Tuesday, January 31, 2017

And The Winner Is...

How do you feel when it's time for the Youth Media Awards? Or when you read any of the award and "Best Books" types of lists?

I know some librarians get excited about it and look forward to seeing if their picks won, but I'm always left feeling a mixture of frustration, inadequacy, and WTF?? when I see these lists. I always find that even though I read quite a bit (never as much as I'd like!), I've only read about 3-4 of all the winners and honorees, and I'm only familiar with probably another half-dozen or so. This is what makes me feel frustrated and inadequate. As an almost children's librarian, I feel like I should be more "in the know" and in sync with what others in the profession think are the best books. While I do try to read books if several people mention it, usually I just grab what interests me off the "New" shelf when we get them. Clearly, the people on these awards committees and I have very different tastes! 

So for the next couple of months, I'm playing catch up and trying to read (or at least flip through) as many of the winners and honorees as I can. Some of them I find I really like a lot and see why they were chosen, but then many others I look at and and I'm completely underwhelmed and baffled why it was chosen. I often wonder what am I missing here? Am I out of touch? Or am I just more focused on what kids would like while the committees are more interested in prioritizing diversity, promoting alternate formats (free verse, graphic novels, wordless books, etc.), and leaning more towards what appeals to adults??

This is often particularly true of the Caldecott winners and honor books. I rarely like them! I can sometimes appreciate the artwork and the story and find it appealing to adults, but usually I can't imagine them appealing to a child. I haven't even seen the winner (Radiant Child) because my system doesn't even own it because it was felt it wouldn't circulate (and I'm sure it won't after all the librarians and teachers have seen it). They All Saw A Cat was okay, but seemed like a good idea that could have been executed much better. I found the text dull and awkward, and the artwork sloppy. 

Du Is Tak? was cute at first, but went on too long, and I feel like this kind of thing has been done before. Plus the illustrations were very small. I wouldn't use either of these in storytime. Freedom In Congo Square is one I don't know would particularly appeal to kids, though something a teacher might select. I know storytime use certainly isn't the only purpose for picture books, but it does tend to be the metric I'm interested in, and I don't think I've ever been excited to use a recent Caldecott book in storytime. I am also very disappointed that Ida Always was not at least an honoree!

I tend to fare a bit better with the Newbery's, though sometimes I still think they are just ok, and nothing special. I did like all of last year's honorees, and though fantasy and magical realism aren't my thing, I did find The Girl Who Drank The Moon to be a very well-written and beautifully told story and I enjoyed it quite a bit, and think it will appeal to some kids, but not others. 

I haven't had a chance to read the honor books yet except for Freedom Over Me (also a Coretta Scott King honor book), which I thought was ok, but I'd rather know real stories of slaves, rather than fictitious ones, and I wasn't impressed with the artwork. As Brave As You (Coretta Scott King honor book & Schneider winner) was pretty good, reminded me a bit of Gone Crazy In Alabama.

I was pleased to see Girl Mans Up as a finalist for the Morris award for first-time teen lit authors, though disappointed it wasn't in the finalists for the Stonewall award for LGTBQ literature. I did think the Stonewall winner for YA LGBTQ literature, If I Was Your Girl was also a very good book. It was a very well-told story, and while it might be a little unrealistic in a couple of points (which the author addresses in the endnotes) I think it sends a needed positive and hopeful message to transgender teens, though I think it's a good story for anyone to read. I was, however, a bit surprised that the Hammer of Thor was the middle-grade winner. 

The Printz winners and honorees are almost always too bizarre or depressing for me, but I was pleasantly surprised to see The Sun Is Also A Star as a Printz honoree and King/Steptoe Newcomer Award winner, as I enjoyed that one quite a bit. I love how it tied up all the loose ends and had an ending that gave closure, yet was still open-ended. I hate loose ends and unfinished storylines! 

Well, that's it for what I've had a chance to read so far. I've included links to my reviews of any books mentioned that I've reviewed, and you can also go the the SLJ article to get the complete list, with covers and links to SLJ reviews for most of them.

So how did you fare with this year's winners? Were you left feeling vindicated and confident in your librarian skills, inspired to read some great books you had missed, or left feeling like you're a bit off the bubble and struggling to catch up like me?

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