Was 2003 the Best Year in YA Publishing?


You know how much I love lists, so when I saw Booklist’s 1000 Best Young Adult Books since 2000, I was sold before even reading it. Even better, since 1000 books is a lot to digest, the book includes an appendix naming the 50 best YA books since 2000. There’s a ton to discuss about this list (which for the most part I found convincing as a representation of the best YA of the millennium) but the very first thing that caught my eye was the distribution of books by publishing year. As I browsed through it at the ALA Store in the Las Vegas Convention Center, I began to notice that 2003 in particular seemed to be greatly overrepresented (the reasons I noticed that year are twofold: 1) I know it well since it was your year on the Printz Committee, and 2) I’ve been vaguely eying it down for my greatly delayed What Should’ve Won series). But I wasn’t sure if I was right, so when I got home I tracked down a copy and crunched the numbers. Here they are:

  • 2003 – 7
  • 2002 – 6
  • 2008 – 6
  • 2009 -5
  • 2007 – 5
  • 2006 – 5
  • 2001 – 4
  • 2005 – 4
  • 2004 – 2
  • 2010 – 2
  • 2012 – 2
  • 2000 – 1
  • 2011 – 1

(I’ll get to 2003 in a second, but I wanted to briefly look at those two lonely years with a single title. The year 2000 is represented by David Almond’s Kit’s Wilderness, which of course won the 2001 Printz Award, and was my runner-up for What Should’ve Won. A pretty safe, solid choice.

More interestingly, 2011 is represented by A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which is notably *not* one of the books recognized by the 2012 Printz Committee. If I ever get to the 2012 Printz Awards in my What Should’ve Won series, I’ll explain why I think that year featured the weakest crop of winners (not that I’ve ever made a secret of my disdain for Where Things Come Back). For now, I’ll just say, I agree with Booklist.  Also, for the record, the only other year for which Booklist didn’t include at least one of the Printz Committee’s selections was publishing year 2007, from which they managed to find five(!) non-Printz books for their top 50.)

OK – back to the topic at hand. Obviously, 2002 and 2008 gave it a run for its money, but my instincts were right that 2003 had the most total titles. Here they are:

  • A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
  • Fat Kid Rules the World by KL Going
  • The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
  • Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson

First of all – a pretty ringing endorsement of your Printz Committee! Three of your five selections are represented. And I’m fairly certain that neither of the two graphic novels (Blankets and Persepolis) would have been eligible for the Printz that year because they were published for adults.

More importantly, a very, very strong crop of books from a single year. A couple of years ago at ALA in Anaheim, I went to a pre-conference called Books We’ll Still Talk About 45 Years From Now (I wrote about it here). The moderator, Rollie Welch chose 30 books for us to discuss, and I noticed at the time that a very large percentage of them were also from 2003. Welch included 6 titles from 2003, a pretty huge number considering he only had 30 total and was covering a larger period of time (Huckleberry Finn made the list). Here are Welch’s six:

  • The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson
  • East by Edith Pattou
  • The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
  • The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

You’ll have noticed the overlap. And for me, East and A Great and Terrible Beauty are even stronger than Boy Meets Boy.

So what gives? Was 2003 the best year for YA publishing, at least measured by the number of “classics” it produced? Or has it been just long enough that it is easier to see books from 2003 as “great” books than, say 2012 which produced (in my estimation) an obscene number of phenomenal YA books? Obviously, the strange coincidence that this is the year that you were on the Printz Committee may limit what you can say about these books, but if you have any thoughts, or if our readers would like to chime in, I’d love to hear them.

– Mark


1 Comment

Filed under Awards, Books, Teens

One response to “Was 2003 the Best Year in YA Publishing?

  1. Jonathan Hunt

    Catching up after a long absence from this blog, but I think you can make a really good case for 2001 which included THE LAND by Mildred Taylor, WHALE TALK by Chris Crutcher, THE RAG AND BONE SHOP by Robert Cormier, TRUE BELIEVER by Virginia Euwer Wolf, and so many more. 🙂

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