Get ready to vote! The YALSA election runs from March 15 through April 22, and to help you be an informed voter, we’re sharing interviews with each of the 2016 YALSA Governance and 2018 Selection Committee candidates.

Today we’ll hear from a candidate for the 2018 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 Scot Smith.

Name and current positions:
Scot Smith, Librarian Media Specialist at Robertsville Middle School, Oak Ridge (TN) Schools and Instructor, School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Talk about the experience you’re bringing to the selection committee with selection, evaluation, and working as part of a team.
I have served as a member of the nominating committee for the Young Adult division of Tennessee’s Volunteer State Book Award (VSBA) for the past seventeen years. During that time, I was chair of that committee for five years and am presently serving as Tennessee Association of School Librarians’ (TASL) co-chair of the VSBA. I have been a board member of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and have worked with the Knox County Public Library with its annual Festival of Reading. I have also worked with various committees at school to select titles for required readings and summer reading programs. At my middle school, I have served on dozens of committees, both at the school and district levels.

What role do you think books can play in addressing some of the issues that negatively impact the lives of teens?
Several years ago, Sherman Alexie wrote an essay entitled “Why the Best Kids Books are Written in Blood.” Alexie concludes his essay with the statement that he writes books to give teens the weapons they need to “fight their own monsters.” In my 25 years as an educator, I have encountered many young adults who fight daily against their own “monsters”—depression, poverty, eating disorders, drug addiction, abusive parents, disabilities (the list is almost infinite)—as well as teens who experience life vicariously through the literature they read. As I tell my students, both at middle school and in graduate school, I believe that the best in YA literature has the ability to change a young person’s life forever. As a YA librarian, I have the ability to hand a teen the right book at the right time in his/her life. That is a responsibility I take very seriously.

What are some ways award-winning titles can provide teens with a more expanded view of literacy?
Each January, I teach a detailed lesson to my 6th grade students about the Newbery Medal. We discuss the concept of quality in literature. Why are some books considered distinguished, but others are not? We then have a long conversation about the importance of literary elements like setting, themes, and character development. My objective is to expand their reading interests beyond those titles that are popular at the time. For me, the Printz Medal is even more unique as it is awarded on the basis of literary merit. Many of my teens gravitate toward books, series, and genres that are popular with their peers. Not all books, I tell my students, contain humorous cartoons, romantic vampires, or dystopian futures. By promoting books with literary merit, I feel I can offer my students the best titles in a way that will expand their interests, challenge their understanding of quality literature, and transform them into life-long readers.

Describe a time when you’ve advocated for books to be more influential in connected-learning spaces.
Several years ago, our school system piloted Common Core standards for Language Arts and Reading. Like other schools throughout Tennessee, we have since adopted those standards. Once I became familiar the new standards, I quickly realized that not only did I need to change the emphasis of the library’s collection but also many of the programs and projects I had been doing for several years. I started to develop the library’s collection around literary and narrative non-fiction and designed three projects meant to expose students to that type of literature. I host two authors at my school every year, and in the fall of 2014, I brought Steve Sheinkin to my school specifically to promote the type of narrative non-fiction required by the Common Core. Over the past few years, I have seen a shift in the reading habits of many of my middle school students; they are requesting and reading more literary non-fiction.

Why should YALSA members choose you to be a member of this selection committee?
Although I read Young Adult literature voraciously, I do not consider myself a fast reader. I read slowly, taking time to think critically about the literary elements in the book. Because of my meticulous reading habits, I believe I understand what constitutes the best in YA literature. I also teach students on two different levels—middle schoolers and graduate students in Information Sciences—about the variety and value of YA literature. The audiences are different, but the message is the same—“let’s work together to find the best books for you.” Moreover, I have served on dozens of local and state-level committees and work well with others. Throughout my career as a librarian, I have advocated for adolescent literacy. Most importantly, I understand the objectives of the Printz Award and why that award is so essential to Young Adult literature and the reading of teens. I am confident I have the experience and skills needed to help YALSA select books based on literary merit.

Talk about a time when someone shared with you how a book written for teens influenced them.
During the summer, I ran into a former middle school student of mine at the gym. She had just finished her first year of college. I knew she wanted to be a writer and was majoring in English. I asked her about school, and she told me she was struggling with her writing, so much so that she was thinking about stopping altogether. I recommended that she read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Several days later, I received an email from her. She was thankful that I had suggested “the perfect book” for her at that moment in her life. That novel, she said, had taught her that writing is “about being true to yourself, not something you do for a grade.” This experience speaks to the power of Young Adult literature.

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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