Thursday, August 27, 2015

The YA Guide to Book Awards: The Alex Awards

Welcome to the second post in the YA Guide to Book Awards series. Just a reminder of what these posts all about:
Over the next few weeks, I'll be doing a rundown of several different book awards, what they mean, who decides which books receive them (and a few examples of which books have), and why you should pick them up next time you’re in search of a new favorite book.
Last time we covered the Michael L. Printz Award, and this week we'll be talking about YALSA's Alex Awards.

I wanted to discuss this one in particular for two reasons: first, in my conversations with teens over the last few weeks, I've been reminded that that teen reading interests are diverse and not limited to YA. I've talked to readers of Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult and fans of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, among others. As a matter of fact, weirdly enough, the people I know who read the most YA (or read it most often) are actually adults, not teens. So there's that.

Second, the next Accio Lit review will be for Red Rising by Pierce Brown. This book is a perfect example of how confusing the categorization of fiction can be. I think that very often an author writes a book because they have a great story to tell, and they don't really consider an "intended audience." So when a publisher snags it, they want to market the book to whoever they think will be most likely to buy it. If that group is teens, then YA it is. If it's not, then it gets classified by genre in regular fiction.

Anyway, Red Rising fits into that weird in-between category. In fact, Red Rising was an Alex Award nominee in 2015. It's got a teenage protagonist but it deals with more adult-oriented themes than the average YA dystopian novel, and the style is a bit more literary. And even though it was technically not marketed toward teens, I mean, look at this cover compared to other dystopian teen novels:

So I guess the lesson to be learned here is to always remember that good books come in all kinds of packages (and in all sections of the bookstore or library), so don't be afraid to explore to find something you like.

I bring you another YALSA award:

The Alex Awards

What is it?

According to YALSA:
The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The winning titles are selected from the previous year's publishing. The Alex Awards were first given annually beginning in 1998 and became an official ALA award in 2002.
The Alex Awards are sponsored by the Margaret A. Edwards Trust. Margaret Alexander Edwards (called "Alex" by her friends) was a librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland who led the library field in administering young adult programming for over thirty years. She set high standards for other young adult librarians at Enoch Pratt, insisting that they read over 200 books for young adults before they were allowed to interact with young people, She felt that the best way to reach the young adult audience was to make them a part of the library community; she went into high schools and booktalked (unheard of back then) and created a version of the modern-day bookmobile to make sure young adults who were unable to get to the library would have the opportunity to read books from the collection she spent years developing. Perhaps most importantly. Edwards alerted the library profession to the importance of young adult literature and library services.

The Alex Award is given to identify those adult titles that have the most interest and appeal to teens (ages 12-18).
The Alex Committee considers any title from a publisher's adult list in the calendar year prior to the announcement [...] Books published outside of the United States are not eligible unless a U.S. edition is available. Works of joint authorship and editorship will be eligible. Titles that are self-published, published only in eBook format, and/or published from a publisher outside of the US will not be considered eligible until the first year the book is available in print or distributed through a US publishing house. 

Who decides?

In 2002, the ALA gave the Alex Awards its own committee, who publishes not only the ten winning titles, but also a vetted list of nominated titles each year. The committee consists of nine librarians who are also members of YALSA, and they serve a one-year term that begins or ends at each ALA Midwinter Conference. Like the Printz award, the Alex committee also includes a consultant from the ALA book review publication Booklist (who doesn't vote). Librarians (and teens!) can nominate books for the Alex awards each year, and if you've read a book recently that fits these qualifications, you can suggest nominations here.

2015 Winners:


Why should you care?

I think it's important to occasionally read outside of your comfort zone to get familiar with the variety of genres and types of books that are out there. The Alex Awards give readers of YA a chance to read the kinds of stories that they love, but that cross generational, thematic, and complexity bounds into books that have more characteristically adult themes or writing. Personally, I own four of the ten titles listed above just because I read the blurbs and thought they sounded appealing. (I'm especially looking forward to Wolf In White Van because the author John Darnielle is the lead singer of the Mountain Goats, who I LOVE).

In the next few weeks I'll pick a few more awards to cover, so stay tuned!

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