Monday morning, I got up before the sun rose to sit in a room with thousands of other librarians to listen to the live announcement of the 2012 Youth Media Awards. While I will have more in-depth thoughts about the winners (and those that didn’t win…) I wanted to do both a quick recap and overview of both the ceremony and the winners. This isn’t a post about who “should’ve” won and who were the “right” winners because, well, I know just how hard it is to be on committee (I’ve written about that before) and I am eternally in awe and thankful for all the work committees do.
This is about what it’s like to be there in the second when everything in your professional life changes. Even if I didn’t attend ALA’s Midwinter conference for the business and committee work that makes it so satisfying, I think I might go just for the live YMA announcements. It’s truly a magical moment: this was the first year I got to sit with a big crowd of friends and colleagues that I’ve spent so long discussing this literature with and just even knowing you’re surrounded by people who care as much as you, who love as much as you, know as much as you – that alone is a gift. MUCH LESS the anticipation, the life-changing moments, the roll of excitement and cheers that electrify the crowd – there’s just nothing like it. Honest and truly nothing compares.
The YMA announcements are always a roller coaster of emotion. You can’t take the thrill of a personal favorite winning in one second and are heartbroken another favorite was ignored the next. It changes everything: makes you excited, frustrated, confused, curious, ready to read and explore and discuss books deeply. And that’s pretty fucking great, ain’t it?
- I could not be happier with the Printz winner Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. I screamed SO LOUDLY when they announced it I think I burst some eardrums and I definitely had a second of going numb with joy. I’ve been preaching about this book to anyone who will listen and wishing the Printz for it since I finished it a few months ago (I’ve read it twice) so to actually have that happen – OH, ALL MY DREAMS COMING TRUE!! This is a truly beautiful and special YA book - the kind for all your non-reluctant readers, the kind to grow into, the kind that will mean so much to the right reader. And it’s literary and deep and worthy of this big award and LORDY, HOW I SCREAMED!
- Truly, no moment was more special than when Ashley Bryan was announced as the recipient of the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. I wish I had a recording of the explosion of sheer joy in the room. The cheers and applause were overwhelming. When I tweeted about it I referred to Bryan as “our beloved Ashley Bryan” because, seriously, I’ve never heard anything like that. And, as anyone who has ever been lucky enough to hear Ashley Bryan speak knows, if there’s anyone who’d love and revel in an explosion of sheer joy? It’s him. It’s a well-deserved honor for a very special talent.
- I was particularly excited about the Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré Illustrator winners. Shane Evans’s Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom is absolutely beautiful. The way Evans’s uses color is something else. A band of slaves flee into the blue-black night and stars light their way on every page. It’s stunning and powerful. This is the kind of story that the picture book format really brings to life, really gives some import to. Meanwhile, in Diego Rivera: His World and Ours, Duncan Tonatiuh creates one of the best artist biographies I’ve ever read. It’s not just the way Tonatiuh’s very specific style makes the story entirely his, it’s how he talks about what Rivera’s work might look like in our world, how he explains to children what Rivera strove to create and capture with his art. Tonatiuh never talks down to children, instead, he brings Rivera’s world, the artist’s world, to life. I was just in love with these selections and am so happy this is going to get this original and daring picture books in even more libraries.
- There was a gasp of surprise and disappointment when it was revealed that the Schneider committee had elected not to name a picture book winner. But should we have been surprised? The Schenider goes to the book that best “embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience” and, well, the disability experience is usually no where to be found in picture books! Think of the last time you prepared for a baby storytime and went to get a bunch of picture books about, say, body identification. Think of the Mem Fox refrain, from a book that ostensibly about the wide diversity of human life: “And both of these babies, as everyone knows, had ten little fingers and ten little toes.” Everyone knows, eh? Think of allllll those books you have about heads, toes, fingers, legs, arms – and think how many feature babies or parents without fingers or eyes or legs. Can you think of one? Any one? A single one? Of course not! Because, as everyone knows, we all have ten little fingers and ten little toes, right? And that’s just a single example, of course, the disability experience is much larger. But you wouldn’t know that from picture books, would you? I was proud that the Schneider committee held out on principle and I hope that if ANYONE took a lesson from Monday morning it was publishers. We want, we desperately need, more portrayals of disability in picture books. Start publishing them, we’ll start buying them.
- Love the Alex list and having a reason to read grown-up books! I was quite beyond thrilled to see the two books I was most crossing my fingers for: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern on the Alex list. These are deliriously perfect books for teen readers who are dipping their toes in adult fiction. I was first sold on The Night Circus by a rapturous teen girl who promised me it was the most amazing book ever. I can’t wait to read all the other books on the list!
- SO HAPPY to see Money Boy by Paul Yee as a Stonewall Honor book! I read this book in one sitting in a Indigo bookstore in Canada back in September. It’s utterly unlike anything I have ever read in queer YA lit. Ray is a Chinese immigrant in Toronto having a hard enough time fitting in as he struggles with his father’s expectations and learning English but being gay on top of that? He knows what will happen if his father finds out and, soon enough, Ray finds himself alone and broke on the streets of Toronto. How is he going to survive? There’s so much I love about this book: the concise writing that SO accurately sounds like an ESL immigrant teen, Ray’s family situation and the realistic pressures in his life, the pacing, the gay adults Ray meets who are good and bad and unlike he expected, the way things are worse than Ray imagined and better than he could have hoped – it’s just the kind of fresh, original story that queer YA lit needs. I hope the Stonewall helps get this book even wider recognition – go out and get a copy!
You can read about ALL the ALA Youth Media Awards and even see an archive of the webcast (listen for those Ashley Bryan cheers!) at ALA’s website. There’s much more to be discussed, like all the amazing lists ALA committees created and my deeper thoughts on some of the winners, including a more in-depth love letter to the brilliance of Where Things Come Back but I wanted to get a first reaction post done before the week was out. It’s good to capture those once in a lifetime moments when you can, after all. At least until next year, when we get to have them all over again!