Thanks for your statistics. Here are some more:
Australia has a population of 22,732,214 (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics). California’s 2010 Census population count was 37,253,956, and 2012 estimates are close to 37.8 million. So Australia has about 60% as many people as California.
By your calculations, Australians have either 28% (10/35) or 16% (10/62) of Printz Awards and Honors, and 25.8% (8/31) of winning authors.
And what about Californians? Well, by my calculations, only 3 Printz-winning authors are full-fledged Californians (born, raised, still live here): Gene Yang, Elizabeth Partridge, and Daniel Handler (interestingly–all three are from the Bay Area). There are four others whose bios indicate that they have lived in California at various times in their lives, although none live here now (Stephanie Hemphill, Helen Frost, An Na (grew up in San Diego), and Garrett Freyman-Weyr). So Californians have won only 4.8% of the awards, despite superior population numbers. What’s up with that?
Just as an aside–I tried to calculate the numbers for New Yorkers, but that got even more complicated, because people–writers in particular–seem to move in and out of New York quite a bit. (Like, Walter Dean Myers was born in West Virginia, but grew up in Harlem, now lives in New Jersey–does he count?)
So back to Australians. It’s clearly nothing to do with numerical superiority, so what is it? I don’t really have an answer to your question about how books get into the hands of committee members. The books have to have been published in the US during the eligibility period (which is sometimes a year or two later than it was published in Australia). Perhaps books that get a good buzz in Australia are more likely to be published in the US, and are therefore the better books? Perhaps there’s lots and lots of Australian schlock that we never see?
I do have one theory, though, although it doesn’t fully answer the question. It’s that I think that Australia somehow hits the sweet spot between being a little bit foreign to US readers, and yet also being fairly familiar. Besides some slang, not much happens in I Am the Messenger that couldn’t happen in any US urban area. Jellicoe Road is a school story, and although we don’t have a huge tradition of boarding schools in this country, the relationships among the teens are still familiar enough–but with, as I said, that hint of foreignness. The settings in Jasper Jones and Stolen were uniquely Australian, but either story could have taken place in the U.S.–we have deserts and small towns, too.
When you tweeted about your last post, Karyn Silverman jokingly responded that “it’s clearly because the accent plays well at the speeches.” But in an odd way, I think there’s something to that–I wonder if the slightly foreign-sounding slang and the slightly different settings put us in a different frame of mind when reading. I know that when I read a book that takes place in, for example, San Francisco, I’m hyper-critical of the details of setting and language (don’t call it “Frisco” or ”San Fran” or I might stop reading!). But set it in Sydney, and anything goes!
Of course, this only applies to realistic fiction, and several of the award winners from Australian authors were fantasies and science fiction, so I don’t know how to account for that.
I just want to add that even among non-Printz-winning authors, there are some great Australian writers out there for YA: Garth Nix, John Marsden, Cath Crowley, Jaclyn Moriarty, Justine Larbalestier, Juliet Marillier, Catherine Jinks, Allison Goodman, and many more. I like your suggestion that maybe it has something to do with their innovative library programs, but I don’t have any evidence for that.
Anyone else have any ideas? Or is this just the golden age of Australian YA fiction?