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Check It Out: Showcasing excellence in young adult literature

November 03, 2011|By Mara Cota

If you haven't met before, I'd like to introduce you to the Michael L. Printz Award. For readers familiar with the Newberry Medal (for children's literature), the Printz Award is the equivalent in the teen category.

The Printz is awarded by the American Library Assn. (ALA) and administered by the Young Adult Library Services Assn. (YALSA). It honors the best book published in the previous year for young adults, "best" being defined by the committee solely in terms of literary merit.

The books honored with the Printz Award share high-quality craftsmanship and the kind of storytelling that keeps readers hooked. They are books that, frequently, challenge the reader's intellect while simultaneously entertaining. The 11 years of winning and honored titles are a great place to start, if you're curious about the best and most engaging books in the young adult category.

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Following are four examples of winners and honorees. These and most Printz winners are available at the Newport Beach Public Library. Each location has a selection of young adult books and the staff to help you select what is best for you and/or your teen reader. Search the catalog at http://www.newportbeachlibrary.org or visit our teens page at http://www.nbplteens.org.

"The First Part Last," by Angela Johnson (Simon & Schuster, 2003): Bobby, a contemporary teenager who was scared and nervous about becoming a father at 16, has fallen in love with his baby daughter, Feather. Contrary to expectations, Bobby refuses to give Feather up for adoption.

The story is told in short chapters alternating between the past and the present. In a book of only 131 pages, not a word is wasted. The reader experiences Bobby's attempts at being responsible as well as the loyalty and love he feels toward his family, his friends, the mother of his child, and, most especially, his little girl.

"American Born Chinese," by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2006): This is the first and, so far, only graphic novel to win the Printz Award. It tells three stories: that of Jin Wang, a son born in America to Chinese parents; the Monkey King, a mythological deity; and Danny, an American teenager with a very special cousin.

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