Get ready to vote! The YALSA election runs from March 24 through May 1, and to help you be an informed voter, we’re sharing interviews with each of the 2015 YALSA Governance and 2017 Selection Committee candidates as well as the ALA President-Elect Candidates.

Today we’ll hear from a candidate for the 2017 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.

Today we have an interview with Melanie Koss.

Name and current position:
Melanie Koss, Associate Professor of Children’s and Young Adult Literature, Northern Illinois University

Besides reading YA materials, what best qualifies you for being a member of this YALSA selection committee?
As a university professor of children’s, young adult, and multicultural literature anda book club facilitator to high school students, I teach students how to read critically and analyze books for both their literary merit as well as their potential teen appeal. I regularly book talk, share, and discuss young adult literature with students, and that allows me to get books into readers’ hands and hear their opinions on what they read. I also research topics related to young adult literature, which encourages me to read widely, be current on trends and issues with in the field, and be an objective, fair, and critical evaluator of books.

Talk about the experience you’re bringing to the selection committee with selection, evaluation, and working as part of a team.
I’ve previously had the honor of serving on the YALSA William C. Morris YA Debut Award committee and the Randolph Caldecott Award committee, andI am currently finishing up a two-year appointmentas a member of the Rainbow List committee. Being a member of these book selection committees has taught me how to manage my time, organize the large number of books that need to be read, and most importantly, work with the members of my committee to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard and everyone’s opinions are respected.

I also teach selection and evaluation criteria to undergraduate and graduate students and am able to discuss critically the literary strengths and weaknesses of books. I know how to lead book discussions as well as how to sit back and listen to what others have to say. I read widely so have a solid basis of what makes a YA book stand out.

What role do you think books can play in addressing some of the issues that negatively impact their lives?
I believe literature can serve two roles in helping teens deal with the issues they are facing in their personal lives. First, it can help teens see that they are not alone and that others encounter the same problems and issues they themselves are facing, or eventhat others have it worse off. Through literature, teens can see ways of coping with issues in both positive and negative ways, and can allow them to envision ways they can deal with their problems in a productive way. It can also give teens the belief that they can conquer the things that life throws at them. The key is finding the right books,books that portray the teen experience honestly and deal with the gritty realities of life without sugarcoating them.

Literature is also an avenue of escapism. Sometimes teens need to get away from the issues they’re dealing with, and books can give them the space to breathe and forget their problems for a while, which in turn can rejuvenate them and allow them to face their problems with a fresh mind set.

What are some ways the award winning titles can meet the need of teens to have a more expanded view of literacy?
By the time children become teenagers, their lives have become so busy that many stop reading due to time constraints. Those that love to read will make the time to read, but what about those that aren’t readers? I encounter many teens and then college students in their early twenties who tell me they used to love to read, but that they either don’t have time or simply don’t like the books they’re being told to read or exposed to in school. We can turn these teens back into readers if we can find them books they can relate to and that they find relevant and interesting, and often times those books are young adult books. Research has shown that giving teens access to high interest books that they can self select encourages teens to read, and reading is an avenue to enhanced literacy skills.

Young adult literature has a place in the high school classroom and can be a way to get teens reading and thinking critically. Award winning titles, such as Printz winners, have a strong chance of getting into schools due to their recognition of being high quality and often literary titles honored by adults who study and read widely in the field. I believe we, as adults, need to value young adult books and let teens see that they are worthwhile to read both in and out of school settings. Teens need to be shown that literacy is not just reading and writing in a classroom or job settings, but a way of exploring their worlds.

I also think graphic novels and nonfiction are areas to encourage teens to explore. Graphic novels such as Printz Award winner American Born Chinese are great examples of showing teens that literacy is more than just reading words on a page but also reading pictures and text/image placement, as do nonfiction books such as the award winning Bomb and The Nazi Hunters, which mix primary and secondary sources with high interest narratives.

Share a time when you’ve advocated for a library collection to be more influential in the role of a connected learning center and what was the result?
Due to the nature of my job, I have not had direct experience with this, however my university has a Children’s Literature Teaching Collection that I am actively involved with. I have and continue to advocate for the use of the collection in the university’s education coursesand as a professional development resource for teachers and librarians in the area. I also encourage my students to browse the collection between their classes in order to give them access to a wide variety of titles. These actions have resulted in greater use and awareness of the collection as well as the expansion of titles, as well as allowed us to create workshops and materials highlight diverse books and ways they can authentically be used in classroom settings.

Why should YALSA members choose you to be a member of this selection committee?
I believe I would be a valuable member of the Printz Committee because I truly care about books and believe in their power to impact the lives of teens. I understand the importance of the Printz Award and will make being a member of the committee a priority. I am passionate about YA literature and getting it into the hands of teens and readers who need to have access to a wide variety of quality titles that speak to them. I am also very open-minded about the types of literature being written, and believe quality literature encompasses both a range of genres and a range of diverse populations. The Printz Award highlights books that teens might not come across on their own, and I would like to be a part of that process.

Talk about a time when a teen shared with you how a book influenced them.
Just after Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe won its numerous awards, I book talked it to a group of high school students I work with. One student came up to me afterwards and asked to borrow my copy. He emailed me two days later and told me he couldn’t put it down and stayed up all night to finish reading it, that it was the most amazing book he had ever read, and that it was the first time he was able to see himself in a book. He came to talk to me the next week and told me how the book changed his life. It encouraged him to find the strength to come out to his father and to be more open and proud about his identity as a gay male. Since then, he has borrowed numerous titles from me, particularly those with GLBTQ characters, and has told me that he never liked to read before but now considers himself a reader. He is currently a freshman in college and recently emailed me to tell me that he joined his first book club in the fall and is now in charge of leading book discussions, and he thanked me for introducing him to a world of books he hadn’t been to find before working with me.

About Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.

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