Sunday, January 26, 2003

Back from the midwinter ALA Conference in Philadelphia today. I sat in on the committee meetings for the Notable Books for Children and Best Books for Young Adults. As usual, BBYA was much more interesting and fast-moving than Notables: The booklist is more wide-ranging (including nonfiction, graphic novels, and adult books); the committee is more diverse (it has men!) as well as more passionate and less likely to be dominated by group opinion; I've read more of the titles nominated; and most interestingly, and usefully for their purpose, they solicit teen comments on the nominated books. This means that even a book like This Land Was Made for You and Me, over which every librarian and reviewer has just swooned, can get a negative assessment, if kids don't pick it up and read it. But then other committee members will disagree because they do find a way to put it in kids' hands. Books find their readers one reader at a time.

Besides the comments on This Land, the most interesting discussion I heard revolved around The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. The committee members acclaimed the book for its writing, the imaginationa, the utterly honest depiction of teenage wants, the spot-on relationships and minor characters, everything for which already it's been praised. (One librarian said "This should come with a warning for teenage girls that the man next door doesn't want to rape and murder them," and another responded, "No, it should have a warning for their mothers.") But one woman had had a nephew commit suicide the year before, and she felt strongly that the committee should not endorse to teenagers any book that showed a dead character looking back at the living: That might send the message that it would be all right to die, because they could still participate in life on earth. Others disagreed, arguing that the overall tone of the novel was so wondrous about life that it would encourage potential suicides to stay here. Is the committee responsible for reader interpretations? No. Should it leave a worthy book off the list because the book might be misinterpreted? No, and I'm sure Lovely Bones will be on the BBYA list when it's announced next week. A thought-provoking discussion, though . . . I'm sorry I didn't get to hear the talk about our St. Michael's Scales.

I also got to to see the back of the famous Richie Partington's head.

1 comment:

  1. That might send the message that it would be all right to die, because they could still participate in life on earth.