2017 YALSA Elections: AN INTERVIEW WITH YALSA PRINTZ AWARD CANDIDATE Paula Willey

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 Paula Willey.

Name and current position: Paula Willey, Librarian, Baltimore County Public Library

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.

I work at a big public library, so I have a huge amount of freedom and vast resources from which to draw when I help teens find good things to read. But I have also created opening day collections for two public school libraries, and had to make hard decisions with a limited budget. By far, however, I have learned the most about material evaluation from working on award committees. I’ve been a Cybils judge, a member of the Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award nominating committee, and just this year helped start a Mock Newbery in Baltimore. Every time I am involved with such a group, I find that the insights of my fellow panelists have taught me how to evaluate books in a new way.

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

This year, I initiated an outreach program with the Charles J. Hickey School, which is a part of the Maryland juvenile justice system. The teens in this detention facility are boys between the ages of 12 and 18, and they are detained prior to trial because they have been accused of a violent crime or are seen to be at risk of self-harm if released. Most of them, in addition to their current difficulty with the law, are also reading far below grade level and have diagnosed and/or undiagnosed learning or behavioral disabilities. In addition, most of them describe a childhood that was and is intellectually and emotionally impoverished, as well as, in most cases, economically disadvantaged.

Linking these boys up with literature that shows them they are not alone, or that generates empathy for others or insight into their own lives is the most satisfying experience of my professional career. They read Alexander Gordon Smith’s Escape from Furnace series to find parables of goodness and loyalty amid horrific conditions; they read the Bluford High books to walk in the shoes of a person that they’ll never be; and they loved Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la Pena because it showed them a foster kid struggling and achieving. I brought Mr. de la Pena to the facility to talk with these boys and the questions they asked him revealed both pain and hope.

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

It’s always a pleasure to develop programming and curriculum inspired by award-winning books. As a member of the Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award nominating committee, I get to develop lists of resources and lesson ideas for nominated titles. I look for art links, science and engineering tie-ins, film, and movement activities. Some of my favorites: eighth graders at my sons’ school walk across town to fetch water in an activity inspired by A Long Walk to Water; Drowned City by Don Brown is the jumping-off point for an exploration of floodplain modeling and flood prevention engineering; and the Eleanor and Park playlist is a rich way to explore the 80’s.

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?

Oh, I don’t talk to anyone, I’m a total loner. Well, that’s not true. But I would immediately take a leave of absence from my other professional activities that involve discussion of YA titles. I have experience keeping such deliberations confidential.

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

There is nothing better than the hard and thorough critical reading that you do as part of an award committee. It’s important to be able to write and talk about the books you’ve read with other committee members cogently and with great precision, and in nearly ten years of writing about children’s and teen literature, I believe I have developed just that skill.

Perhaps more important, however, is the ability to maintain a professional and cordial demeanor during the sometimes intense and passionate exchanges that can characterize award committee work – without diluting one’s own passionate opinions. I’ve had enough practice on administrative committees and award panels to have gained that kind of perspective.

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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