA books of the year, so I thought it would be interesting to compare the lists. This year, I was surprised that only one book was listed by both committees (The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater), so I thought I’d look at past years to see the overlap between the lists. It turns out that there has actually never been substantial overlap between the lists.

Looking at the overall numbers, in the 13 years of the Printz Award, the BBYA/BFYA committees have put 29% of Printz Award and Honor winners on their Top Ten lists, but this number is heavily skewed by the 2007 list which contained 4 of the 5 Printz titles. Only four other years had as many as two books overlap, and twice (2001 and 2010) no books overlapped.*

All this number-crunching is more than just me being a stat-head (though it is that too). I think there are at least two interesting conclusions to draw from these numbers. First, one of the things that jumped out at me looking at the BBYA/BFYA lists was the number of titles that I recognized as being:

  1. heavily discussed and even considered shoe-ins for the Printz, only to be snubbed (this year alone, that that includes A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor);
  2. perennially popular titles such as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brasheres, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling, and The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud; or
  3. both: Feed by MT Anderson, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher, and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

So in some ways the Top Ten lists read as sort of a “shadow’ Printz Award–the books that were heavy critical or popular favorites, but that the Printz committee found lacking in comparison to their winners.

The other, much more salient point to be made about these number is what they say about the diversity of YA literature. If the committees came to the same determinations year after year, I would worry that there is a huge gulf between the 5-10 best books of the year and everything else, but the fact that the BBYA/BFYA committees are able to come up with Top Ten lists so different and yet just as distinguished as the 4-5 Printz titles each year tells me that there are a tremendous amount of fantastic books out there for teens.

For anyone interested, here’s a list of the 18 titles which were listed by both committees:

  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  • True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff
  • The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
  • The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
  • A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
  • Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; vol. 1: The Pox Party by MT Anderson
  • Surrender by Sonya Hartnett
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill
  • Nation by Terry Pratchett
  • Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick
  • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*all my numbers were compiled by hand, so if I have made any errors, please let me know in the comments and I’ll makes the appropriate corrections.

– Mark Flowers, currently rereading I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

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Mark Flowers

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2 Comments

  1. I think the big difference between BFYA/BBYA and the Printz has a lot to do with this sentence from the BFYA policies and procedures: “It is a general list of fiction titles selected for their demonstrable or probable appeal to the personal reading tastes of the young adult. Such titles should incorporate acceptable literary quality and effectiveness of presentation. ”

    The Printz is exclusively a literary award; it’s given to recognize “literary excellence” and nothing else. The committee members of BFYA, on the other hand, are explicitly required to consider appeal as well as literary quality. I don’t mean to imply that Printz winners and honors don’t have appeal for teens, but including appeal as a criteria necessarily changes the selection process somewhat. I think it’s great that we have a way of recognizing, like you said, the abundance of wonderful YA out there!

  2. Mark Flowers Mark Flowers

    Yeah, I didn’t really want to get into all the various differences in the criteria in my post, but obviously that factor of popular appeal is the biggest one. And I definitely think the Printz (and the Newbery, for that matter) make the right decision in avoiding the subject of popular appeal.

    But even granted the criteria, when you look at the lists, there are lots of Printz titles with plenty of teen appeal that could have fit right in on the BBYA Top Ten list (Angus, Thongs … anyone?), and vice versa (many of the titles I listed in the OP), so I don’t think that criteria alone explains the differences between the lists. I think it is more the fact that committees comprised of different people with different tastes will come up with very different ideas of what “best” means. And that’s what I want to celebrate–there are many more than 5 (or 10, or 15) “best” YA books every year, and we should be very proud of that.

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