Thursday, January 31, 2019

Youth Media Awards 2019

Now that the ALA Youth Media Awards have been announced and we've all had time to mull it over a bit, what do you think about the books that were honored, and the ones that weren't? Did you pick any winners?

As usual, I was not familiar with many of the winners and honorees, but I really didn't expect to be this year as the demands of work, school, and family haven't allowed as much time for reading or making an effort to follow the book buzz or any mock-Newbery or -Caldecotts. I kinda gave up after I made a concerted effort last year, and even dared to make a few pics and predictions, but was wrong on most of them.

BUT, for the first time I had actually already read the Newbery winner! It was one of the ARCs I selected to read from NetGalley during my short break from school in August. I chose it because I recognized the author from reading her YA book Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass back in my multicultural literature class the previous summer. I did like Merci Suarez Changes Gears quite a bit, but I had not really thought of it for the Newbery, though I think it is better than last year's winner. I would have liked for My Year In The Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver or The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Jacobson to have at least been honor books. I just finished reading one of the two honor books selected, The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, and I must say I really liked it.

I was also happy to see two of my favorite books from 2018, The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Ekua Holmes and Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, win illustrator awards (the Coretta Scott King and the Pura Bel Pre, respectively), but I was disappointed neither of them were recognized by the Caldecott committee. 

I had read one of the Morris finalists, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Aeyemi, and though I had some issues with the book, I think it is significant enough to warrant being a finalist. I really enjoyed Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover, that was one of the Alex Award winners, but I don't really see why the committee thought it had particular appeal to young adults over any other memoir written for adults, but it will likely be on some school reading lists. 

Some winner/honorees that were on my radar or already sitting in my "to read" pile, were Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka, The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown, Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, Drawn Together by Minh Le, and Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall, but so many more, including all of the Printz, I had not even heard of. I am very happy that the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, Sydney Taylor Book Award, and American Indian Youth Literature Award are going to be included in the YMA ceremony from now on.

Since the roots of this blog are in storytime and early literacy, and because it's the only award I've had a chance to read the winner, all the honor books, and some others than had been tossed around as potential winners, I'm going to now focus on the Caldecott Award, starting with the winner, Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall. 

I will say this is a perfectly lovely book, the illustrations are pretty, the story is sweet, and *I* really like it. But, "perfectly lovely books" appeal to adults, NOT to children, yet this is the type of book the committee chooses time and time again. I just can't see this being of much interest to a child, unless they just happen to have a thing about lighthouses. I think awards that are supposed to recognize the best in children's books should pick books that are truly written/illustrated for and appeal to, >gasp< CHILDREN! 

I did like the honor books better, and feel children are much more likely to connect with them. Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal is a super sweet story, telling about each of the ancestors Alma is named after, and what trait she has in common; I loved it. I had noticed Thank You, Omu! when it first came in, and thought it, too, had a really sweet story about food, tradition, community, and sharing, and I really liked the collage illustrations.

For the second year in a row, we have an honoree that is about the death of a pet and furry friend, but unlike Elisha Cooper's Big Cat, Little Cat, Brian Lies' The Rough Patch starts with the death of Fox's pet dog right at the beginning and gets the sad part out of the way, then shows how Fox learns that life goes on, with bright, detailed illustrations. And finally, A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin is a pourquoi story that explains and demonstrates the phases of the moon with a charming story of a little girl nibbling away at it little by little each night. I did like how the honor books covered a range of cultures and ethnicities, though I still think Stuff of Stars and Dreamers should have been among them, if not the medal winner. 

One final  book that some were disappointed was not chosen for Caldecott honors (though was selected for the Stonewall award) is Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, which shows a dark-skinned boy of unspecified ethnicity/culture (though Spanish words like "abuelo" and "mijo" are used) who spies women dressed as mermaids on the subway and decides he really wants to be a mermaid, too. He improvises a costume using his abuela's curtains and fern fronds, and thinks he's in trouble when she sees him. However, instead of punishment, his abuela gives him a pearl necklace to wear and takes him to join the festival on the beach, which features adults and children dressed as mermaids and other sea creatures. 

This book has been the subject of much discussion and disagreement; some see it as being about a transgender child joining a drag parade, and in that light find some things problematic. I personally see it as a child simply engaging in play that goes against gender stereotypes, and the grandmother wisely being supportive, and the parade being a festival that everyone dresses up for and participates in. Others have objected that it is not written by an "own voice", as the author is neither a POC nor a member of the LGTBQ+ community. But then, some of these are the same people that criticized Sophie Blackall for only depicting white people in Hello Lighthouse, so writers/illustrators are damned if they do, damned if they don't.

I thought the illustrations were beautiful and charming, and one thing that I really liked was the depiction of many different body types, particularly at the very beginning in the swimming pool. There were women who were tall, short, skinny, curvy in various shapes and sizes. I did have to look at this book a few times before I could decide what my interpretation was, and I supposed like all art, others will see it differently based on their own biases and experiences. The author says it is intentionally ambiguous, and wanted a character that both boys who like to play dress-up and transgender children could identify with. In her interview with Kirkus Reviews, she is quoted as saying, "You'd have to ask Julián how he identifies." 

So now I will be playing catch-up like always, trying to read or at least familiarize myself with as many of the award winners and honorees as possible, and by the time I'm done it will probably be almost time for next year's YMA Awards.... 

So how did you fare? Did you pick any winners? How many had you already read? Which books do you think got snubbed?

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