Round 3 Roundup

I just noticed something: we’ve got two middle grade (yup, still fighting you on that, Jo) novels meeting in the final round. We also had two in the final round last year – A Face Like Glass and Year of the Griffin. Which is surprising, I think, because I know I’m not the only person who gives YA as a genre an automatic leg up over MG – in theory, at least! (Obviously comparing the merits of two particular books presents an entirely different scenario than YA vs. MG in the abstract.)

The upcoming matchup also fascinates me because  it’s one I never predicted in all the permutations I imagined were possible. Which makes this the second year that’s happened. I love it. Thank you so much to the fabulous judges!

I want to touch on the “underappreciated” aspect of the battle a bit, too. The final round matchup will be between a recent, fairly well-known title and a much older, nearly forgotten one. Which means there are two separate aspects of underappreciated here: one, why was a great new book overlooked by awards committees – especially if you, like I do, consider it one of the most distinguished children’s books of the year; and two, why is a great Newbery book so unavailable today, and why isn’t it discussed more?

Those are both factors that go into my decisions when I put together books for this battle. Mostly, I go with my gut when I choose the books, and I try to have a mix of both categories. It’s interesting to think that it’s rare to find an old, non-decorated, really great book. Have they all been forgotten? Why didn’t anyone put them into my hands when I was growing up?

Katie pointed out that I’m not a fan of a lot of recent award winners and asked if I think the winners are getting worse. I should say that I’ve only been following the awards closely for the last five years or so, and that librarians and teachers who are older than me have much more knowledge in this area. (Quite frankly by “awards” I mean the Newbery and various MG awards; I think the Printz has been pretty universally terrible. You’ve probably heard me say that before.) It’s certainly possible there are always great books that aren’t awarded medals, and the fact that I can’t think of any older MG books that haven’t been decorated, or written by authors whose other books have won medals, makes me a little wary for Greenglass House‘s future, and very grateful for the 1975 Newbery committee.

FYI, from the ALA –

1975 Medal Winner: M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton

Honor Books:

  • Figgs & Phantoms by Ellen Raskin
  • My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier
  • The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
  • Philip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe by Bette Greene

That’s some year. Could something as great as those books, published the same year, have been forgotten? I’d really like to think not.


26 thoughts on “Round 3 Roundup

  1. I just noticed something: we’ve got two middle grade (yup, still fighting you on that, Jo) novels meeting in the final round.

    Hunh. I believe I’m judging one middle grade and one YA! I’m sorry I’ve had so little time to join in the discussion this past week; I didn’t know this fight was going on at all. Middle grade? The Perilous Gard??? (FWIW, Beth, I didn’t add in the bit in my post about TPG being YA after seeing this!)

  2. Thanks, Beth – very interesting! No point trying to comment there as it’s already got deep into the collapsed-in-a-heap-from-too-many-replies lack of threading. Now I can just smile to myself at Jo’s saying your sorting criteria for YA and MG are – not entirely sensible. 🙂 If you consider YA to be absolutely coming-of-age, it almost seems that The Perilous Gard would be classified as adult rather than MG, because Kate – oh, her growth throughout the course of the book isn’t more adolescent than Christopher’s or even, for all he’s not a main main character, Sir Geoffrey’s, really. (And I’m with Katie, and would add to the choice at the end, the choice Christopher makes midway through. Nothing says middle grade like sacrificing yourself to be – uh, – burned!)

    Of course I’ve already mentioned that coming-of-age = YA doesn’t really work for me. What you guys said about YA as a category being a newer one than TPG makes a lot of sense, and probably part of the shelving decision is that people don’t go further than older books (talking publication date) for pre-teens and teens just means NO SEX, and therefore they’re “clean”, “safe”, and possibly also not likely to appeal to teens nowadays? Which is a really backward way of thinking about it, though I guess if I were the one who needed to ensure the maximum possible number of teens use the library service, and they all wanted more TWILIGHT, more DIVERGENT, whatever, maybe shelving a book like TPG in the MG section would seem a bit of a necessity. It does kind of mean though that relying on library or bookshop shelving is more useless than — sorry, I’m afraid this is coming out anti-librarian/bookshops, which I’m not at all!

    The other thing is that for all I agree about YA, even a trazillion years ago in the Annapolis library, there was an equivalent section. I can’t remember much of what was there, but know that’s where the Beany Malone books were. (I’m SURE nobody else will have heard of them, and they were around 20 years old even when I read them, but they’re the only books that will make the point!) The first few were a bit younger and more family-oriented, but after that they got much more YA or even NA, in terms of protagonist’s adult-status. Once Beany got together with the guy she went on to marry, they were very open about the fact that she wanted to have sex with him. It’s pretty great, actually, especially as the books were written from about 1950 through the early 60s. (Spoiler: they waited, and they probably didn’t use the word ‘sex’, let alone show it after they were married, but still.) I know they weren’t in the adult section, and I know they weren’t in the children’s section, so they must have had a space for older teens, whatever it was called.

    1. Shelving is kind of a mess in general, isn’t it? I remember looking for Kelley Armstrong’s books at a bookstore. I consider them urban fantasy, but they weren’t there, so I tried fantasy and I think a few other places before finally finding them in horror!

      And I wonder . . . using my super special library insider knowledge . . . how many shelving choices do we really make? We have separate people ordering the material for adult, children, and YA, so I guess the choice of how to shelf is made right there. Or maybe even before then, by how the books are marketed in the first place.

      You’re making the Beany Malone books sound so appealing and I bet they’re unfindable now!

      1. At our library, all paranormal romance is shelved in the straight-up Fiction section no matter how many fantasy elements there are. Some authors have books in multiple genre sections, some of which makes sense and others of which do not.

        Having been a library employee who was responsible for shelving books, I can make some guesses about why certain books get shelved in certain places, and it becomes very clear that multiple people are making those decisions. Half the Harry Potter series is MG and the other half is YA, but all the Percy Jackson books are in YA despite the first series having the same age progression through the books as Harry Potter. All the Newbery books are in the MG section in their own display, including Jacob Have I Loved and The Giver (all the rest of that series is in YA) which is a real headache for parents. So librarians are as stumped as anyone, though I imagine some of them are operating on autopilot and just following what earlier librarians, or librarians in other systems, are doing.

        I have my own theories about what makes a YA book, but for me it comes down to one thing: YA is about the experience of being a teen, whatever else it may be. That explains why so much of contemporary YA fantasy (if you can call dystopian/paranormal romance fantasy) appeals to older readers; all of them were teens once, and something about the experience resonates with them. So I sympathize with anyone trying to categorize Perilous Gard: the protagonists are far too old and are dealing with far too adult choices for MG; there’s really nothing teenaged about Kate or Christopher; but there’s still something about it–the prose, maybe, I don’t know–that keeps me from calling it adult. My problem, as far as recommending it, is it’s a book I think a lot of adults will understand better than kids do, and putting it in the MG section…you might as well just throw it away for all the good it’s going to do the adults who are blinkered by certain genre expectations. You should have seen my sister-in-law’s face when I told her to read Howl’s Moving Castle. (Granted, my copy has a stupid cover, but still.) So until we can get rid of prejudices against books just because they happen to be shelved in the “kids’ section,” I’m going to go on insisting Perilous Gard is YA. At least then I have a chance of getting people to read it.

        (Fun note: in the library where I used to work, they had the children’s section labeled “Kid’s Corner” or “Kid’s Biography.” Because obviously only one kid was going to use it.) 🙂

        1. Oh dear. Brandy made the argument on her blog that The Perilous Gard would appeal more to the MG-aged crowd than the YA-aged crowd, so I was ready to switch to believing it was MG, but you raise a good point, too! I think if I were selling it to an adult, I’d describe it as YA.

          Wow, my library also switches the Harry Potter series! Order of Phoenix on is in YA. Percy Jackson looks to be MG.

          1. Re: Harry Potter – and I don’t have to check this up, because I see them on the shelves all the time (NY orders, like, 500+ copies of each book to circulate) – HP 5 and on are shelved in YA, but I’ve seen 4 in the juvenile and YA sections, and once in a while I’ll see 5 in the kids’ section, too.

            I’ve never read the Percy Jackson books, so no idea where to find them!

              1. Yeah, to me OofP is pretty much the definition of YA fantasy! As an aside, it’s grown on me SO much. I remember reading it for the first time and not liking it so much, and now Harry’s little temper tantrums give me such life.

        2. It’s interesting that you’re making the case just to get people to read it – I guess I’m looking at in a purely what-do-I-think way (much more selfish!) and I keep coming to the “but it’s timeless, and good for everyone, so why would you keep it away from kids?”

      2. You know, now I’m convinced my libraries have separate people ordering and processing, because new MG gets order at least a month before publication date, whereas new YA seems to show up about a week before.

        1. We do! Actually, I think there’s separate people (groups of people) for deciding what to order, than actually ordering, than doing the processing. And then, yeah, I think different people process different things.

            1. This is what I know! I might be off on some of it. So it’s all the Reading & Materials department. We have four selectors–one for adult fiction, one for children’s, one for ya (and I think she also does nonfiction) and one for media. I believe they all have librarian degrees. So they’re the ones who decide what to buy. I know we do have automatic orders in for the big name authors and series. And they get ARCs (and sometimes pass them on to the rest of us, which is how I got the Kearsley).

              After that, I THINK it goes to a different person, not with a degree, who does the actual ordering. And then when the stuff comes in, other people do all the unpacking, labeling, putting it in the system. And those people also don’t need degrees. I think those job titles are all “library technician.”

              And then drivers to take the material to the branches and I think pages would be the ones who do the physical shelving! So the people who are most likely to be dealing one-on-one with patrons aren’t involved in that whole process.

    2. I keep coming back to what Melissa says, about YA being about a uniquely teen experience, or what I call coming-of-age – and what that SLJ battle post called “timeliness” – and TPG is something that strikes me as timeless (maybe because it’s fantasy) and something that would work for everyone – and so why would you shelve it where kids can’t find it?

      Also, I’d argue against shelving TPG as YA due to the age of the protagonists, because it was a whole different world back then; kids had different responsibilities and obviously married much younger and were expected to be adults much younger, too. The protagonists don’t really have time to be teenagers. Which is a good argument for shelving TPG as an adult book, I think, because like someone points out, it does have adult sensibilities! But then you’re blocking it off from kids, and this is a fabulous book for kids. Especially since they don’t only read about same-age protagonists!

      I keep coming back to my idea that most books shelved in the kids’ section aren’t only for kids, they’re for everyone. The books that skew really young/aren’t universally appealing mess up that belief, though.

      1. I’m not sure how anything is threading anymore, so – Beth, this is in reply to your reply (I think) to me. I certainly wouldn’t actually want to shelve TPG in the adult section – well, I would, but only because of the silly adults who won’t read YA and if it could be there too! Really I’m just as befuddled as anyone by the variety of ways in which decisions are made about how to categorise books – although I don’t really buy the whole “different world back then” argument – unless you mean 1974, of course. (Joking! I know you don’t really – right??) A book written in 1558 would be different, but not one written about the year. Interesting – this has brought to mind a couple of historical books that would fit what you’re saying, but treat the relationship between the protagonists very differently, and read much younger. I don’t know if you’ve read any of these, of course, but it would be good if you had because they’re so different from TPG. The first two that came to mind are Geoffrey Trease’s Cue for Treason and Cynthia Harnett’s The Wool-Pack.

        I only mentioned the adult thing as it seemed as if applying your YA=coming-of-age would push it the other side of YA, rather than MG. Of course I agree that all the (great) kids’ and teen books are for everyone – though I guess it’s unnecessary to say that, as we’d none of us be participating in the Battle if we didn’t believe that anyway, right?

        1. I haven’t read either! I’m curious about both now, though.

          I’m actually questioning why, if I think MG books include books for everyone, I don’t consider that the same holds true with YA. Which is to say, I think YA is for everyone! But I guess I see it as a much more narrow category – specifically young adults experiencing things for the first time, and struggling with being in between childhood and adulthood – and while I think that story is for everyone (except younger children, i guess?) I also think they should be shelved separately. Because – uh – it’s more convenient for me?

          We’re right back at YA=marketing category, I think. An “if you like this, you’ll probably like this!” thing.

    3. Wait, I wanted to say one more thing!

      (And I’m with Katie, and would add to the choice at the end, the choice Christopher makes midway through. Nothing says middle grade like sacrificing yourself to be – uh, – burned!)

      I don’t know – I guess this would be your saying, you don’t consider it timeless/for everyone, but there are so many MG books that deal with hard choices beyond contemporary/school stuff! The Giver, cited above somewhere, in which kids read about a community killing off some of its members, and (also by Lois Lowry) Number the Stars, where the protagonist has to face Nazis… it’s not all dead dogs, affecting as that can be.

      Which might come back to Christopher’s age vs. Jonas’s and Annemarie’s. But I don’t restrict MG to age the way I do YA. Which might come back to my shelving methods making no sense 🙂

      1. Now I really am getting lost! Also, I just haven’t really managed to get the timeliness/timelessness distinction to do anything for me in terms of age categories, and I don’t know whether it eventually will or not. I think they’re going into different mental places.

        Anyway! It’s not that the book faces up to tragedy and loss. It’s not even that Christopher is brave or moral and has a difficult choice to make, though of course he is. It’s that he specifically says that a child couldn’t make that sacrifice, in that way, which is why the Folk only take a child for the teind when they can’t get an adult. Admittedly, the burning bit freaks me out SO BADLY, and that’s me, but, yeah, still doesn’t seem very MG. 🙂

        1. I haven’t sorted it out completely for myself, but I think, to express it in different terms, that I see YA as being very specific – in terms of character age, in terms of aspects of the theme – and that it can become universal through that (though it doesn’t have to), but it needs to start by being specific.

          And anything that is universal – really for everyone – I shelve as children’s. L’Engle, Narnia, Lloyd Alexander. Rebecca Stead. The Harry Potters, before they become a story of adolescence. Holes – the Betsy-Tacy books – Hilary McKay. And TPG. (I should stop creating a running list of greatest hits, I think!) And those strike me as universal without being thematically or age-specific. Timeless, as opposed to timely.

          I don’t know if that’s a clearer explanation, but I hope so!

          It’s that he specifically says that a child couldn’t make that sacrifice, in that way, which is why the Folk only take a child for the teind when they can’t get an adult.

          I don’t see this as meaning kids can’t read about it, though.

          1. Okay, I agree with YA as being specific in terms of character age, if not necessarily in theme. (Some day, some shining day, I will write up somewhere what I feel about there being few specifically adolescent themes. Maybe!) I’m still not getting how “timeless”, which to me has to do with a quality that won’t date, is being conflated with universal, i.e., for everyone. Your list doesn’t help because the criteria seem to me mostly to be that you feel the books are really, really good and also don’t contain anything too adult for kids. (Correct me if I’m wrong!) To which I’d probably reply that adult or YA books that are really, really good and don’t contain anything too adult for kids can also be universal.

            It’s that he specifically says that a child couldn’t make that sacrifice, in that way, which is why the Folk only take a child for the teind when they can’t get an adult.

            I don’t see this as meaning kids can’t read about it, though.

            But I’ve never said anything about kids not being able to read YA books, and in fact said that I’d read TPG to my daughter when she was 8 (at most). I also read both girls To Say Nothing of the Dog and Bellwether before they were teens, and that doesn’t make either of them children’s books! And of course there’s always Jane Austen and how young I was when first reading her. Whatever else, a book’s being “okay” for kids to read can’t be the criteria for calling it a children’s book.


            the later L’Engles (I’m thinking Swiftly Tilting Planet and Many Waters especially) aren’t particularly kid? I mean I think that quartet suffers a bit shelving-wise from the whole “keep the series together” thing, because Many Waters is pretty much straight YA by today’s standards. And Swiftly Tilting Planet is…definitely MG, with a ton of stuff that’s going to go straight over an MG-age head.

  3. Shelving is kind of a mess in general, isn’t it? I remember looking for Kelley Armstrong’s books at a bookstore. I consider them urban fantasy, but they weren’t there, so I tried fantasy and I think a few other places before finally finding them in horror!

    Yes! I just finished Beyond Heaving Bosoms (The Smart Bitches) and it was pretty boggling what they said about where some romances that aren’t white, straight all the way end up.

    The Beany books were all republished, but by a small press, I think, so they weren’t cheap. I’ve just checked on Amazon and there are Kindle editions as well as those paperbacks, so they might be in libraries again. I have to say, though, that Weber wasn’t a great prose stylist, and she has a bad habit of repeating chunks from one book to the next. I read them to my daughter and we were just talking about them today – she remembers enjoying them a lot, despite the weaknesses, so it’s not just nostalgia. I’d hesitate to recommend them, really, but still admire a lot about them.

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