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Find more What’s Printz-worthy?
The names of the 10 Printz and 41 Printz Honor Awards bestowed since this prestigious prize was established in 2000 are a matter of historic record, of course. But what if—what if the Michael L. Printz Award had been established years, even decades earlier? What are some of the books that might have been deemed Printz-worthy?
Who better to answer that question than some of the Printz recipients themselves? The personal picks of seven of these distinguished folks are listed below, along with some of their thoughts about their choices. Enjoy!
Celine by Brock Cole (1989)
This was a tough assignment! My shortlist included Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas (1996), The Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge (1988), Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff (1994), and Night Kites by M. E. Kerr (1986). But Brock Cole’s Celine has to be my pick for This Woulda Been a Printz Winner. If Holden Caulfield had a sense of humor, he’d be a perfect match for the hilarious Celine Morienval. In Celine’s wise, dead-on voice, Cole skewers teen relationships, parents, stepparents, psychiatrists, and adults in general, without ever losing sight of his character’s lovable vulnerability. This is the funniest book that ever made me cry. —Ellen Wittlinger, author of Printz Honor Book Hard Love (1999)
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (1957)
This set of tales recalls, in rich, lyrical prose, one summer in the life of 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding: the freedom of a new pair of sneaks, the sorrows of early September, the thrills of a local serial killer. Some of the chapters are almost magic realist—for example, a cautionary tale about a neighbor’s attempt to build a happiness machine. Others are just moving evocations of what it’s like to enjoy the summer in that delicate final year before puberty comes along and makes summer smell of sweat and cheap cologne. Bradbury’s modernist prose is so visionary that the line between fantasy and small-town reality is breached or irrelevant. This book made me happy to be 12 when I was 12. For those who prefer a more aggressively active plot, I would quite happily also devote Printz Awards to several of Bradbury’s more fantastical books (all equally rich and emotionally nuanced in their prose): The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962). They taught me how to write; they taught me how weird and miraculous it is to be alive. Thank you, Ray Bradbury. —M. T. Anderson, author of Printz Honor Books The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; v. 1: The Pox Party (2006) and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, v. 2: The Kingdom on the Waves (2008)
Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! by M. E. Kerr (1972)
Kerr’s writing has a clarity and elegance that still grabs readers 38 years after its publication. Sweet, easily baffled Tucker Woolf is forever changed by fat, furious Dinky, her mentally ill cousin, and JP, the only son of a famous liberal activist. The adults are actual people (a miracle in YA literature), and while Dinky’s mother is a pill, she’s an interesting one. The novel itself is interesting, and if that’s not Printz-worthy, what is? — Garret Freymann-Weyr, author of Printz Honor Book My Heartbeat (2002)
If Rock and Roll Were a Machine by Terry Davis (1992) and Chinese Handcuffs by Chris Crutcher (1989)
I’m going to cheat a bit right outta the gate and pick two books instead of one. My picks are If Rock and Roll Were a Machine by Terry Davis and Chinese Handcuffs by Chris Crutcher. In the interest of full disclosure, both of these guys are great friends of mine, but if I could only pick books by young adult authors I didn’t count among my friends, I’d only have dead guys’ books to pick, and where’s the fun in that? Both of these books are great works of YA literature or of literature period, as far as I’m concerned. While both Davis and Crutch have written better-known works (Davis’ Vision Quest ) and Crutcher (too many to name but Stotan!  and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes  come to mind), my selections of these particular titles are based on the depth of thematic significance, complexity of character development, and overall power as literary works. I love and admire and respect both these books enormously, and I can’t pick one over the other, so please don’t make me! — Terry Trueman, author of the Printz Honor Book Stuck in Neutral (2000)
The Land of Nod Rockabye Book by Jay Stephens (1999)
In this wondrous work of cartoon fiction, first released by Dark Horse Comics in 1999, Jay Stephens filters Friday night angst through Saturday morning sensibilities. Cute, simply drawn characters experience the ugliest and noblest of human ambitions as they barrel through adventures across the universe. Space Ape Number Eight, the greatest Space Ape of all, is brutally betrayed by his lieutenant, the cuddly Kip Terrier. As the superhero Jet Cat, preteen Melanie Ilk must fly like a jet and fight like a cat to defend her hometown of Oddville. The villainous but tiny Vicki von Vermin just can’t seem to get any respect from her archenemies, the Bug Patrol. With a brush stroke that combines the charisma of Walt Kelly with the economy of Alex Toth, Stephens weaves these seemingly unconnected story lines into a manic, surprising, and satisfying whole. — Gene Luen Yang, author of Printz Award winner American Born Chinese (2006)
The Owl Service by Alan Garner (1967)
When The Owl Service was published in 1967, reviewers said it was not a book for older children. It was too adult. They praised mightily its handling of language, form, and narrative. It was “modern,” a masterpiece. But . . . where to place it? The problem was the lack of a critical vocabulary that could “make sense” of what everyone acknowledged was unprecedented. No book in my lifetime has moved a literary form so completely into a new phase. The first novel published in English that isn’t for adolescents, whether called “teenagers” or “young adults,” nor written on their behalf, it is determined by aesthetic principles—a poetics—which establish it as a work of art in its own right, and as an identifying example of what “youth literature” (my preferred term) is as literature. If any book deserves a Printz Award, The Owl Service does. —Aidan Chambers, author of Printz winner Postcards from No Man’s Land (2002)
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938)
In the 1930s when Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was writing The Yearling, there was no middle ground between “juvenile” and “adult” literature. What began for Rawlings and her editor (Maxwell Perkins) as “juvenile” migrated into the adult category and went on to win the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It’s hard to imagine a book of such breadth and depth, with such memorable characters and sense of place, being overlooked by any Printz committee. Which raises an interesting question: Could a novel published today conceivably win both the Printz and the Pulitzer? —Helen Frost, author of Printz Honor Book Keesha’s House (2003)
More Printz Musings
So there you have it: eight titles from seven authors. Two of these titles were originally published as adult books—Dandelion Wine and The Yearling. The former is one of my own personal favorites (in fact, I wrote a retrospective review of it for Booklist Online, calling it “rhapsodic” and “a classic celebration of childhood and of a sweetly idealized America”). As for the latter, it’s not only a favorite of Frost’s but also of Lois Lowry and Katherine Paterson, both of whom have called it one of the most formative reading experiences of their respective childhoods.
Speaking of adult titles, I’m a little surprised that no one gave the nod to Catcher in the Rye (1951), which would probably have been my own personal choice, but it’s possible that our authors felt this book had already been so covered in accolades that it needed no more (the same could be said of Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War , of course!).
Aidan Chambers’ eloquently annotated selection of The Owl Service reminds us that books from other countries are also eligible for the Printz; in fact, of the eleven awarded to date, four have gone to writers from other countries (five if you count How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff , an American who lives in England). As for other titles from abroad, two that are distinctly Printz-worthy, in my estimation at least, are Peter Dickinson’s Eva (1989) and The Changeover (1984) by New Zealand’s Margaret Mahy.
As for Garret Freymann-Weyr, Terry Trueman, and Ellen Wittlinger, their four choices are also eminently praise- and Printz-worthy! M. E. Kerr and Chris Crutcher are two of the grandmasters of contemporary YA literature, of course, as evidenced by the fact that both are winners of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in the field of YA. Brock Cole is also hugely talented, and I vividly recall that Celine was my introduction to his work when I served on the Best Books for Young Adults Committee back in 1989 (yes, it made it our final list). I’d suggest that at least two of his other books would also have made satisfying Printz selections: The Goats (1987) and The Facts Speak for Themselves (1997). As for Terry Davis: his place in the body of young adult literature is secure, thanks to both If Rock and Roll Were a Machine and his earlier novel Vision Quest (1979). Both of these titles richly deserve to be reissued in new editions (publishers, are you listening?).
Lastly, there is Gene Luen Yang’s selection of the graphic novel The Land of Nod Rockabye Book. Though this book was published in 1999 and might, technically, have been eligible for the first Printz Award, I let it stand for several reasons. First, it is a compilation of previously published material, and second, most librarians did not begin to seriously consider comics and graphic novels until YALSA’s 2002 preconference devoted to this subject. The work of sequential art is, thus, still a new category for the Printz—indeed, Yang’s American Born Chinese is to date the only GN to receive the award, though I’m sure there will be many others in the not-too-distant future as the field continues to explode. As for other retrospective choices, well, the obvious one would have to be Art Spiegelman’s already classic Maus (1986), although a case might be made for Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby (1995) (just re-released in a new edition) and Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World (1998).
Of course, I’m not a winner of a Printz Award or Honor, so I have no business slipping my own choices into the commentary I offer above. But, come on, choosing pre-2000 Printz-worthy titles is as irresistible as a pound of Godiva chocolates, so can you blame me? In fact, I’ll bet you’ve already started making your own selections, haven’t you? Well, haven’t you?! Why don’t you send an e-mail to Laura Tillotson, Editor of Quick Tips? I’d love to know what they are . . .
Michael Cart is a Booklist columnist and editor, most recently, of How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity (2009).
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