Thursday, January 13, 2011

What did they do, flip a coin?

ALA has posted the 2011 Notables and Best Fiction for Young Adults list.  I had to laugh when I looked at the latter--YALSA got rid of its supposedly ungainly Best Books for Young Adults list last year to focus on narrower lists this year, but what did we get? A YA-fiction-only list that, with 99 titles, is longer than last year's all-comers list of 90. And just how selective is it when more than half of the nominated titles (191 in all) were chosen?

19 comments:

Monica Edinger said...

The Notable Committee, on the other hand, barely gets to select any after having to add in all the award winners to their final list of 60. I counted 28 of those which left them with 32 of their own to select.

Jennifer Schultz said...

I thought the point of getting rid of BBYA was that the committee members found it difficult to read through an enormous amount of material. I can empathize. I was on a statewide reading award committee, and my eyes were opened. And we didn't read anything near the number of books those committees read. But making that argument and then releasing a list of 99 titles is strange.

I understand that automatically including the award winners is in the committee handbooks. However, I would venture to guess that this decision was made before the proliferation of the Youth Media Awards.

Roger Sutton said...

Is Notables limited to sixty? I know that debate has periodically gone on in ALSC re the Notables committee having to include other ALSC prizewinners (Wiesner's Tuesday, for example, had been voted off Notables but had to be put back on when it won the Caldecott) but when you don't do that people start wondering more about the committees and less about the books selected. I don't think this year's Morris winner is on YALSA's Best Fiction list. I guess they couldn't find room ;-)

Jennifer Schultz said...

I just counted last year's Notables list. Looks like there were 76 titles in all. Looked on the submissions/criteria page, and there wasn't a specific number listed.

KT Horning said...

The ALSC Notables list isn't limited to 60 books. Each member can only select 60 books in the final vote.

In days of yore, Notable Children's Books was a subcommittee of Newbery/Caldecott, meant to highlight books that didn't make the final cut as an award or honor, but that had been strong contenders and were worth noting. So there is a historic connection between ALSC awards and Notables.

But in the 21st century, there are so many awards I think ALSC could probably do away with Notables all together and simply compile the list of all the winners, including the CSK, American Indian, Asian/Pacific,and Stonewall and call it "ALA Notable Children's Books of the Year."

Roger Sutton said...

KT, you might want to consider an armed guard for the next conference . . . .

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't mind KT's idea, but what if somebody can't make one of the award committees? How do you fill those last minute vacancies?

Jonathan

KT Horning said...

Jonathan, I think the ALSC Board would just have to appoint a Task Force to figure out a different process for what we do in the event of a last-minute vacancy. Perhaps, for example, the chair wouldn't ordinarily vote but would cast a vote in the case of an unexpected committee member absence. Or they would just vote with a member down. Would it make that much difference in the outcome? I don't think so.

It would be ridiculous to keep Notables for the purpose, in any case, and frankly I have always felt sorry for those few individuals who have been called at the last minute to serve in both capacities. I don't know how they keep their sanity.

My point is, the process (for Newbery and Caldecott anyway)has evolved and changed over a period of almost 100 years, and there's nothing sacred about the committee or the process. ALA just needs to figure out how to best get the job done.

Emily said...

i asked myself the same question after reviewing YALSA's lists this morning!

Jennifer said...

As a member of the 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults committee, I can speak to your concern. I was never under the impression that the changes in BBYA were orchestrated to makes the lists smaller and more selective, but rather to allow committee members to focus their reading. Trying to read widely among this year's YA fiction output, while challenging (my to-read piles regularly included 50-100 titles), was considerably more manageable than trying to find the best books for teens from all of the graphic novels, adult fiction, adult non-fiction, teen fiction, and teen non-fiction out there.

I can only speak for myself (I read over 300 titles this year), but I think that the change in the process allowed us to find more hidden gems this year.

The nature of the voting process for Best Fiction means that the number of titles on the list really comes down to how discerning committee members are with their Yes votes. There is no limit to how many titles and individual can vote "Yes" for, only that he/she must have read the book in its entirety. 9 Yes votes (out of 15 committee members) put the title on the list.

Given that so many librarians used BBYA and will use the new lists as selection tools, I think recognizing somewhere between 70-100 titles is really helpful.

Also, in response to Jennifer, BFYA no longer requires that we include the Printz winners (since they could include non-fiction and graphic novels).

And, Roger, the case of "The Freak Observer" is interesting (and because of our open meetings, no secret). As of our last straw poll, it had 9 "Yes" votes, and fell off at the final vote to 8, just short of making the list. There was an audible gasp from committee members when the votes were tallied, especially because our vote came after the Morris Award announcement.

miriamthelibrarian said...

K.T.'s suggestion has a certain appeal for me--at least this week!

As a member of this year's ALSC Notables--and next year's, too--I admit to being somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of reading, reviewing and discussing involved.

As with any committee (I've found) the end results of our work are a compromise. A number of books I found outstanding are not on our list. Nonetheless, a good number of books on our list would not have been recognized if we'd simply combined the lists of award winners. I'm especially pleased with our poetry selections.

I have also enjoyed listening in on the committee's discussions in the years when I wasn't a member.

In sum, I think there is still good reason to keep the Notables list.

Louise Brueggemann said...

Wow - feels like you're damned whatever you do. I have just left the BBYA/BFYA committee after three years and have been through all of the uproar during that time. Our nomination total was down a bit this year, and our final list up a bit. I, for one, was grateful that we didn't have to eliminate titles that had initially gotten 9 votes to fit what felt like an arbitrary limit. Rather than comparing the final list to the nominees, why not look at the total number of published novels that were culled to reach the final list? Nominees come from a different group of 15 people each year, with different ideas of what makes a "best" book.

What was supposedly ungainly was the total number of books in all formats that were eligible, although I am proud of the committee's work choosing a well-rounded selection of books for the 2009 and 2010 lists, and never found it a burden to examine nonfiction, graphic novels, etc.

Alex Flinn said...

To say that half the nominated titles made the list ignores the fact that an awful lot of books, even good books, don't get nominated. There are so many more YA titles each year than there were even 10 years ago, when my first novel was published, so it's fitting that the list is a bit longer. This isn't an award; It's a list, so it doesn't seem to me to be a bad thing that any book which meets a certain standard would make it (rather like the Danish System of judging). There is still the top 10, which is more in the nature of an award (and, I will say from experience, which has a major, award-like impact on sales that making the full list just doesn't), so that's competitive, even more competitive than in the past.

I'm glad to hear the BFYA does not have to include the Printz books. It never seemed right to me that the BBYA committee was basically being told that they couldn't disagree with the Printz committee. If they ignored a great book, that's one thing, but if they read it and thought it wasn't a best book, why have it foisted upon them?

I'm also glad if the new system is making it easier for the committee to read all the nominated (and non-nominated) fiction titles. I don't think this was ever the case with one of my books, but it would be frustrating, as an author, to hear that one's book didn't make the list due to not having enough readers, and yet, there are so many books.

Roger Sutton said...

Jennifer is right to suggest that I conflate a longstanding complaint about the list being too long (a complaint that goes back at least to the early 80s, when I served on the committee) and the problem of members feeling unable to justice to the amount of reading required. But did they really read any less than last year?

And I might agree with Alex if the list were called "good novels for teens." I think saying these books are "best" implies a degree of selectivity not indicated by the numbers. Louise says the list is a bit longer than last year's, but last year's also included nf,adult books, graphic novels, etc., so they aren't really comparable.

In the past, YALSA has considered upping the number of required votes for a title to make the list. Is that still in the air?

Don't take it personally, Louise--people love to fight about Best Books. In my day, the great complaint was that we were putting on too much YA realistic fiction and not enough nonfiction, science fiction, or adult books.

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

Re: eliminating Notables, one thing I like about the list is that it can include books writen and/or illustrated by non-Americans which are otherwise ineligible for the Newbery or Caldecott (e.g., Fever Crumb and The Quiet Book from this years Notables list).

KT Horning said...

Anamaria, you make a good point. Among ALSC awards, there isn't really any way to cite books published in English in other countries. And, Miriam, I, too, have learned a lot from listening to the Notables committee discussion over the years.

Perhaps, then, we're back to reconsidering the automatic addition of all ALSC award books to the list. Back when it was just Newbery. Caldecott and Batchelder, I remember the Notables Chair Pat Bakula, making the clearest argument for including them: "Just the fact that it won an ALSC award makes it a Notable book of the year."

I can see it both ways.

In terms of BFYA, it doesn't really surprise me that there are so many books on the list, given the HUGE number of YA novels that were published in 2010. But the book in YA fiction is exactly the reason I thought the change in terms was short-sighted: it seemed to be based on a trend that wouldn't last forever. And I am sorry that there are only five YA nonfiction books that get recognized by YALSA for excellence.

Roger Sutton said...

I think if you eliminated the required presence of ALSC award books from Notables, people would be gossiping about the disparity rather than focusing on the books. But it's true also that ALA has gone award-crazy. I wonder if they are a source of revenue--not just in stickers, but in sponsorship. I know that at universities, donations to a named chair or restricted fund can be "taxed" by the larger institution; is this also the case with something like the Schneider or Sibert awards?

Lynn Rutan said...

One of the issues that seems to be overlooked in the discussion is how BBYA/BFYA and Notables are used by librarians and teachers on the front lines. Whether it was the original purpose or not, these selection lists have evolved to be important tools for collection development. The numbers of books published has indeed grown and whether we like it or not, librarians, especially school librarians struggle to keep up with the field. I keep riding this horse but TRULY there are so many school districts where if there is a librarian at all, there is one person trying to serve an entire district by themselves. It is nearly impossible for one person to keep up with the books for the entire age range along with everything else they have to do. Many people are ordering materials with little experience, background or expertise in a particular level and even if they have the expertise they haven't the time to adequately read all the books or even keep up with the reviews. At presentations, I hear from so many librarians who are desperate for vetted recommendations - a list that they can at least use to help them begin to explore for their collections. Notables that includes a wide range of genres and ages is so important. BBYA used to do that same thing but I think a list of 90 teen fiction is not nearly as helpful. Awards for the top 5 ( give or take) literary quality are important to encourage the vitality of the literature but they are different from a vetted selection list of the best books published for teens or children. These are different entities and serve different purposes - especially to the beleaguered librarians struggling to do so much. In all of our considerations of success, failure or changes, I hope we will remember the how these lists are being used in the field.

Lynn Rutan

Louise Brueggemann said...

Jumping back into the discussion about BFYA (and don't worry, Roger, I don't take any of this personally) - I agree that a list of 90+ books may not be helpful to collection development - but then again, maybe it is for some readers and librarians. After all, BFYA covers a wide range of ages and genres. The thing is, working according to YALSA's rules, books that 9 out the 15 committee members vote for are on the list. If the list is too long, maybe we should require more votes - but increasing the time for discussion would be a near impossibility.

My point was that the removal of titles that had received the requisite number of "yes" votes to achieve a certain list size was done by voting them off without additional discussion, and I'm glad that we didn't do that this year.