Posted September 23, 2013 by in Literary Prizes

The Michael L. Printz Award

Some people watch the Oscars.

Others love the Grammy’s.

But every January, I find myself glued to the live video feed of my favorite award ceremony of the year: the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards. This is where the Caldecott and the Newbery awards are given, as well as other awards for print and audio media for youth of all ages.

My nerd might be showing a little, but my favorite of these awards, the one I wait ALL YEAR for, is the Michael L. Printz award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. The award, named for a school librarian in Kansas, was started in 2000. A winner and two to five honors books are named each year.

How is the Printz Award chosen?

Printz Award

“I’d like to thank the…committee.”

The short answer here is that only the committee knows for sure, and the criteria change constantly! Each year members of the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association are selected to join this elite committee, and the committee makes their selections in secret. Since the committee changes each year, the criteria for what “excellence in young adult literature” is changes each year, too.

Books are eligible for the calendar year (January 1 - December 31) preceding the award ceremony.

Printz Award winners are chosen for “literary merit.” These books can be fiction or non-fiction, sequels or stand alone novels, long or short, and come from a variety of genres (science fiction, historical fiction, humor, contemporary fiction, etc). Though the books must be published for young adults (ages 12-18), appeal to young adults is not a specific criteria for the award. The committee is made up of professionals who work with young adults, so “literary merit” is determined by adults and what they think makes a good book.

Printz Winners as YA Literary Fiction

One major criticism of that ALA Youth Media Awards in general is that these are books with adult appeal rather than appeal to the age group. Printz award winners, like Oscar winning movies or critically-acclaimed TV shows, can be somewhat predictable. For example, after finishing the hugely popular novel DivergentI knew it would never be a serious contender for the Printz. While teens appreciate the world-building, the characters, and the fast pace, the novel lacks the “depth” required of a Printz award.

However, that’s not to say teens don’t enjoy these novels. Some, like John Green‘s Looking For Alaska (winner, 2006), are hugely popular with avid readers. Others, like Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese (2007) are studied in classrooms as literary texts. In fact, many Printz winners are slowly working their way in to high school classrooms for literary analysis alongside the classics.

Literary fiction exists in the adult fiction world, so why not in YA? I would argue that, as young adult literature continues to grow and attract excellent authors and readers, young adult literary fiction will become a thing. Not the same thing as adult literary fiction, but a thing all its own. Goodreads has a listopia devoted to YA literary fiction, and many of the books on the list are Printz winners, honor books, and books written by authors of Printz books.

Show Me The Books!

It would be incredibly rude of me to talk about all these Printz winners without introducing you to some that are totally worth reading. So to avoid being rude, next week’s “What’s New in YA” will cover some of the highlights from the award list. If you just can’t wait, the full list of Printz winners and honor books can be found over at Amazon (I like their list because it clearly shows the year and distinguishes between the winners and honor books).

While you’re waiting, leave us a note in the comments! What is your favorite Printz winner? And what do you think about the idea of young adult literary fiction?


Former middle school teacher and school librarian, current doctoral student in education. Reader of all things young adult. I'm particularly fond of dystopian societies, sassy female protagonists, and clever dialogue. I can often be found asleep with a book on my face. Check out all my articles.