2017 YALSA Elections: AN INTERVIEW WITH YALSA PRINTZ AWARD CANDIDATE Joy Piedmont

Get ready to vote! The YALSA election runs from March 13 through April 5, and to help you be an informed voter, we’re sharing interviews with each of the 2017 YALSA Governance and 2019 Selection Committee candidates.

Today we’ll hear from a candidate for the 2019 Printz Award. Members on this committee serve a twelve month term. The committee consists of nine members including a chair. Four members and the chair are appointed and the remaining four members will be elected by the membership of YALSA.

The Printz Award committee’s primary job is to select from the previous year’s publications the best young adult book. A full description of the committee’s duties and responsibilities can be found here.

Full biographical information on all of the candidates can be found on the sample ballot and YALSA Election FAQs here.

Today we have an interview with Joy Piedmont.

Name and current position: Joy Piedmont, High School Technology Integrator at LREI – Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School

Talk about the experiences and expertise you’re bringing to the award committee in terms of material evaluation and selection, and as working as part of a team.

For the past five years I have been an active member of the Hudson Valley Library Association, a regional professional organization for independent school librarians. I’m currently serving on the board of directors as President; I was also the Treasurer from 2012-2014. Being a member of the board inherently requires cooperation and patience. In my experience I’ve also learned that being a part of a small team means allowing every voice to be heard. Our quarterly board meetings have been deeply rewarding opportunities to learn from my colleagues as we plan programming and take care of various organizational responsibilities. In my role as President, I have especially enjoyed running efficient meetings to which we all contribute.

In addition to my work on the board, I organize and co-host HVLA’s monthly book club. Since 2012 we have met every month to discuss a current (published within the calendar year) middle grade and young adult book, usually titles that we think have potential to yield rich discussion. This has served us well when, at the end of the year, we host our annual mock awards. Many of the books that make our “nominee” slate for our mocks come from the reading list we’ve curated over the course of the year.

Finally, I am a co-writer at School Library Journal’s Someday My Printz Will Come, a Printz speculation blog. I was invited to write a guest review in late 2012 and became a regular reviewer in fall 2013. As the tech integrator at my high school, evaluating and selecting YA materials isn’t a part of my job description, so I am incredibly fortunate to be able to write for Someday. Reviewing YA literature through the lens of the Printz award has allowed me to continue to think critically and write about books, which is the main reason I decided to go to library school. My co-writers and I have a shared workbook of spreadsheets which helps us keep track of the books we plan to read and review. There are so many titles published in any year, it’s a challenge to ensure that we’ve made the best choices for coverage, but we’re becoming increasingly good at knowing which books we can put down and which we need to move to the top of our piles.

Talk about the ways you’ve leveraged literature with teens to address some of the issues that negatively impact their lives.

I’m the faculty advisor for the Harry Potter club at my school (a.k.a. Dumbledore’s Army, of course). We meet weekly and have been re-reading the books together, discussing themes and issues that wouldn’t have stood out to them when they initially read the books as eight- or nine-year-olds. In our conversations this fall about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the students were much more sympathetic to Harry than they had been as young children, because now they completely understood his angst and anger. The students were able to connect their frustration with the 2016 election to the Hogwarts students’ struggle against Umbridge. This allowed them to have the space to discuss their fears about the future as well as the comfort of reading about a successful resistance movement. Harry’s reluctant acceptance of his influence and ability to create change felt powerfully symbolic to the teens.

What are some ways award-winning titles can be used to help teens acquire critical skills across multiple literacies?

Excellent literary fiction and nonfiction has the ability to change the way a person understands the world while sharpening their critical thinking skills and strengthening their creative muscles. Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese is an excellent example of a book that could fulfill multiple purposes. The story is beautifully specific and universal, acting as a mirror or window to any reader for their emotional growth. The artwork exercises a reader’s visual literacy skills, and the sophisticated structure of the story demands a thoughtful and critical reading. Award-winning nonfiction books can also provide students the opportunity to read like historians, parsing historical text for veracity and reliability.

Serving on an award committee requires strict confidentiality and high ethical standards.  What actions would you take to ensure there were no lapses in confidentiality or ethics?

As a member of the Printz committee, I would be fully dedicated to the integrity of the process and would be extremely careful in all of my online and in-person interactions. The first thing I would do is take a leave of absence from Someday My Printz Will Come for the duration of my appointment. Although I would continue to organize the schedule and host the HVLA Book Club, I would withdraw from participating in the selection process for each meeting as well as the associated Mock awards. I would also refrain from logging any titles eligible for consideration on Goodreads and other social media accounts.

Why should YALSA members choose you to be a member of this award committee?

I believe that I have a unique perspective as a reader of YA literature. As an undergraduate I was an English literature major and it was my love of books that led me to pursue librarianship as a career. Although I have pivoted to focus on information science and educational technology in my professional work, I have been fortunate to stay connected to the world of YA literature through my writing for Someday My Printz Will Come and my involvement with the HVLA book club/mock awards. Because of these connections, my reading of YA literature is almost exclusively focused on literary excellence and that will serve me well as preparation for Printz committee work.

In addition to my experience as a professional reader, I have personal qualities that make my reading of any book unique. I’m sensitive to depictions of mental health, reading closely for biases and stereotypes in particular. I also believe that accurate representations are vital for any work depicting race, ethnicity, LGBTQ+ identity, or other marginalized cultures. In my experience as an educator at a New York City high school, I’m privileged to work with a diverse community of students who teach me every day about what it means to be an ally.

The current political climate has many teens feeling voiceless—many of my students expressed frustration that they weren’t allowed to vote—and literature has the ability to inspire and empower them. This year’s winners, March: Book Three, Scythe, and The Sun is Also a Star specifically, all have themes and/or characters that demonstrate the importance of action in a world that needs change. I believe that as a committee member, I would bring a sensitivity to the ways in which excellent literature can have a real impact on the lives of teens.

About Casey McCoy

Casey McCoy is a Librarian at San Jose Public Library and earned her MSLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014. She has a passion for working with teens as well as discovering ways to use technology as a community engagement tool. Her thoughts on libraries, technology and attempts at adulting can be found on Twitter @CayMcCoy.
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