Friday, December 21, 2012

What is the best literary award for literature for young people?

First, head over to the booksluts to see my comic and post for the month of December.

Second, I forgot to include it in my review of The Hobbit last week, but it was nominated for the Carnegie Medal, and it won an award from the New York Herald Tribune for "best juvenile fiction." Both awards sound like well-respected literary awards for children's fiction, with the Carnegie medal described as "the UK's oldest and most prestigious book award for children's writing," and the New York Herald Tribune's award vying with the Newbery Medal as the most prestigious award for children's writing in the United States. With how popular Tolkien's novel was, you'd have expected it to win for something, right?

The thing is, not all awards are created equal. And an award for "popularity" is very different than an award for literary distinction. Twilight, for instance, was named by Publisher's Weekly as one of the Best Children's Books of 2005. The Hunger Games won the same distinction in 2008, as well as the California Young Reader Medal (voted on by students).

Now, I'll be up front about the fact that I am not an expert on these kinds of awards. Sometimes it's hard to find a description of an award that doesn't sound like the over-excited publisher's blurb on the back of a novel. So, suffice it to say that you'll want to make your own decisions about whether an award is as impressive as it appears from its Wikipedia article.

But I've spent a little time looking around different awards lists, and I've come up with a few that seem like good places to go if you're actually interested in finding great literature within the realm of novels written for young people. (Hint: Anything that included Twilight was a pretty quick cut).

None of the awards solely honor sff stuff, but there's still plenty to be found there. I've put the awards in a very rough order of most prestigious/coolest near the top, and less established or useful ones at the bottom. Do you have any awards worth adding? Any thoughts about the ones listed here?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Review: The Hobbit

File:TheHobbit FirstEdition.jpg

The Hobbit (1937), J. R. R. Tolkien. Paperback, 320 pages.

Summary: An unassuming hobbit finds himself swept up in a fantastic adventure that tests his loyalty, courage, and ingenuity. This is the one that kick-started the fantasy genre, and that presented a lot of the characters and archetypes that would be copied in later literature. For a more detailed summary, click here.

First Sentences: 
     In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays kings, ruins town,
And beats high mountains down.
     Poor Bilbo sat in the dark thinking of all the horrible names of all the giants and ogres he had ever heard told of in tales, but not one of them had done all these things. He had a feeling that the answer was quite different and that he ought to know it, but he could not think of it. He began to get frightened, and that is bad for thinking. Gollum began to get out of his boat. He flapped into the water and paddled to the bank; Bilbo could see his eyes coming towards him. His tongue seemed to stick in his mouth; he wanted to shout out: "Give me more time! Give me more time!" But all that came out with a sudden squeal was:
Time! Time!
Bilbo was saved by pure luck. For that of course was the answer. Gollum was disappointed once more; and now he was getting angry, and also tired of the game. It had made him very hungry indeed. This time he did not go back to the boat. He sat down in the dark by Bilbo. That made the hobbit most dreadfully uncomfortable and scattered his wits.
     "It's got to ask uss a question, my preciouss, yes, yess, yesss. Jusst one more question to guess, yes, yess," said Gollum.


Writing Quality: 6/10

Depth of Concept: 6/10

Rounded Characters: 5/10

Well-Developed World: 8/10

Page Turner: 9/10

Kept Me Thinking: 5/10

Overall Recommendation: 7/10

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reader poll: How do you define "YA"?

I mentioned a few weeks back that I'm spending some time thinking about literature for young people. At first I called it "YA" literature, but I'll be honest that I don't really have a solid handle on what to call the stuff I'm referring to. It's bigger than "YA." It may at one time have been merely labeled "children's literature," referring to anything not written specifically for adults. "YA" as a label is not necessarily inclusive of all of the great stuff that's been written for younger audiences, and I was really intending to be more inclusive. The Graveyard Book, for instance, is marketed for younger-than YA audiences, even though it's significantly more sophisticated and well-written than, say, Twilight. Here's a snippet of what Wikipedia has to say about the "YA" designation:

The term "YA" obviously gets fuzzy at the edges. But to be clear: YA is a marketing term, perhaps more now than it ever has been. It's used by booksellers and librarians as a crude way to offer a space between things for children and things for adults. It can be a pretty arbitrary division. By it's basic criteria, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird could have been called "YA" novels. But I don't think anyone would argue that those two are in a different league from, say, The Hunger Games or Twilight, both novels that have inspired a slew of copycat teen romance novels that have sort of hijacked the label.

For the moment, I'm going to side-step the tricky and baggage-laden term "YA," and just say that I'm interested in things that are either written for young people, or that hold appeal for them. That includes The Hobbit (review forthcoming!), which includes no characters between the ages of 12-18, but which is beloved by many pre-teen children as well as many adults; it includes Watership Down, which hasn't any human characters at all, much less adolescent ones; it includes The Lord of the Flies, which hits teenage protagonists dead on but which was written for adults, and it includes Never Let Me Go, a novel with characters that start as children and end as adults, but which beautifully details a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and which is as subtle and captivating (and critically acclaimed) as anything else written for anyone. There are obviously a lot of bases to cover. And this doesn't even touch the classic canonical works that teenagers are required to read in school. If a young adult reads them, and identifies with them, can an argument be made that they are "young adult" books?

Having said all this, I've still got to reiterate that I'm no expert on literature written for young people; I've only read a lot of it. This isn't an essay, it's a conversation starter. There are plenty of other essays out there, and a lot of interesting research. I'm just interested to hear y'all's ruminations on how things written for young people can or should be different than stuff written for adults. Why do some people never graduate from young adult literature? Why do others refuse to touch the stuff? And why (if you agree with me) are both cases so unfortunate?