The 2007 Printz Committee Chairperson
Cindy Dobrez (a librarian in West Ottawa Public Schools, Holland, Michigan)
Posted: 12/20/06

Let’s start at the very beginning—a very good place to start! What is the Printz Award?


The Newbery Medal for teens. That’s the short version—but our winners don’t have to be American authors and the Printz was first awarded in 2000. Here’s what the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association website says: The Michael L. Printz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.



What is the Printz selection process?


Read every young adult book we can, nominate the best, fight over (I mean discuss) them at the two American Library Association (ALA) conferences and vote for our winners.



That sounds like a lot of work. What’s in it for you?


Oh, you know, fame, glory, immortality and some very dry eyes from reading so much. Oh, and the intrinsic reward of knowing that I am helping to honor and bring international attention to the very best of literature being published for the often underserved teen population.



What are your responsibilities as Printz Committee chairperson?


I do all the reading that the other eight committee members do, but also handle the administrative work of the committee: vetting nominations for eligibility, communicating with publishers, writing the reports and running the meetings.



How do you get to be a chairperson? Is there a class you take or a mentoring program or a degree you send away for?


There’s an ad in the back of all DC Comics!  No, you take a phone call from the YALSA President, and after fainting, you tell her you’d be honored to serve but need to ask your family first because they are weary of having you ignore their needs for nutrition, cleaning, and conversation because you are always reading for ALA committees. Asking the family is just a formality because you and your family members both know that you’ll be miserable if they don’t agree to it, and it goes without saying that if you’re miserable, they will be, too. In addition, I spent three years serving on another YALSA committee, Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA) and that was excellent preparation for intense literary discussion--and I chaired that committee one year.  I was also the 2005 Chairperson for the Margaret A. Edwards Young Adult Author Award the year that Francesca Lia Block was honored for her lifetime achievement.



There are only 24 hours in a day. (I know. It makes me cry, too!) What kinds of things do you have to give up in order to make time for all the reading and discussing that comes with this assignment?


Ask my family, they’ve paid the price as much as I have. Movies, music (I listen to audio books in the car instead of my tunes), exercise, cleaning, and cooking. But some of those I didn’t spend a lot of time at before serving on ALA committees. I still do oodles of carpooling for my teenage daughters who are just on the cusp of being drivers so I talk to them in the car.



Readers feel so passionately about books and yet reading is a largely subjective experience. That seems like a recipe for disaster! Do people ever come to blows during a Printz discussion? Or is making sure they don’t one of your responsibilities?


 Committee dynamics is an important part of the job, but I am lucky to have a very passionate and yet very cooperative committee. I’m sure we’ll argue hotly in January for our favorites, but it will all be respectful of each other. I can’t tell you what really happens behind the closed doors (all our discussions are confidential), but I expect that with enough caffeine we’ll emerge with great winners and few scars. 


Unlike Printz discussions, the Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA) sessions are open to the public. Any of your readers who are able to attend an ALA conference should be sure to sit in on some of those sessions. It’s fun to watch the 15 members discuss the books that have been nominated for that award and decide which 70 or so books will make their final list.



What kinds of things do you to do make sure each book nominated gets its fairest shot? I mean, we all have bad moods. How do you make sure that kind of thing doesn’t affect your reading? 


We read as widely as possible and also keep an eye on reviews and buzz on the listservs. Members of ALA can suggest a book but the nomination needs to be seconded by someone on the committee. Once a book is nominated, it’s easy to give it a fair shot.  Many get read multiple times so we can focus on different elements—plotting, characterization, theme, fact-checking, etc. And, since these are among the very best of the year, the rereading is not too arduous.



Let’s say you could build a perfect awards committee member. What would he/she be like? 


Mostly robotic, with no need for sleep, food, or anything but reading! But since that is not an option, the best is what I have this year on my committee: Opinionated, smart readers who know how to listen to contributions from the other opinionated, smart readers. I have a darn near perfect committee, and feel very lucky.



Let’s say you could build the book that would be a perfect candidate for the Printz Award. What would it be like?


If I try to answer that now, it will just cause speculation about what I am favoring this year—and that is confidential. Let’s just say that the seven prior years of Printz committees have set good standards. You can look at the previous winners online.



So much for my sly attempt.


Nice try, though! I almost answered that one.





No. I was just being nice.



Thanks. If you could say one thing to all the arm-chair quarterbacks out there who second-guess your committee’s final choice, what would it be? 


How many of the 900 books published for teens did you read this year---and how many times did you reread the best dozen of them?



I know some kids see award stickers on books and run far away from those books. As a kid, did you read award winners?


I read EVERYTHING. I read all the series fiction, but I loved meaty, well-written books that challenged me as a reader too. I was a young teen in the heyday of young adult publishing, and grew up on early Zindel, Danziger, Cormier, and Duncan and couldn’t be happier that my job as a middle school librarian involves passing the torch to other young readers, many of whom do love the books with the award stickers.



I was a series reader. Nancy Drew, The Black Stallion, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle—I read them all, over and over, and loved every minute of it.


Don’t worry. We all need our share of comfort reading.



Now you’re just being nice again.


Nope. Readers should never apologize for their taste in reading.

Christine Kole MacLean ( writes picture books, chapter books, and novels for young adults. Her most recent release is a young adult novel, How It’s Done.