YALSA 2012 Election: An Interview with Michael L. Printz Award Candidate Rachel McDonald

In February we are posting interviews with each of the 2012 Candidates for YALSA Award Committees. This week we are focusing on Michael L. Printz Award Committee. ‘ Each day this week we’ll post an interview with one of the candidates for that committee. We are posting alphabetically by candidate’s last names.

The YALSA Nominating Committee for 2012 has been working hard to select candidates for this year’s election.’  The Printz Committee is charged with selecting from the previous year’s publications the best young adult book (“best” being defined solely in terms of literary merit) and, if the Committee so decides, as many as four Honor Books. The Committee will also have the opportunity for input into the oversight and planning of the Printz Awards Program. Committee size: 9, four to be elected, plus a consultant from the staff of Booklist, and an administrative assistant if requested.

This is your chance to get to know this year’s candidates that have been nominated to serve on the Printz Award Committee.’  Polls are open from March 19 to April 27.

Today we have an interview with Rachel McDonald.

What experience do you have that makes you a good candidate for the award position for which you are running?
Since becoming a teen librarian in 2007, I have served on multiple YALSA book selection committees, including Best Books for Young Adults, Morris, and beginning in 2012, the Alex Awards committee. In addition to my YALSA commitments, I have been active in the Washington State Young Adult Review Group (WASHYARG), which meets quarterly to review both fiction and nonfiction titles for young adults. My participation in WASHYARG has exposed me to a wide variety of title beyond what I might normally read, as has my involvement in my library system’s Mock Printz Award.

Why do you want to be a member of this awards committee?
The Youth Media Awards have been described as the “Oscars” of the children’s and teen literature community, and since its inception in 2000, the Printz Award has stood at the pinnacle of those honors. As a teen librarian who each year is consistently impressed and amazed by the quality of teen literature and its willingness to tackle life’s difficult questions, I would be honored to help choose the next Printz Award winner and honor books, and, more importantly, learn from other committee members about how they determine literary excellence in a young adult novel.

What are you most looking forward to in being a part of this award decision process?
I’m excited to work with advocates for teen literature across the country to choose the winner of the Printz Award. My favorite moments from previous committees have been when one person believes very strongly in the attributes of a particular book that s/he has fallen in love with. The debates that result are eyeopening and often reveal people’s assumptions about what makes a good book.

What do you feel are the key factors for decision-making for this award?
When considering titles for the Printz Award, I feel that the committee must come to a consensus on how it will define excellence in young adult literature. I feel it’s helpful to have a discussion as a group before getting too focused on the nominations process, as we did during my tenure on the Morris Award committee. Since the parameters for the award are narrower that many other selection committees (literary excellence and not popularity), I would expect myself and other committee members to read and re-read carefully, keeping in mind our discussions about our charge. Because our face time is minimal, using email and ALA Connect to discuss nominations is a must.

The reading load for awards committees is very high, how do you plan on managing the work load of award committee life?
Since I’ve already served on the Best Books for Young Adults and Morris committees, I’m aware that committee work often requires sacrificing time that would normally be spent doing other activities (sleeping, for instance!). For me, this means establishing a regular reading schedule so that I spend some time read for committee every day. It also means being aware of other work and home commitments and giving myself enough time to complete projects without feeling stressed out. I’m lucky to have a supportive spouse who understands that our house will be filled with books and he’ll likely see me reading every spare moment – not that I don’t already!

What have you learned from past experiences on awards, juries, or other YALSA committees that you will bring with you to this committee?
I think one of the most important lessons I’ve taken away from past committee work is that while I may have a strong feelings about a book, careful note taking and analysis are what is needed to help me present an argument for or against a particular title. I’ve had the experience of being the only person or one of the few people in love with a certain book, only to see my nomination go down in flames as my fellow committee members find discrepancies in the character’s voice, flaws in the setting, holes in the plot, or issues with pacing. I’m sure I’m not the only one this has happened to, and I’ve learned not to take this personally – the books we’re discussing should be examined in great detail, and it’s fascinating to see what each reader takes away from a book and how that changes over multiple readings.

In your experience how has the YALSA Awards and Selected Lists helped you as a librarian or made your work better or easier or different than expected?
While I love the serendipity of pulling a book off my bookshelves and falling in love with it, my time is often at a premium (whose isn’t these days?). I count on the YALSA Awards and Selected Lists to point out books and other materials that will likely be a hit with different groups of teens. Occasionally, I like to present booktalks or create displays around a theme, so the Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list is a favorite of mine. As the quantity of books for teens published each year continues to grow, I increasingly rely on the YALSA Awards and Selected Lists to highlight high quality books that might otherwise fly under my and my colleagues’ radar.