The American Library Association's Youth Media Awards Cures Your Young-Adult, Gift-Giving Woes

Whenever I need to get a present for a young person—or whenever anyone asks me for recommendations for a present for a young person—my first thought is a book. Books are the perfect gifts. You never have to worry about if it’s going to fit right, and books don’t make noise, so parents won’t be giving you the side-eye behind the kid’s back.

To make sure I’m not giving books that my recipients already have 1,000 copies of, every year I follow the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards, which include biggies like the Randolph Caldecott Medal and the John Newbery Medal. And, of course, I scan the list of winners for local names.

The announcements for the 2012 awards were made on Monday. And where did I find the first local name? Under the list of winners for the Alex Awards, or the “best adult books that appeal to teen audiences.” Perfect! Now you could give this one as a gift to teens or their parents, and nobody will be giving the side-eye to anybody.

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Our local Alex winner is Jo Ann Beard—a member of the writing faculty at Yonkers’s/Bronxville’s Sarah Lawrence College—who received the honor for her novel In Zanesville. But, while Beard may teach in Westchester, the characters of her novel are actually from the Midwest. The book is mostly about the unnamed main character and her best friend trying to cope with small-town life in the 1970s.

“Someone asked me if I would be interested in writing for a younger age group, and I automatically said no,” Beard told NPR. “But then the idea started to take hold inside me, and I started remembering specific incidents from my own childhood and young adulthood, and getting interested in how I could twist them and expand them and portray them on the page. And I got really excited about writing in a way that I hadn’t for a long time.”

“Ms. Beard, the author of the 1998 autobiographical essay collection ‘The Boys of My Youth,’ has a knack for melding the funny and the sad, amplifying small moments into something big,” the New York Times wrote of the book.

The second local-ish name on the ALA’s list of winners—he may live too far North for us to truly claim him—also writes in a category your mind might not automatically jump to when you think of buying YA books: Nonfiction. Steve Sheinkin won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, which “honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults, ages 12 – 18, each year,” for The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery.

According to Sheinkin’s bio, he was, “born in Brooklyn, NY, and my family lived in Mississippi and Colorado before moving back to New York and settling in the suburbs north of New York City,” and now he lives “with my wife, Rachel, and our two young kids in Saratoga Springs, New York.”

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His book is, obviously, about the life of Benedict Arnold, whom he calls “America’s original loose-cannon action hero.” In its review, Booklist Online wrote: “History junkies are in for a treat when they pick up this lively, highly readable biography of the U.S.’ most vilified traitor. Emphasizing Arnold’s reckless, adventurous side, Sheinkin, who admits to being a longtime admirer of the infamous figure, makes a good case for why Americans have cause to embrace the general’s early incarnation as a heroic icon of the Revolution.”

So, I suggest you flip through your birthday list, hit up the local bookstore, and start shopping. Need more inspiration? You can see the other ALA winners here.

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