Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What do awards mean to teen readers?

Okay, here's a question: do teen readers care if a book has won awards or not?

This came up in a comments discussion last week and I'm thinking the answer is no. I can never remember caring the slightest if a book won an award. I know the Caldecott and Newbery award winners are always easier to find in bookstores, but I don't know that I cared about that when I was a kid.(And now the Prinz winners are there too.) I know awards matter in terms of books that are ordered by stores and libraries and as far as placement on reading lists but will they make the average 15 year old pick up a book?


Beyond the big awards, there are tons of smaller ones, regional ones, genre ones, etc. Again, these matter in terms of ordering and assignment by adults (especially the regional ones I bet) but do teens care? I'm not saying that awards are unnecessary - I think it is nice to be recognized by your peers - but I wonder for teens in particular (who might be choosing their books without adult input) if an award that is chosen by adults would ever be the deciding factor in getting a book.

And in terms of sharing out thoughts on books here, should we care about mentioning awards? If our readers aren't looking for them - should we?

Thoughts, please........


Joe Cottonwood said...

When I was a teen, an award meant "approved by the establishment." Not a good thing.

Colleen said...

See, that's what I was thinking!

It also doesn't help that so many of the older Newbery winners are often assigned reading in elementary school and Junior high - alot of those books have not held up over time.

david elzey said...

Interesting... I'm up here in Vermont communing with kidlit writers and writers to be and the LAST thing any of us are thinking about is awards. We're busy fretting over point-of-view and writing realistic dialogue and debating the ideal length for creative non-fiction.

I think teens are cynical about awards, and they're cynical long before they are ever teens. Have I mentioned the story where the middle grade boy was dragged in by his mother rejecting book after book that I put before him? I'd hand him a book, he'd glance at the front, flip to the back, then hand it back with a curt "nope." When pressed to explain why he was rejecting these books he said "If it's got a gold or silver thing on the front--" meaning an award medal "--or if i's got that Yearling horse on it, I know I won't like it."

Because kids are brand savvy they know that "that Yearling horse" is exactly the kind of book the teachers and librarians are always trying to pawn off onto them. These awards, as Joe implied, can act as a huge deterrent because they come to be equated with what some adult sees as "good."

As a writer, where an award can mean an increase in unit sales in the hundreds of thousands, and the possibility of remaining in print for the rest of your life, awards are great. For lazy parents, some teachers and librarians, awards are a tacit seal of approval, an easy shortcut toward finding the "good" among the dreck.

Until the ALA starts having high-profile stars from other media handing out Printz awards for books they so whole-heartedly believe in they'd tour on behalf of the author, I don't think teens give a damn.

Then again, American Born Chinese woke up a whole section of the kidlit population to the very notion that graphic novels can hold their own against more conventional literature. To that end there's an argument that awards work better for adults.

Which means that if publishers really want to sell to teens they need to stop putting (or printing onto the cover -- I hate that!) those award seals.

My two cents. And trust me, if I should ever be good enough to warrant a medal I'm going to fight like hell to never have it printed on the book.

Little Willow said...

Some people are naturally drawn to shiny objects, so an award or emblem on the cover of a book might attract their eye and the book title/jacket/summary may get their attention, but the value of said award (or bestselling status, or other such things) is in the eye of the beholder.