Because the Columbia Publishing Course magazine workshop begins on the Sunday of ALA Annual, I am not going to the conference this year. This upsets me because I've had to leave the Printz committee AND I don't get to eat the filet mignon they were going to feed me at the 2009 Movers and Shakers Luncheon. I also won't have the opportunity to attend any of the YALSA board sessions. If you're going, you can see more information on the YALSA wiki here. With your ALA member number and password, you can also see the Board documents in the "for members only" section of the site. Thanks to Jen over at Reading Rants, I saw a board document which I found deeply disturbing. It calls for the disbanding of Best Books for Young Adults and replacing it with a sort of reader's choice award. Personally, I say bring on the reader's choice lists. I think they're a great idea. I don't, however, think they're a great idea if it means taking away BBYA in the process. BBYA is 40 years old, and I think it's needed now more than ever because publishers are printing more YA novels than ever.
The need for BBYA as a vetted list done by a panel of YA literature experts with input from teens can best be summed up by the life of Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link.
Pretty Monsters is one of my favorite YA books of 2008. It's a beautiful, macabre collection of short stories, all with a weird, semi-supernatural twist. In Link's stories, a handbag contains a faery world. A group of friends form a fandom over a show that has no set broadcast time or channel. It got starred reviews and acclaim from Link's peers, as it should have. Those things, however, are forgotten as we move on to the next book. Pretty Monsters wasn't eligible for the Morris and it didn't get a nod at the Printz, but it did deservedly make BBYA. Now, it's got a spot on a list that librarians use for collection development, a list with an available archive.
Pretty Monsters would fade without BBYA. It's certainly not popular. It's published by a big house, but it wasn't a lead title. Short story collections, though they have a special place in my heart, are not popular with teen readers. The books that make BBYA are the ones we look back on as a profession and remember. They're the ones that stood out in a year when thousands of books were published. The BBYA committee makes an effort to read a range of genres and formats from both large and small publishers. They recognize quality and potential popularity in books that don't have big print runs or expensive marketing campaigns and they give those books a lasting home. Because books go out of print fast, and because it's easy for us to get saturated with YA titles, BBYA serves as a reminder of the great books of a year, ones on which we can build our collections and ones which are setting today's standard of YA lit.
One of the arguments in favor of disbanding BBYA is that a reader's choice award would allow more people to participate in the booklist selection process. I think there's room for a popularity contest, but why should BBYA have to suffer for the sake of wider participation? We already have rewards for popular books in place. Although not everyone can be a member of BBYA (and why should they get to be?), anyone can nominate a book for BBYA, anyone can contact any committee member about any book, and anyone attending ALA can attend the BBYA sessions. BBYA isn't done in a vacuum.
Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan wrote more about this at the Bookends blog: Replacing BBYA: What do you think? They have some great points about the work BBYA does and how it cannot be replaced by a popular choice award. Also, check out Alex Flinn's blog post about what BBYA did for her first novel, Breathing Underwater.
Please, YALSA, instate that popular choice award. Open it to all librarians and give everyone a vote. I'm all for more chances for YALSA participation. But keep BBYA, because the need for it is greater than ever before.