Monday, May 12, 2008

I do not think that award means what you think it means

Via one of my listservs, I found this entry from The Reading Zone. It's an entry I pretty much agree with, talking about the effect the No Child Left Behind act has on reading for pleasure. What I find odd are the comments from "safelibraries," who seems to have a very skewed idea of what the Printz award is given for.

The Reading Zone suggests that books like Printz winner Looking for Alaska and honor book Speak be read and discussed in classrooms, not instead of but along with the classics most high school students are assigned. SafeLibraries says, in one of his/her comments:

Regarding parents needing to be aware of things, you are correct. But right now ALA-awarded books are considered ideal without the need for parents to question the ALA. The parents are aware the books are award winning books and that’s enough to know. Parents are not yet aware that the ALA now awards books that parents would not want their children to read if they knew the true contents. That’s the rub.

Nowhere in the Printz criteria does it say that a winner or honor book is ideal for any one reader or even any one audience. The Printz is given for literary merit, meaning (to me) that it's not always what you say, but how you say it. I could have written a novel with the same ideas as Looking for Alaska, for example, but because John Green is a much better writer than I, he was able to give it a literary bent that I could not. Green's use of language is what made that book stand out. When the Printz committee awarded Alaska, it was because of the way Green conveyed his ideas and made his characters come to life. The Printz committee does not care what content is in a book. It's not their job to care, frankly. American Born Chinese has no sex in it at all, but Repossessed does (sort of). When the Printz committee grants the award, they are in no way saying that the winner is a book appropriate for all children 12-18. That would be ridiculous. No such book exists, regardless of content. Teens are too diverse for any one group of people to determine what is good for all. I would also say the same for the Newbery. The book that wins the Newbery is not going to be enjoyed by all children, and their parents might not deem it appropriate.

SafeLibraries continues:

Parents are supposed to judge books for their own children, while at the same time parents are misled as to the contents of those books.

I really don't get how giving a book an award would mislead any parent as to the content. The award is given for the way the book is written, not what topics it's written about. A parent picking up a book with an award medal on the cover will probably figure that the book is good because it is. A group of people who did nothing but read YA books for a year deemed that particular book the most outstanding contribution to the genre in that given year. But an award sticker cannot tell a parent how appropriate, or not, the book is for their child. Everyone's values are different.

SafeLibraries cites an article in which former YALSA president Pam Spencer Holley was quoted talking about the Gossip Girl books:

So I’m going to provide evidence that, to me, is clear and convincing.

Consider the following:

“The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), the fastest growing division of the American Library Association (ALA), has announced a list of books to recommend to teens, both avid and reluctant readers, who are looking for books like Cecily von Ziegesar’s ‘Gossip Girl’ series.

“‘The books on this list are perfect for when your readers have finished with every “Gossip Girl” title in your library and are clamoring for another book like the Gossip Girl,’ said YALSA President Pam Spencer Holley.”
The press release goes on to say, “For nearly 50 years YALSA has been the world leader in selecting books, videos, and audiobooks for teens.” Fine. But why not also reveal that at a certain point along that timeline YALSA started recommending sexually inappropriate books for children, accompanied by glowing reviews that intentionally hide such inappropriate material? You buy these books in a bookstore and the store signs advise of inappropriate content. The ALA has no such advisories. This is another example why the ALA should no longer be considered authoritative when it comes to the recommendation of children’s books.

I have never seen signs in a bookstore advising that some content of YA books is explicit. Has anyone else? If so, where did you see them and what did they say?

Also, what is "sexually inappropriate?" And if the Gossip Girl series is just that, reader's advisory logic would dictate that those who love Gossip Girl would love other books that address the teen view of sex. "The ALA has no such advisories," but doesn't that speak to a belief that says that ultimately the teen (and the parent, if so desired) has to be the last word on what book is appropriate for him/her? There's a wide range of maturity in teens, and even in adults, and since librarians cannot address every single teen, the best we can do is recommend readalikes and let the reader decide.

In the meantime, here is YALSA's Printz Award page.

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