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 Nonfiction 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 Nonfiction Award committee’s primary job is to select the best nonfiction title published for young adults between Nov. 1 and Oct. 31 of the current year. 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 Michael L. Fleming.

Name and current position
Michael L. Fleming, Librarian at Pacific Cascade Middle School. Issaquah, WA

Talk about the experience you’re bringing to the selection committee with selection, evaluation, and working as part of a team.
I have worked extensively within YALSA on selection committees. I started on the Teen Liaison Board, then went to BBYA (which then changed to BFYA) for three years, reading 100% of the books required during that time. Directly after leaving BFYA due to term limits, I joined the Morris committee, finding the best new author. After leaving that committee (a one-year commitment), I went to the Printz committee. I was on the year that chose Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood as our top prize. Since then, I have been waiting for a chance to get back in to selection committee work. I have enjoyed the process of video-conferencing, using various chat programs and emailing reviews as I work with my fellow librarians. I believe that I am opinionated, but also willing to listen to others, the exact combination of characteristics that I would like from my colleagues.

What role do you think books can play in addressing some of the issues that negatively impact the lives of teens?
There is no doubt that the right book at the right time can be everything to a teen, letting them know that what they are feeling or experiencing is normal, and better yet, survivable. For the time the student is reading the book, and for long after, the world, the characters and the feelings the reader has while reading can linger. A bit of positivity can go a long way. Shared experience makes the reader identify with a character to the point where lessons and attitudes are absorbed that can lead to positive results.

What are some ways award-winning titles can provide teens with a more expanded view of literacy?
Non-fiction is often considered a poor read by students, or something only to be read when doing research. Excellent books like those chosen lately by the non-fiction committee can change that perspective. I have personally used Sheinkin’s Bomb and Bascomb’s The Nazi Hunters to change students that previously steered clear of non-fiction into thinking it is a vibrant field!

Describe a time when you’ve advocated for books to be more influential in connected-learning spaces.
I am often tasked by the administration for the district to help choose books for various programs, targeted to a particular grade or to a particular unit of learning. With the goals of having the students see real-life connections and also have further projects that will help them understand the real world and how it joins with their learning/education, I have tried to get books that are cutting edge into the curriculum. With brave new selections, topics that were previously verboten might get in the classroom, intriguing and inspiring new kids.

Why should YALSA members choose you to be a member of this selection committee?
I have always been a big reader. When I was a child, I would check out the maximum amount of books allowed from the Bellevue Public Library (15) and then turn them in a week later and max out again. Ever since I joined BBYA/BFYA, I have been reading an average of a book a day. I feel like this gives me a big advantage in terms of recommending books to my students (which, beyond enjoyment, is why I do it), but also a valuable knowledge of what is out there in YA at any particular time. If I were selected for Non-Fiction, I would read all the nominations from committee members, and many others besides. The reading commitment for the committee would be easily manageable for me, allowing me to re-read and help select the best non-fiction book.

Talk about a time when someone shared with you how a book written for teens influenced them.
I once had a girl come in because she was “forced” by a teacher to read a book. He was going to check up on her. She proudly related that she had not finished a book, even a classroom-assigned book, in three years. I told her I would literally eat The Hunger Games page by page, if she didn’t like it. When she finished it three weeks later, she used her own money that she had been saving up for an iPod to purchase books 1,2 and 3 in hardback, so she could collect them. That is the power of a good book; it can change the direction of a reader’s life by changing their perception of themselves as a reader or non-reader!

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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