ALAN v24n1 - THE LIBRARY CONNECTION- Keeping Current

Volume 24, Number 1
Fall 1996


Betty Carter, Editor
Texas Woman's University, Denton, Texas

Keeping Current

In the summer movie blockbuster Phenomenon , John Travolta's character shows viewers that he's become a genius when he begins reading three or four books a day. His friends scoff. Three or four books a day, they chide. Why would anyone want to spend his time doing that?

For those of us trying to keep up with young adult literature, such a regime only scratches the surface of the annual output. With well over a thousand books published each year for teenagers, and hundreds more published for adults but holding great appeal for adolescent readers, none of us can master this body of literature, even if we are willing and able to dispose of three or four volumes a day, every day, from this day forward. Out of necessity, we turn to others for their take on the best books of any given year. And they deliver their opinions in seven major lists: Best Books for Young Adults, Booklist 's Editors' Choices, Books for the Teen Age , Bulletin Blue Ribbons, School Library Journal's Best Books of the Year, Quick Picks, and Young Adults Choices.

Each list is compiled by a different panel; and, while many titles may overlap these annual offerings, others reflect the special concerns and processes of the selectors. Taken as a whole, however, these lists provide good starting points for those of us trying to keep up with current releases, authors, and trends. In the next few months new lists will appear in their annual updates.

Best Books for Young Adults -- Fifteen members of the Young Adult Library Services Association Best Books for Young Adults Committee (BBYA) compile this annual list of books designated as those with "proven or potential worth for young adults." Committee members read both adult and young adult titles published in a single calendar year, nominate those they believe to be the best, and vote on a final list at the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association (ALA). In order to get on the list, a book must receive 9 positive votes. Both fiction and nonfiction titles are included; in recent several years, the list has averaged 85 titles recommended for young adults ages 12 to 18. In considering the final list, committee members solicit opinions from young adults as well as from professionals in the field.

Immediately following Midwinter, ALA members may request a copy of the press release announcing the titles by calling the toll-free number (1-800-545-2433; ask for Office of Public Information). In addition, the list is also posted on the ALA gopher (http// and the Children's Literature Web Page (www// In its March 15 issue, Booklist publishes a more useful annotated list, and at present has the 1996 annotations available on its homepage (http//

In 1996, for the first time, the BBYA Committee created a "Top Ten List," a cream of the crop representing overwhelming favorites from that year's selections. The books so honored are Damned Strong Love (Lutz Van Dijk); Farm Team (Will Weaver); From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun (Jacqueline Woodson); In Search of Color Everywhere: A Collection of African-American Poetry (compiled by E. Ethelbert Miller); Ironman (Chris Crutcher); Middle Passage (Tom Feelings); Othello: A Novel (Julius Lester); The Road Home (Ellen White); Thwonk (Joan Bauer); Tomorrow When the War Began (John Marsden); and The Watsons Go to Birmingham (Christopher Paul Curtis).

Booklist Editors' Choices -- Appearing in the January issue of Booklist , this list represents an intensive, year-long effort on the part of the Booklist staff. Each editor and reviewer keeps track of those books he or she considers worthy of special distinction, and, every two weeks they meet to discuss, plead for, and argue over the books and media they want to place on the Editors' Choice list. They compile the final list in the fall when they select individual entries of special distinction as "Top of the List" designations for seven categories: Adult Fiction, Adult Nonfiction, Youth Fiction, Youth Nonfiction, Youth Picture Book, Adult Video, and Youth Video. Two 1995 Top of the List selections, The War of Jenkins Ear by Michael Morpurgo (Youth Fiction) and When Plague Strikes: The Black Death, Smallpox, AIDS by James Cross Giblin (Youth Nonfiction), appeal primarily to young adults, while a third, Math Curse (Youth Picture Book), will find a secondary audience among teenage fans of author and illustrator Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.

Of special interest to young adult readers, and those of us who serve them, are the annual designations of adult books for young adults (23 fiction and nonfiction selections for 1995), and the corresponding books for youth selections for older readers (18 fiction and nonfiction selections for 1995). At present, an annotated list of the 1995 Editors' Choices can be printed from Booklist 's homepage: http.//

Books for the Teen Age -- With close to 1,000 selections, this annual compilation lends itself more to general collection development and broad readers' advisory than do the other lists discussed in this article. To compile this list, each young adult librarian from the New York Public Library takes specific subject areas, such as sports or history, and reads and reviews primarily in these particular areas. When these librarians encounter outstanding books covering their respective topics, they designate the titles as appropriate for Books for the Teen Age . Occasionally librarians may suggest books for particular areas outside their individual fields, but most selections are based on the democratic principle of one reviewer, one recommendation. Short, snappy annotations focus on the young adult reader and encapsulate the most appealing elements of each title.

The list appears each spring when the books and authors are honored at an annual reception at the Donnell Library in New York City. Look for the 1997 list on March 15.

Copies of the present list may be ordered from the Office of the Branch Libraries/New York Public Library/455 5th Avenue/ New York, New York 10016. Books for the Teen Age sells for $6.00 per copy, with an additional charge for postage and handling: $1.50 for 1-5 copies; $1.25 for 6-10 copies; and $1.50 for bulk copies.

Bulletin Blue Ribbons -- This selective list of "Blue Ribbon Books" is compiled by the reviewers and editors of The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books , and published annually in the January issue of The Bulletin . As former editor Roger Sutton states in the January 1994 issue, "These are the books that one Bulletin reviewer or another adored and then managed to make the rest of us love too." The Bulletin makes no attempt to balance its list among genre and reading level; over half of the twenty-nine books on the 1995 list, for example, have primary appeal for young adults. Here you'll find such diverse selections as Mary Dowling Hahn's Look for Me by Moonlight , Sonya Hartnett's Sleeping Dogs , Chris Lynch's Slot Machine , Hazel Rochman and Darlene McCampbell's Bearing Witness: Stories of the Holocaust , and Penny Colman's Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II . The 1995 list can be reprinted from The Bulletin's website, .

School Library Journal's Best Books of the Year -- Although the majority of reviews for School Library Journal (SLJ) come from librarians working in the field, the annual compilation of that journal's designated best books is the product of the permanent book review editors: Trevelyn E. Jones, Luann Toth, and Vanessa Elder. These editors keep current by reading each book for which they publish a review. Most often, those books that received a starred review in the preceding calendar year are the ones appearing on SLJ's year-end list, although this rule of thumb is not a hard and fast one. The reverse is also true: just because a title receives a starred review does not automatically slot it for the Best Books list. In addition, special adult books of distinction are recommended by the Adult Books for Young Adults selection committee. These books do not filter through a SLJ editor to appear on the final list, but are instead the product of the group of field reviewers responsible for reading and recommending such books.

SLJ's Best Books of the Year appears annually in the December issue of that journal. The 1995 list has 60 titles (from among 3700 reviewed), with age designation from preschool to high school. Approximately one third of the juvenile titles on the 1995 list will appeal to young adults; nineteen additional adult titles also target this audience.

Quick Picks -- Compiled annually by an eleven-member committee of the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association, this list singles out those books with the most attraction for reluctant young adult readers. Because teen appeal is crucial for recommendations on the final list, the committee actively solicits opinions from young adults. Some members create formal teen review boards, others ask their patrons to read and comment on certain titles, while still others informally poll their library users.

Beyond standard elements of literary criticism, both format and subject play important roles in these books. Consequently, books such as Wayne Anderson's The Perfect Match , which allows readers to flip cut pages to create unique characters with various heads, torsos, and limbs; or short story collections, such as Paul Jennings's Unbearable!: More Bizarre Stories ; or visual treats such as Hugo Wilson's The Encyclopedia of the Motorcycle ; or strong, plot-driven works such as Paul Zindel's The Doom Stone ; or graphic novels such as Veitch and Kennedy's Star Wars: Dark Empire , appear frequently on this particular list.

The committee also notes overwhelming favorites with its own Top Ten list of Quick Picks. The 1996 books so honored are Flash Fire (Caroline Cooney); The Great Fire (Jim Murphy); Hair: A Book of Braiding and Styles (Anne Johnson); Ironman (Chris Crutcher); In My Room: Teenagers and Their Bedrooms (Adrienne Salinger); Jack the Ripper (Rick Geary); The Night Room (E. M. Goldman); The Only Alien on the Planet (Kristen D. Randle); Past Forgiving (Gloria Miklowitz); and What Kind of Love? Diary of a Pregnant Teenager (Sheila Cole).

Quick Picks are chosen at ALA's Midwinter Meeting; the list is available from the same sources noted above for the Best Books for Young Adults. A list of titles is available from ALA's Office of Public Information, the ALA gopher, and the Children's Literature Web Page. A complete, annotated list is published in the March 15 issue of Booklist and also available on Booklist 's homepage.

Young Adults' Choices -- While young adults provide input into the formation of some of the lists mentioned above, they move to the front and center in the creation of the International Reading Association's Young Adults' Choices List. Here teenagers from five geographic areas across the United States read, evaluate, and vote on a pool of titles that are submitted by more than fifty publishers on the strength of their critical reception during the previous year.

Approximately thirty titles are selected annually. The 1995 list represents over 5,000 votes from among teenagers, in grades 7-12, who read at least one of the 396 books submitted for consideration. Although some unique titles make this list each year ( Please Don't Die by Lurlene McDaniel, for example), others, such as Jane Conly's Crazy Lady , a Newbery Honor Book, have received critical acclaim. Consequently, such a list reminds educators of the wide range of books appealing to, and important in the lives of, young adult readers.

This list appears annually in the November issue of The Journal of Adolescent Literacy . Annotations frequently incorporate young adult comments, and the inclusion of jacket illustrations make this an attractive publication. A simple listing of the chosen titles is available from The Children's Literature Web Guide (mentioned above) and the Young Adult Librarian's Help/Homepage ( ).

Offprints from The Journal of Adolescent Literacy are available from the International Reading Association/Order Department/800 Barksdale Road, PO Box 8139/Newark, Delaware 19714-8139/Attention: YA Choices. Single copies are free with a 9" by 12" SASE. Bulk copies are also available at a special pricing: 10 copies = $6.00; 100 copies = $45.00; 500 copies = $170.00. Call 1-800-READ, ext. 266 for further ordering information.

Copyright 1996, The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN # 0882-2840). Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.

Reference Citation : Carter, Betty. (1996). Keeping current. The ALAN Review , Volume 24, Number 1, 56-57.