Friday, January 7, 2011

Awards and Why They Matter

Trophiesphoto © 2008 Terren | more info (via: Wylio)

On January 1st, the Cybils announced the short lists for the 2011 awards. The Cybils are a truly unique and innovative award system for children's and young adult literature that is organized and judged by bloggers.

Personally, I was eager to see the short lists. Thousands of books were nominated across categories and there is no way possible I can read that many books. I enjoy children's literature, but it's not the only thing I read. I knew that the first round panels would read the books and come to a consensus about which books should move on in the process. In other words, they'd do some of the work for me. I'd get a nice list of books that a group of people all felt were worth more attention.

This doesn't mean that every worthy book made the list or that I'll like every book nominated. (I don't) But it means something to me when a recommendation has been made by consensus and that I can learn something from reading a book like that even if I personally don't like it.

This is the value in awards. Sure I read dozens of book blogs and have bookish friends that pass on recommendations all the time, but that can be a lot to sift through. I don't always have time to make determinations about what to read, particularly in categories like middle grade fiction where I'm a bit of a newbie. Awards like the Cybils give me a place to start.

It's also why I so desperately wanted to start the INSPYs. I knew what kind of book I wanted to be reading, but there was no award in existence or even place where I could find them. I found prejudice against certain kinds of books to be a constant barrier, one the INSPYs committee is still trying to tear down. I thought by outlining what I was looking for, I could both find the kinds of books I wanted to read while also helping other readers find them, too.

I often read complaints about awards. I think it's important to acknowledge that no award system is perfect. I have worked on two different kinds of awards and it's incredibly difficult to develop a system that is as fair and objective as possible while still being manageable. Both of the awards I've worked on, the BBAW awards and the INSPYs will change every year as we see what doesn't work and try something new. But just because we can't read every blog, just because popularity sometimes plays a role, just because there are so many books we don't know about--doesn't render the awards useless. Something can have value even in its imperfection.

A common objection to awards is that people get their feelings hurt. Valuable art gets overlooked. I understand this, trust me, I do. But I think that's where acknowledging the above point comes into play...awards aren't the definitive determination of worth, they are more like a guide. They are a group of people coming to an agreement on what should be looked at further. They are helpful to the casual reader or the person who wants to dip their toe in for the first time.

Looking at the Cybils short lists, I was curious to see what books I'd read, and also to check out the Middle Grade category. Out of all the books nominated these are the ones I've read:
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers (YA)
The Dead Boys by Royce Buckingham (Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Um, that's it. Of the nominees, I've definitely found several books I'm interested in reading, including the following:

Betti on the High Wire by Lisa Railsbeck
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (already own this)
Brain Jack by Brian Falkner
Pod by Stephen Wallenfalls

Most of the other YA books were already on my radar, but the Cybils confirmed they should be there.

How many of the short listed Cybils books have you read? What are some of the awards you enjoy or that have influenced your reading choices?


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