The Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia had its hands full on Monday, January 28, as a room full of excited librarians, publishers, authors, and other industry professionals breathlessly awaited the start of the annual Youth Media Awards. In fact, by the time I arrived (bleary-eyed and bushy tailed) at the convention center, it was 7:55 AM and there was no official room left for audience members. Instead, I found a seat in a “spillover” room where the awards were being broadcasted live on a screen. By 8:30 AM, the spillover room was entirely full.
My friend who called the YMAs “the librarian Oscars” was pretty spot-on, after all.
It’s hard to describe how incredible it was to witness people applaud, groan, cheer, whisper, and even shed tears over children’s and young adult literature. It’s even harder to describe how it felt to sit next to perfect strangers at 8 AM on a Monday morning knowing that they were just as passionate as you about youth media. Suffice it to say that I have never seen a room full of introverts whoop and holler so loudly before. For those who aren’t “in the know,” I would describe the purpose of the YMAs, in part, as providing “those fancy silver and gold stickers you see on the covers of books.”
But it’s more than fancy stickers, of course.
It’s about celebrating what is groundbreaking, what is earth-shattering, and what is revolutionary each year in the media we read and the media we believe children and teens should read. From the several awards with Corretta Scott King’s name attached, given to African-American authors and illustrators, to the Stonewall Book Award for books for teens that relate the LGBTQ experience, to the prestigious John Newbery Medal for “the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature,” these awards are not just about recognizing art for its own sake, they are about recognizing how fiction changes lives of all ages. And it’s not just fiction–there are also awards that honor children’s videos, audiobooks, illustrators, and nonfiction works. The YMAs teach us that media matters.
I’ve never seen such joy in a room before, and I think that’s maybe what we have on the Oscars. That even if there were “upsets” or “surprises” in this year’s winners, even if something was unexpected, there was no bad blood in the Convention Center that day. The camera never panned to horrified faces of “losers” and there were no million dollar designer gowns (although there were some very stylish bookish individuals). And I guess that’s why I can’t sit here and tell you who “won” this year’s awards. I know it sounds cliche, but you don’t leave an event like that without a sense of renewed purpose in the power of media, without admiration for each and every nominee, from recognized authors like David Levithan (nominated this year for a Stonewall Book Award for Two Boys Kissing) to Kate DiCamillo (this year’s winner of the John Newbery Medal for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures) to newcomers like Stephanie Kuehn (author of the William C. Morris award winning novel Charm and Strange).
Because the thing about the Youth Media Awards is that there are no losers. It’s an old-fashioned celebration in the best sense of the word, and every single person watching felt that energy, whether they were livetweeting it from their couch or, like me, smiling next to strangers.
For a complete list of the 2014 Youth Media Award Nominees and Winners, see the ALA Press Release.
Or to watch a full video of the awards, see this year’s ALA Youth Media Awards video on YouTube.
-Chelsea Condren, currently reading an advanced galley of Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith