Category Archives: Awards

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


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Zusak Redux


As you noted, I really did love this book. When I read it the first time, the ending didn’t bother me at all. I admit that I have a tendency to pretty much take writers where they are and not ask too much on a first read–I’m willing to go along for the ride. In this case, I think my reaction was sort of a shrug–perhaps I, too, had been reading enough metafiction that I didn’t give it much thought.

I gave it so little thought, in fact, that when I read it the second time a few years later, in preparation for a reading group, it came as a surprise to me for the second time.

I think what that means is that I was so involved in the story, and in Ed’s life, that I didn’t really care how Zusak got him out of it. I loved the humor in the book, and the genuineness of Ed, and I kind of liked the fact that this had all been brought about by authorial fiat, and that we were being told that. And it was really just a way to end the book, because at this point he had moved Ed along to the point that the book needed to end.

In retrospect, after hearing Zusak’s own regrets, and Beth’s well-reasoned comments above, I can see that it could be seen as rather a cop-out. I know that it made some of my book-group readers uncomfortable, although at the time I more or less dismissed their discomfort as a lack of imagination.

As I write this, however, I find that I can’t really condemn Zusak for it, or even regret it, as he apparently does. One of the things I liked about the ending was that it took a risk, and I like that in a book. I like to have something to think about, and I like to be surprised. I like to close a book and think to myself, “Huh. THAT was certainly interesting.”  So I have more tolerance for a risk that maybe doesn’t quite succeed than I do for a too-predictable ending. (Not that there weren’t other ways he could have ended this book and still maintained the surprise and interest. And not that I can imagine what a too-predictable ending would have been for this book!)

So there you have it–my own not-very-definitive answer to your question!

Two more comments about Markus Zusak, though:

1) I was so happy that YALSA President Shannon Peterson gave a shout-out to Getting the Girl at the Edwards Brunch (she mentioned that it had been a treasured book for a teen boy she had worked with). Getting the Girl is, in my opinion, Zusak’s overlooked and underrated book (although happily, the Edwards Committee cited it).

2) When is Zusak going to write another book? It has been seven years since The Book Thief!





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ALA Debrief: Markus Zusak


i am the messengerWell, we’re back from ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. I seem to have been the only librarian there who kind of enjoyed Vegas, although the heat was truly terrible, but I’m glad to be home nonetheless. You and I went to several programs together and a whole bunch separately, so hopefully we’ll have a few thoughts to post to this blog, but the very first thing I wanted to get up is about Markus Zusak’s speech at the Margaret A. Edwards Award brunch.

Since I write and work for School Library Journal (which sponsors the Edwards Award), I was lucky enough to get a free ticket to the brunch and an invitation to meet Markus beforehand. He was incredibly kind and gracious and I thought his speech was lovely, discussing his development as a writer and his desire to write books that “only [he] could have written.” But the piece I want to discuss today was a brief digression that I might have missed had I not been discussing the very same issue with a friend. Zusak was talking about I Am the Messenger (or The Messenger as it’s known in Australia and as he referred to it), and he said, “I think I really screwed up the ending.” That’s a direct quote, the following is a paraphrase: “some people really got it, some people didn’t get it at all, and some people thought they got it but didn’t.”

The_Messenger_Au_CoverI’m sure you remember, but for our readers’ benefit, the ending of I Am the Messenger has Ed, our narrator, encounter an unnamed character who, it quickly becomes clear is Markus Zusak himself, who explains to Ed that he has written Ed’s story. It’s one of the more purely metafictional moments in YA fiction–it lays the ground for the final lines of the book, “I’m not the messenger at all./ I’m the message”.  And it is undoubtedly strange since nothing has really prepared us for this moment of stepping out of the story this way. At the time I read the novel the first time I was reading heavy doses of metafiction so it didn’t really even phase me. So I was surprised when a friend of mine read this for the first time and reacted negatively to it. And then I was even more surprised when Zusak got up at an awards ceremony and admitted to screwing it up!

I don’t know if this post is of interest to anyone other than myself and my unnamed friend (if he/she wants to reveal him/herself in the comments, feel free!), but I thought it was worth writing about since I don’t often hear authors so blatantly admit to faults in their writing. I know you’re a bigger Zusak fan than I am, especially of I Am the Messenger. What did you make of the ending at the time? What do you make of it now?

– Mark


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ALA Awards


Okay, I’m home from Philadelphia, had a good night’s sleep, did my laundry, sorted the mail, and now I’m ready to say a few words about my reactions to the Youth Media Awards.

In order of their announcement:

The Alex Awards: that was me yelping when Lexicon was announced. Actually, it turns out that it was the only one of the ten that I had read, although Brewster and Sea of Tranquility have been on my TBR list since AB4T reviewed them. I was disappointed at the fact that nine were fiction titles, although there are more nonfiction titles on the expanded list, including my personal favorite, Frozen in Time.

Edwards Award: Yes, yes, yes! Some people were saying afterwards that they didn’t think of Markus Zusak as having been around long enough for an Edwards nod, but Fighting Ruben Wolfe came out in the US in 2001, and Getting the Girl  in 2003. Laurie Halse Anderson got the award in 2009, for Speak and Fever 1793, which came out in 1999 and 2000, respectively, so it isn’t unprecedented. As you note, I’m a big fan of Zusak’s “Aussie slacker” books, and I was especially gratified that Getting the Girl was one of the honored books, because it’s a personal favorite of mine, and I think it is one of the great overlooked YA books of the 21st century. It is a stand-alone sequel to Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and I am looking forward to re-reading both of them before the Edwards brunch at Annual.

Morris Award: As you know, I’ve been a fan of Charm and Strange since I read it, and I was delighted that it won the Morris. To be fair, I still haven’t read the other finalists, so I can’t offer any salient remarks on them.

Nonfiction Award: I was kind of rooting for GO!, just because it was nice to see a non-history (dare I say, non-World War II?) book on the list. But I managed to snag a copy of Nazi Hunters at the reception, and I’m looking forward to reading it. (You can make me eat my words next January, when my Nonfiction Committee chooses a World War II book!)

Printz: Again, we’ve both talked about Midwinter Blood. I see your issues with it, but it is a book that has really stuck with me. You mentioned its daring and inventiveness, and I sometimes think those kinds of things are like the “degree of difficulty” ratings they give ice skaters and gymnasts–even if the execution isn’t perfect, the attempt is so audacious that it merits extra points.

I was definitely surprised at Navigating Early. I read it back in the beginning of the year, but didn’t even talk about it on the blog, because I didn’t see it as Printz potential, nor was it particularly resonant with me. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, but honestly, it kind of slipped from my radar as soon as I read it.

Also a surprise to me was Maggot Moon. We both had issues with it, and one of mine was that I thought it was too young for the Printz. When I said this on Monday to a member of the Printz committee, that person–who had admittedly read the book more often and more deeply than I–looked startled, and obviously the committee thought it was a young adult book.

Eleanor & Park didn’t excite me, as you know, but I felt it was a solid YA book and I wasn’t surprised to see it on the list.

I had not even heard about Kingdom of Little Wounds until the night before the announcement, when I was having dinner with other librarians and someone brought it up as a book she thought was a strong contender this year. Clearly she was right!

Other awards:

Newbery: I haven’t read Flora and Ulysses, but I have it on hold. I was happy to see some younger books acknowledged, like that one and The Year of Billy Miller.

Caldecott: Not my area of expertise, but I heard Brian Floca speak on Friday afternoon, talking about the creation of Locomotive, and I’ve flipped through the pages, and it seems a worthy choice. I “read” Journey (it’s wordless), and thought it was lovely.

Schneider Family Awards: When Rose Under Fire was announced, I asked the person sitting next to me, “Why that one? What’s the disability?” She couldn’t answer, but fortunately, I ran into a member of the committee later, and she told me that it was Rose’s PTSD that they were mostly thinking of, but also the disabilities of the “rabbits.”

So there are some quick thoughts. Tomorrow I’ll post on some of the galleys I picked up at Midwinter (including a new one by Marcus Sedgwick), and we can start speculating about 2014.

– Mom




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YMA Reactions


What are your reactions to the announcements of the ALA Youth Media Awards?

My primary reaction was happy surprise at the Newbery Award going to Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. To be honest, I have not been a huge fan of Kate DiCamillo – I think The Tale of Despereaux is a fine book, but not necessarily a Newbery-level one. And Because of Winn Dixie I can take or leave, although it too is a perfectly good book. But I was really enthusiastic about Flora & Ulysses (as I was about most of the ampersand titles of the year). And I’m always happy to have a comedy win.

You know my thoughts on the Printz Winner, Midwinterblood. On the one hand, I think it is great that the committee honored such a daring and inventive book–it certainly is more interesting than 95% of the YA literature out there. On the other hand, as you know I think Sedgwick was less than successful in his daring. So there’s that. Also, I stand by my (and your) position on Printz Honor Maggot Moon – it’s just really not very good.

But what I’d really like to talk about (or rather have you talk about) is the Edwards Award.  You have been very vocal (at least to me) about your love of Markus Zusak’s earlier work – I think you’ve called it his Aussie-slacker novels. Which appears to be what the committee awarded. I’ve read I Am the Messenger, and of course The Book Thief, but not the other two named titles: Fighting Ruben Wolfe and Getting the Girl. So what do you think?

– Mark

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Morris and Nonfiction


You discussed the Morris finalists–the other major award for which YALSA announces the finalists ahead of time is the Excellence in Nonfiction Award. And the finalists are:

  • The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb
  • Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd
  • Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler
  • Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone
  • The President Has Been Shot by James L. Swanson

So, between the Morris and the Nonfiction Awards, I’ve read . . . one book. That, as you know, is Courage Has No Color which I was unimpressed with. I do have a copy of Kidd’s book at home, and while I’m not sure I’m going to read it in its entirety, I will say 1) it is gorgeously designed, which you might think goes without saying for a book on graphic design, but you’d be wrong, and 2) the bits that I’ve dipped into are very well written and fascinating. So, though I can’t say I’ve read it, I’m thoroughly behind Go as a Nonfiction finalist. The Nazi Hunters and Imprisoned are books that I’m vaguely interested in, and I may read at some point if I catch up on other reading. As for Swanson’s book, someone is going to have to work very very hard to convince me to read anything more about the Kennedy Assassination. Unlike so many others, I find the subject endlessly boring.

Back to the Morris–I have heard some things about Belle Epoque, along with the other three you mentioned. But Sex and Violence (what, no ampersand, Mesrobian?) remains a mystery to me. The others are books that I’ve heard good things about but all sound pretty mid-range to me. On the other hand, keeping up with the Morris has never been one of my strengths. Of the 30 finalists and winners the Morris has honored, I’ve read all of 9, and only have good things to say about 3 of those–two in the first year, Graceling and A Curse Dark as Gold; and last year’s winner, Seraphina. Oh, I suppose I like Girl of Fire and Thorns fine, but the others I’ve read–Paper Covers Rock, Where Things Come Back, Between Shades of Grey, The Freak Observer, Wonder Show–plus After the Snow which I abandoned, read like a list of “books Mark finds hopelessly pretentious.”

So, go read Go. Other than that, I’m not of much use on these two lists.

– Mark

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I Called One!


Today YALSA announced the five finalists for the William Morris Award for a Debut YA work.

Of the five, I’ve read one, started one, had one sitting on the shelf for months, and haven’t even heard of two.

The one I have read is Charm and Strange, by Stephanie Kuehn, which I talked about here several months ago. At the time, I said I hoped the Morris committee was looking at it, so I called that one, at least!

The one I started is Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos. I picked it up at the library several months ago, but couldn’t get into it–it just felt a bit precious to me, but perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for it. I would be interested in your take, though, since the main character has an anxiety disorder, and you know more about that than I do.

The one I have had on the shelf is In the Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters. Spanish Flu pandemic: check. World War I: check. San Diego: check. It’s just the spiritualism aspect that has held me back, I think. But I’ll definitely take a look at it now.

The two I haven’t even heard of are Sex and Violence, by Carrie Mesrobian, and Belle Epoque, by Elizabeth Ross.

Some random thoughts:

  • 3 contemporary, 2 historical
  • 3 with male main characters (two of those written by women), 2 with female main characters
  • 2 (possibly 3) about forms of mental illness
  • no fantasy or science fiction this year

How about you? Have you read any?

– Mom


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Genre vs. Content


I have many thoughts on your recent post. First, I think you’re off on the number of Contemporary Realistic Fiction titles we’re looking at. Looking at my long list of 16 titles, I see:

  • Pieces (I don’t remember any magic realism – readers correct me if I’m wrong)
  • The Lucy Variations
  • Reality Boy
  • Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
  • Winger

That’s a pretty healthy chunk. Meanwhile, looking at Printz awardees, Beth Fama showed a pretty tremendous bias toward Contemporary Realistic last year, especially among the winners.  It’s true that many of these center around more or less tragic events, but I think that is a somewhat separate issue from genre, closer to the issue which has come up on places like Someday My Printz Will Come with regard to the elusive Printz-worthy humor titles. For example, if you want romance this year, let’s look at Eleanor & Park, which is “historical” fiction in the sense that it takes place 30 years ago, and certainly involves some weighty issues, but nevertheless fits the bill of a romantic comedy fairly well.

To take it from another perspective, you say “It seems, though, that in order to be considered a ‘serious’ book, contemporary realistic fiction needs to have some really major tragic event going on.” But I would argue that the same applies to other genres as well.  For example, among the 7.5 Historical Fiction titles on Beth’s list, we have 1.5 on World War II; 3 about slavery/race relations; 1 about a horrific murder; one about alcoholism and depression; and Revolver. Not a cheery group.

The fantasy titles are a bit better, but we still have tales of apocalyptic or dystopian societies; murderous horses; monsters; ghosts; and Margo Lanagan (twice).

So, I guess the point is that to be considered as “serious”, regardless of genre, a book needs to include some heavy-hitting, usually depressing, events and themes. Why that is is a whole other question that I think can probably be traced very far back in the history of Western (and possibly non-Western) art, which is a bit beyond the purview of this blog.

– Mark

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Mock Printz Titles – Mark’s Take


I think you’ve covered the major bases for books we’ve discussed on this blog. I like to push the age discussion a little (if only to annoy Karyn Silverman 😉 so I’d like to see a 10-14 title on our list.  I haven’t read a ton of those, but the one that stands out for me is The Water Castle, by Megan Frazer Blakemore.  I haven’t read Fangirl, but our readers seem to have nixed that one.

I also haven’t gotten to September Girls or Yaqui Delgado, though I’d be happy to plow through any of them for discussion’s sake.  I think considering that neither of us liked Maggot Moon much, we can’t give it much of a fighting chance.

I recently finished Rose Under Fire and Winger, and I may post further on them, but personally I’d vote against either one.  On the other hand, I’m open to discussing them, so we can leave them on the list for now.

So that leaves us with an A-List of 10 titles that one or both of us is ready and willing to defend:

  • Yellowcake, by Margo Lanagan
  • Pieces, by Chris Lynch
  • Far Far Away, by Tom McNeal
  • Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty
  • Primates, by Jim Ottiviani
  • Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
  • Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick
  • 17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma
  • Boxers, by Gene Luen Yang
  • The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr

And a B-List of 6 books we either need to read or need reader support on:

  • The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore
  • Reality Boy, by A.S. King
  • September Girls, by Bennett Madison
  • Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina
  • Winger, by Andrew Smith
  • Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein

To cut that down to 8-10 titles, we need reader input.  Tell us which books you want to discuss and/or see us discuss.

– Mark


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End of the Year


We’re into the final quarter of the year, and it’s time to start thinking seriously about our idea to do a Mock Printz meeting in January. I feel like I haven’t read nearly enough  books this year to do it right, but I’m willing to give it a shot, based on books we’ve both been impressed with, and suggestions from others.

Here’s what Nina said in discussing Heavy Medal’s Mock Newbery criteria:  “We strive for a shortlist that people can actually get their hands on and read, and that provides a     broad and interesting discussion.  We also want to include titles that we really think are good contenders, and your comments help us figure this out.”

Given that, I think we probably need a shortlist of 8-10 titles, which should be manageable to discuss in an afternoon.

I’d also like to find out who among our readership live in the Bay Area and would be interested in participating. We’re thinking about the afternoon of Sunday, January 19, which is just a week before the actual awards are announced. It’s a long weekend–that Monday is Martin Luther King Day. So if you think you might want to attend (you don’t have to make a final commitment yet), let us know in the comments, or email one of us offline ( or

So here’s my first list of possibles, based on books we’ve talked about here so far this year; I’m more than open to suggestions, especially if you or any of our readers has any inside scoop on books to be released in this final quarter of the year.

17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma

Yellowcake, by Margo Lanagan

Pieces, by Chris Lynch

Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick: My take and yours

Primates, by Jim Ottiviani

Boxers and/or Saints, by Gene Luen Yang

Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Winger, by Andrew Smith

Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein

We’ve briefly talked about Reality Boy, by A.S. King. Include it?

I still haven’t read Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell (4 starred reviews–I have it on hold at the library) or September Girls,  by Bennett Madison (5 starred reviews–also on hold). Any thoughts from anyone?

Far Far Awayby Tom McNeal also has 5 starred reviews, but you thought it had some pretty fatal flaws. Again, include it?

I think we  both thought Maggot Moon was both flawed and too young.

I haven’t read Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina, which has 4 starred reviews.

And where’s the nonfiction? Is there anything out there that is really YA nonfiction this year?

What have I left out? What should be removed from this list? What absolutely has to be discussed?

– Mom


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