Underdog Titles That Could Take the Prize | Pondering Printz

Nonfiction works and sequels don’t usually win the Printz, but this year many such books—about a thrilling escape from tragedy, an inspiring refugee story, and more—are serious contenders.

Pondering Printz logoSome of the strongest contenders for this year’s Printz are the kinds of books that have rarely won—nonfiction and sequels. During the award’s two-decade-plus history, a measly six nonfiction books—Hole in My Life; John Lennon; Charles and Emma; March: Book Three; Vincent and Theo; and Ordinary Hazards—have been honored. This year, several titles make a compelling bid to become the seventh.

Chief among those is The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh by Candace Fleming, a comprehensive ­biography of a so-called American hero. Fleming deftly weaves Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight, the tragic kidnapping and death of his infant son, and his toxic mix of misogyny, adultery, xenophobia, and white supremacy. All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat rates a close second. Soontornvat’s third-person, present-tense narrative has a journalistic flavor that perfectly captures the unfolding drama. 

Everything Sad is Untrue coverTo my mind, memoirs seem just as close to autobiographical novels as they are to nonfiction. There is a strong crop this year. Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad Is Untrue: A True Story relates his childhood in Iran, Italy, and Oklahoma with a droll sense of humor and a charmingly elliptical narrative structure, but it does read young. Like All Thirteen, it seems like the sort of book the Printz committee may leave for the Newbery to recognize, despite the fact that it plainly falls in the Printz age range of 12–18.

Perhaps a safer bet is Apple: Skin to the Core by Eric Gansworth, which was longlisted for the National Book Award. In sharing his particular story, that of his family, and that of the Tuscarora Nation, Gansworth achieves an effect that, for me, has all of the epic sweep of Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped, while remaining a deeply intimate and personal work.

[Read: Books to Blow Your Mind | Pondering Printz]

Comics have historically been underappreciated when it comes to awards, but not so much when it comes to memoir. We have an excellent pair to consider this year: When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, an inspiring refugee story on the younger end of the spectrum, and Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang on the older end, although that feels more like a documentary than a memoir. It’s a provocative and engaging exploration of race, culture, and sports; we would expect nothing less of Yang.

All the Days Past, All the Days to Come coverIf there is a greater underdog than nonfiction, it must be sequels. Only three have been recognized: Dreamquake, Octavian Nothing: The Kingdom on the Waves, and March: Book Three. This year, there are a pair of final books in long series that I would dearly love to see earn recognition. The first is All the Days Past, All the Days to Come. Mildred Taylor’s swan song for the now-grown Cassie Logan brings the large extended family through the civil rights era and into the present day. The second is The Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, whose titular character, Eugenides, has developed a cult following. Both Taylor and Turner are expert storytellers, giving readers emotionally satisfying endings to these respective sagas. This past year has been a difficult one, to say the least, but these long-awaited books have been bright spots.

In January, the Printz Award and Honor books will be named for the 23rd time, but it will be the first time that the announcement isn’t met with cheers, jeers, and tears by a large group of people in a very big room. And yet, I can still envision how it might happen. The speaker will announce that there are four Honor books—only five previous committees have chosen fewer—and will then proceed to list them in alphabetical order by author, as is customary: The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh . . . Apple: Skin to the Core . . . All the Days Past, All the Days to Come . . . Dragon Hoops. Then there will be a pause, just long enough for everybody’s mind to race through all the remaining possibilities. And then—because truth and justice still exist in the world—Megan Whalen Turner will win the Printz Award for The Return of the Thief.

Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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