Thursday, March 22, 2018

An Interview with Angela Carstensen, Printz Committee Chair

By Maria Falgoust
International School of Brooklyn

Angela, I was so happy to see your name as a Printz committee member! Inquiring minds want to know, how did you find yourself on the committee? Was it something you dreamed of doing?

I have wanted to be on the Printz Award committee ever since I attended the very first Printz Award Program, which took place at the 2000 ALA Annual conference. The winning authors that year--Walter Dean Myers, Laurie Halse Anderson, David Almond, and Ellen Wittlinger--were all incredibly passionate and well-spoken. Many of Michael Printz’s friends and colleagues seemed to be in attendance. It was an emotional and thrilling event.

Years passed. I served on the Alex Awards and several YALSA process committees and task forces, and chaired the first YALSA Nonfiction Award before starting the SLJ Adult Books 4 Teens blog which necessitated taking a break from book committees. Then I was asked to chair the YALSA Awards Oversight Committee in 2016. Volunteering my time on that process committee was a great way to get back into serving YALSA. When Sarah Hill became president of YALSA, she asked me to chair Printz. We had served on the Alex Awards together, she wrote reviews for AB4T and then took over as co-editor after I left. I suppose she knew she could trust me to lead the committee well.

How many books did you read for the committee in total?

The committee as a whole read around 620 books (I know because we kept a spreadsheet!). I read around 130 myself. I read our nominations 3 or 4 times each. Can’t tell you how many nominations we had, but it was a high number - it was a very strong year.

What did you do with all of the books after you finished reading them?

Some went into my library’s collection. I shamelessly wrote all over the serious contenders, so I will either keep or discard those. I am giving the bulk to Literacy for Incarcerated Teens (

How did you manage to make time to read all of the books required by selection committee (while working full time, singing in a choir and writing a book!)

Well, I gave up singing for the year! I also gave up television and going to the movies. Otherwise, I’m not sure how I did it. Mostly it was consistency and setting clear weekly goals. Every day I got home from work and read for a good hour or two before taking a long break to enjoy dinner with my husband. (Oh, and I am very lucky to have a husband who likes to cook! I gave up most of that, too.) Then back to the books. I read one or two books each weekend. At the beginning I had grand plans of setting my alarm one hour earlier three days a week, but that never happened!

Writing a book at the same time was really tough. I had been working on the book for 3 years already, and expected to be finished by April. June at the latest. In reality, I finished in late October. I spent every minute of last summer (with the exception of a two-week vacation) writing and reading. The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Teen Literature comes out this summer! Fellow HVLA members Karyn Silverman and Carrie Shaurette contributed chapters!

What were some of your favorite titles that didn’t win that you think everyone should know about?

I WISH I COULD TELL YOU!! Seriously, the hardest part of this whole process is following the confidentiality and social media policies. I was allowed to use the books I read in my daily work with students and teachers at my school--recommending, displaying, booktalking, considering them as book club choices, etc. But beyond that? Not a lot of conversation about YA books last year.

I get the impression most people don’t know who Michael L. Printz was. Can you tell us about him.

Michael Printz, or Mike as he was called, was a Middle School Librarian in Topeka, Kansas who was passionate about connecting books and readers. He served on YALSA committees like BBYA and the Margaret Edwards Award, and he worked closely with authors like Gary Paulsen and Chris Crutcher to connect boys with books. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1996. I never met him. If you want to know more, please take a look at A Printz of a Man, and read the transcript of the talk he gave at ALA in 1991, “A Big Fat Hen; A Couple of Ducks.” He addresses how school librarians make a difference in the lives of students.

What was the most surprising aspect of serving on the Printz Committee?

I was surprised by how smoothly our final Midwinter meetings went, and especially the voting process. We followed the procedures, had faith in the process, and it all worked out beautifully. That is not to say that there wasn’t plenty of lively debate!

On a personal note, I continue to ponder the effect of reading a book multiple times. I learned how hard it is to see the forest for the trees on an initial reading. I had been dreading the re-reading period, but I came to appreciate it deeply.

I read that committee members attend training. How does the Printz committee process try to eliminate personal bias, or is that inescapable?

I think the most important thing about the Printz Award process is to keep the focus on literary merit, and to discuss those merits in a respectful way throughout the year, both online and in person. We worked hard at this, and it seemed to minimize personal bias. It’s not about loving a book, it’s about how well the author executes the elements of character, plot, setting, theme, tone, style, etc. to create an excellent work of literature. Over time, we were able to let go of our personal preferences.

What I love most about our winner and honor titles is that we concentrated on merit to the letter and ended up celebrating deeply emotional, relevant and meaningful works of art. 

Angela Carstensen has served as a school librarian since 2000. Currently, she is Director of Library and Information Services at Sacred Heart Greenwich, a private K-12 girl's school in Connecticut. She is the author of Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011), and former editor of School Library Journal's Adult Books for Teens blog.