I Came. I Read. I Conquered.

As you may have known, I was on a state-wide book award committee this past year: the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award. While I wish this was the sole explanation I had for my lack of writing (both here and in general), it isn’t. But I digress.

I knew serving on a book award committee would be challenging, but I am always up for a challenge. Over the span of 7 months, I read 60 books for the award alone and did so in a careful, measured fashion so I could take notes on the aspects of each novel that worked or didn’t work within the periphery of the award. It was tough. Especially when the title was one I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. Sometimes reading something outside your comfort zone surprises you and gives you a new perspective on a topic or genre you wouldn’t have otherwise known. And sometimes it’s just uncomfortable.

But through the pleasurable and uncomfortable reading and one long meeting in Champaign, Illinois (and a nostalgic walk around my old campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), myself and a few dozen other school and public librarians, teachers, and retirees who previously worked with children, a new list of 20 titles has been picked for students to vote on next March.

Not every book I wanted on the list made it, and I didn’t want every book on the list to make it, but I am very proud and honored to have been a part of this process and to put good books into the hands of readers all across the state of Illinois (and beyond!).

And, though it was tough, I can’t wait to do it again and again.

And then, since after three years my time on the committee will be up, maybe I’ll find another committee to sit on or award to read for.

But only time will tell.


An Assignment

Most all writers I know have, or have had, a day job. I pursued a day job not in writing, but in something very related to the act of writing: librarianship. And while no, being a librarian isn’t all reading and books (we do programs and digital research, too!), that does make up a sizable chunk of what I do.

Being the librarian-writer that I am, I like to think I bring a certain level of expertise to readers advisory (that is, recommending books to readers, building collections and book lists and displays, etc.) in terms of not only age and reading level appropriateness, but honest-to-goodness literary quality. And so that is the track I’ve set my librarian career on: book quality.

One of the ways I do this is by reviewing for the publication School Library Journal– I let other librarians know what a book is about and whether I find it worthy of purchase and, if so, under what circumstances. It’s great and I love it.

And above reviewing and recommending books for purchase? Is lifting up those most excellent titles with awards. Ah yes, the library and publishing world is filled with book awards, some more accredited or prestigious than others (read: National Book Awards and American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards [with such honors as the Newbery, Caldecott, etc.]). Many states have their versions (often voted on by library patrons and students) of awards for different age groups, and Illinois is no different.

I’m most interested in the middle school and teenage category of patron and literature, so a few years ago I threw my hat in the ring to serve on the evaluation committee for Illinois’ Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Award specifically geared toward grades 4-8.

And just last week, I got the call. Or, in this case, the e mail.

That’s right! My application made it to the top of the stack and I was offer a three-year position on the evaluation committee. I am not only honored to have been offered a position on the committee -as the 20 finalists they committee decides will be used in many schools across the state for reading assignments and libraries for book recommendations- but I am so excited to gain this experience and see where this opportunity will take me next.

I’m sure I’ll write more (or as much as I am allowed!) on this as the process unravels, but for now all I can say is… happy reading!

Life in General, Reading

Failing Spectacularly

This past weekend, I participated in the 24 in 48 Readathon: I joined legions of readers and we all challenged ourselves to read 24 out of the 48 hours of the weekend.

Spending half of the weekend reading sounds like heaven.

And also like a lot of work.

Let me tell you, I had a LOT on my plate this weekend. Wedding showers and birthday parties to attend. Errands to run. Dogs to walk….

But, like I discussed last week, there is no perfect time to sit down and get to it, whether it’s reading for a certain amount of time or writing every day or finally sending the wedding thank you notes (note to self: DO THAT SOON). And so, when I heard about the 24 in 48 Challenge, I knew I would try it before even consulting my agenda.

And I failed spectacularly. I barely read 6 hours, let alone the namesake goal of 24.

But, like after most spectacular fails, I discovered something. It wasn’t a lack of time that derailed me from hitting that goal. It was a lack of endurance. I haven’t held myself to dedicated reading time in my real life for quite a while, and this fail opened the curtain on that fact and allows me to decide if and how I want to deal with it.

(Oh, I’m definitely going to deal with it…)

Like most things in life, it wasn’t whether I won or lost this challenge that mattered, it was that I showed up to begin with and learned something through the process. Because really, showing up is half the battle of getting to where you want to go, and learning is the entire battle when you find yourself falling short.

And even when you achieve your goals? Well, life keeps moving right along and all that showing up and lesson learning will hopefully come into play then because, as a really cool Nike t-shirt reminded me: there is no finish line.


So the lesson here, as it usually is, is this: whether or not you’re prepared, show up to your goals. It’s the only way to learn how to proceed, how to eventually succeed, and what to do after success is yours.

And in this crazy book writing business, I hear the knock downs make the final stretch all that much sweeter.


Let’s Hear It For the (Kids and) Teens

I read an article today trying to tell me that most of the good, worthwhile books labeled Young Adult are actually for adults. Because books “really” for teenagers are easy and cheesy and ultimately forgettable.

I am not going to name that article or even the venue on which it was posted. I’m not here to drag names or establishments through the mud. I am here to stand up and give my viewpoints on things I think need saying, to defend things that need defending.

And so, allow me to say: No. Most Young Adult fiction is not grown-up fiction in disguise. YA fiction is fiction written about teenagers for teenagers- so if a book is YA, it is YA and meant for teenagers. Period.

I think the confusion here is that most YA fiction is attention-grabbing and “unputdownable” and deep and dark and dirty and unveils important themes and holds universal truths and makes you think like you haven’t since your school days and feel in a way usually reserved for “real life.” Most YA fiction is good fiction by amazing writers, and it seems that some adults are upset that good fiction and amazing talent is being “wasted” on teenagers.

And so, allow me to present my universal truths regarding this topic:

1. It should not be a problem to admit that literature for young people is good. Is great. Is often just as good as, if not better than, adult fiction. The people writing it are good, great, just as good, in fact, as any other writers- so why wouldn’t their masterpieces be the same?

2. That said, our good, great, best literature should be geared toward children and teenagers. They, after all, have the most to reap from it and the most potential to put forth from the lessons gathered. Isn’t that the goal of childrearing, after all?

3. Drop the stigma. Adults scoff at so much meant for and created by youth (One Direction, “bae”, high waisted shorts and crop tops, selfies and doing it for the vine…), so trying to steal YA as our own or treating books “really” meant for teens as lesser is just taking away the one thing most people would agree teens should be into: reading. Let the kids have their books, please.

4. Read YA with pride, no matter your age. We’re all young at heart, we’ve all been teenagers, we all still have something to learn at our particular stage in life. Once we acknowledge this, we can all enjoy YA together and that is the world I want to live in.

I am a youth services librarian, a scholar of all literature, and I write (you guessed it) Young Adult fiction in my free time. I feel qualified to make grand statements defending this category (not genre) of literature and for it to mean something.

It may go without saying, but I’ve read a lot of books in my life. And some of the best books I’ve ever read? Young. Adult. Fiction.

YA is what it is and it’s here to stay. Get over it and get into it.