There’s a profusion of pollen and awards in the air. It must be springtime. ‘Tis the season that YALSA rolls out the award announcements for the Printz, the Morris, the Edwards, the Odyssey, and more; the Spring issue of YALS is devoted to awards, the winners, and the speeches. But even so, in the flurry of awards that get announced in the late winter and early spring, it can still be easy to overlook a few. But don’t forget Alex!
The Alex Awards are named in honor of Margaret A. Edwards (who was known as Alex to her friends, hence the name). She’s probably best known for her book The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts: The Library and the Young Adult, a classic in the field of young adult/teen library services. (The chances are good that if you take a YA literature or youth services course while getting your library degree that you will hear mention of it—and rightly so.)
Each year, the Alex Awards committee chooses ten books written for adults that are judged to have particular appeal to young adults between the ages of 12 and 18. These books are fiction and non-fiction, well-known and not. They encompass pretty much every genre and also include literary fiction, and the tone can range from dark to side-clutchingly funny. The non-fiction titles have tended to skew towards adventure, history, and modern society.
Some books may be familiar to you, such as this year’s winner The Night Circus, and some may not be, such as another 2012 winner, Salvage the Bones. Here’s a link to the complete list of this year’s Alex Awards. And while you’re there, take some time to go back through the older Alex lists. You’ll find a mixture of now-classic crossovers such as Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Dianne Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, and Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. (A small piece of trivia: Neil Gaiman is the only author—-so far-—to make the list twice: in 2000 for Stardust and in 2006 for Anansi Boys.)
So how can you use the Alex Awards?
1. For some of your more advanced, curious, or sophisticated teen readers, who may be more challenging to do readers’ advisory for, these awards are a boon. The Alex titles are a rich source of interesting and more complex reading material, which is also still emotionally appealing and accessible to teen readers.
2. Don’t forget to add them to your teen booklists (print or digital). I usually include a section of related or crossover adult titles at the end of my teen booklists and the Alex lists are an excellent place to start.
3. Familiarize yourself with them in the name of readers’ advisory and collection development. I always make a point of taking a look at all of the Alex Award winners and also checking to see if my system owns copies (and if so, how many). The winning writers may have other titles that would make good recommendations or read-alikes that would have teen appeal as well. Crossing teen and adult readers over into each other’s sections is always fun regardless of the direction. (And don’t forget that these still make excellent suggestions for adult readers, too.)
4. Add some more books to your own towering stack of books to be read. I try to read several of the Alex winners every year and have been introduced to titles and authors I might not have come across otherwise. And I’ve read many books that I’ve loved and still recommend to friends, family, and patrons whenever the opportunity presents itself. (Soulless, Persepolis, The Eyre Affair, Gil’s All-Fright Diner, The Spellman Files, and The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, to name a just a few.)
Several of this year’s winners are on my personal summer reading list. So if you’re not sure where to begin in adult fiction these days or you’ve simply enjoyed as many YA apocalypses as you can stand for a few days, don’t forget Alex!
Jennifer Brannen is a YALS Editorial Advisory Board Member.