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February 19, 2011

Inside the Edwards Award

Posted by jordana
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terry-big.jpgOn Monday, January 10, 2011, the American Library Association announced the Youth Media Awards, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award “for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.” Sir Terry Pratchett --- a brilliant fantasy writer who’s been penning bestselling novels since 1971 --- was the 2011 winner.

Two librarians who have been contributors to our websites ---  Teenreads.com’s  Amy Alessio and GraphicNovelReporter.com’s Robin Brenner --- were on the selection committee. Chaired by Robin, the group consisted of five elected and appointed members from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), which is the fastest growing division of the ALA today. Below, Robin and Amy share their thoughts on the selection process and reflect on Pratchett’s illustrious career as an author, highlighting a few of the qualities (and the books!) that earned him his latest accomplishment.   

 

The Margaret A. Edwards Award has been around since 1988, when it was first presented to S. E. Hinton --- a revolutionary author whose novel THE OUTSIDERS has continued to change the scope of YA literature since it was first published in 1967. The Edwards Award stands a bit apart from other YALSA awards, in that it takes into account an author’s body of work rather than only looking at titles from the previous year. Considerations range from literary merit to popularity, but ultimately, the award is given to an author whose works have been embraced by teens for years --- if not decades.


The hardest part of selecting this award, Robin feels, is that you can only choose one winner. As she says, “As the committee debates various candidates and whittles down the list, the richness and variety of what so many authors have contributed to young adult literature becomes abundantly clear. On the other hand, the year-long debate over the winner provides a wonderful opportunity for rediscovering favorites and considering the impact of particular writers and works. When recommending titles to teens, the sheer volume of newly released books sometimes leads you to unintentionally leave out titles that are older than your current crop of readers. The Edwards Award is a strong and significant reminder of why the best writers affect generations of teens and are well worth our attention --- and, of course, that of our teens.”

As Amy shares, “Pratchett has written over 50 books, which have sold more than 27 million copies worldwide. While only a few were specifically published for young adults, teens have gravitated towards his adult Discworld series since it began in 1983 with THE COLOUR OF MAGIC. Set in a flat land carried by four elephants on top of a turtle, Discworld has provided a wild world of comic relief that continues to hold sway over countless teen readers.” Amy, who is a Teen Librarian for the Schaumburg Township District Library in Illinois, has had several male readers especially tell her that Pratchett turned them on to reading. In some cases, he was the only author they wanted to read for a long time. In Robin’s experience, teens of both genders adore Pratchett’s imagination and appreciate that he never talks down to them. Pratchett expects all his readers to follow his intelligent humor, and teens love him for knowing that they crave clever adventures that address matters of the heart and soul as much as mock sheep for being so very, very dim.  

The Tiffany Aching series --- including THE WEE FREE MEN and A HAT FULL OF SKY, both of which were among the nine titles cited in the award --- features a teen witch named Tiffany who is learning about her powers. She is helped by some crude, little blue men, who like to drink and steal things but end up being powerful allies. As Amy observes, “Like most of Pratchett’s characters, these creatures are complex and multi-layered. In GOING POSTAL, another title mentioned in the award, the main character is a criminal called Moist, who has the option of either being assigned to Death Row or to a position in the postal system, which no one has used for years. The main post office is filled to the ceiling with unsent letters. Moist becomes an unlikely hero, challenging technology monopolies and helping people everywhere on Discworld communicate with each other.”

Amy goes on to say, “Most of all, the committee enjoyed the humor in Pratchett’s titles and his frequently repeated funny phrases. In GUARDS! GUARDS!, another Edwards Award novel, one character is attempting to get into his secret society. But he keeps messing up the phrases slightly, so he can’t get in --- kind of like Abbott and Costello’s Who’s on First? Robin adds, “In SMALL GODS, the needling jokes tackling everything from organized religion to ancient philosophy fly thick and fast, but in the end, every jibe is aimed at uncovering the resonant truths of faith.”

As Robin and Amy both note, “Nothing is free from Pratchett’s inventive satire, and it is perhaps this more than anything that makes him the perfect candidate for the Edwards Award, not to mention one of the most prolific authors of our time. Since 1971, Pratchett’s novels have challenged everything from governments, to royalty, to employers, and even the traditions of fantasy writing themselves. And in doing so they have dared teen readers to question the world along with him --- and ultimately redefine it.”

 

Teenreads.com thanks Robin and Amy for sharing their insights, and we join with them in congratulating Sir Terry Pratchett on this honor.