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 Jennifer Thompson.

Name and current position: Jennifer Thompson, Teen Programs & Partnerships Coordinator, DC 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.

When I’m reading, I have a little notebook by my side where I keep a running list about the book’s strengths and challenges. For fiction, I look at the character development, dialogue and world building. For non-fiction, I make notes about primary source materials and back matter. For all books, I analyze them for the literary quality of the writing. Does it compare to previous award winners? Does it stand out from the crowd?

For books that are newly published, or are set for future publication, I look to the journal reviews as well as well-respected bloggers and their thoughts before I purchase new YA eBooks and eAudiobooks for the library’s collection. At both Brooklyn and DC, I’ve maintained a YA starred books list. This list helps me and other staff who work with teens know which YA books are rising to the top and could be Printz or other award contenders.

Being part of a strong team is one of the most rewarding parts of any job. I believe that everyone comes into a committee with valuable experience that helps to shape the list that’s created, and I love being a part of a group with energetic and passionate members. Whether it’s via a work-based committee, or through a YALSA committee I’ve served on, I treasure both in-person and virtual discussions of books. Each team member brings a different perspective, which helps the entire committee to form a well- rounded opinion of the titles up for discussion. I always say “teamwork makes the dream work, y’all!”

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

For three years, I ran a monthly book club for teens. We read YA fiction, nonfiction, poetry and graphic novels by a range of diverse authors, including An Na, Sherman Alexie and Janne Teller.  In our discussions, we talked about the lives of the teens featured in the books, and inevitably the book club attendees would compare the characters’ lives and experiences to their own. I learned early on that book discussions are gateways to discussing broader issues that affect teens. Having an open dialogue in a safe space is critical for the teens to not only express their thoughts on the themes of the book, but to begin sharing more personal stories about themselves, their cultures and identities. I still hear from some of the book club participants about how these discussions really helped them get through tough situations.

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

When working with teens, I’ve learned that building critical skills is most successful when you combine a multitude of literacies. One of the most eye-opening moments I’ve had as a librarian was reading M.T. Anderson’s National Book Finalist Feed with a group of teens during the summer of 2011. The teens were really struggling with the book – they hated the main character, Titus, and were having a hard time connecting to him. I quickly realized that they didn’t understand the book was satire. So I pulled up two examples in other forms – I showed clips from the television show The Colbert Report and pulled up The Onion’s website so they could read a few articles. Once they realized that Anderson was doing the same thing, it was like a bunch of light bulbs went on in the room. The teens became more engaged in the conversation, and we had a fruitful discussion about whether or not we are headed in the same direction as the book’s dystopian world.

Combining the book with other visual media made a huge difference in how the teens came away from their experience. They learned how to analyze a book, and about how satire can be used as not only a literary form, but in other ways as well.

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?

Because of my experience with other YALSA committees, I know what is expected of committee members and the seriousness that confidentiality plays in our work. As a member of the Printz committee, I will take my role just as seriously as I did in my previous committee work. All discussions, whether in-person or virtual, must be handled the same. You don’t talk about what’s being discussed with anyone outside the committee, you don’t post opinions of these books on social media websites or blogs, and you gently, but firmly, tell colleagues and other interested parties that you don’t share anything the committee is working on.

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

Throughout my career as a librarian, I have co-chaired YA book-related committees and run Mock Printz Award programs at two diverse and multicultural urban public library systems. I have moderated YA panel presentations and YA book discussions at conferences, including School Library Journal’s Day of Dialog and at Bank Street BookFest. I’ve also been a member of two YALSA committees – Best Fiction for Young Adults and Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. And last, but most importantly, I have a huge love of YA literature!!

Being on the Printz committee has been a dream of mine ever since I became a librarian, and I would be honored to serve with a fabulous group of people who want to honor the best YA books of the year!


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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