The Michael L. Printz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. The Printz Award is a relative newcomer to the award scene; it was first awarded in 2000. It is worth noting one of the key differences between the Printz Award and the more familiar Newbery: the age of the target audience. Printz Awards are given for young adult literature versus the children’s literature that receives the Newbery. Sometimes, the protagonist’s age doesn’t differ greatly, but the subject matter, content, and overall tone will differ extensively.

The pattern, so far, in the Printz Award winners seems to be literature that is most definitely for the upper end of the YA spectrum (age-wise). These are not books to hand casually to your 11-year-old. They are edgy, complex, “messy,” open-ended, and, admittedly, well-crafted. They merit much discussion and often include elements that parents are uncomfortable with. They also happen to be books that wind up in high school (or even middle school) classrooms on the curriculum list. It’s worth knowing what your children may be reading in school. Certainly, their peers are devouring these books.

Betsy’s favorites:

  • American Born Chinese by Gen Yang (2007 Winner): A graphic novel about a Chinese-American boy’s struggle to find his cultural identity. Really, a fascinating and well-done book.
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (2000 Honor): This one winds up in classrooms regularly, particularly in 8th and 9th grade. It’s a sobering, poignant book about a young girl who gets raped at a party during the summer between 8th and 9th grade; she struggles to find her voice (literally) throughout her freshman year. The ending was a bit overdone, in my opinion, but the book tackles a topic worth examining, and Melinda’s “voice” in the book (she’s the narrator) is readily identified with, even if you haven’t undergone the trauma she has experienced.

Here’s the list of winners.

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