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The Young Adult Canadian Book Award: Have You Heard About It?

By Nancy E. Black
Chair. Book Award Committe of the Young Adult
Services Interest Group,
Canadian Library Association

Volume 17 Number 2

In the past fifteen years or so there has been a growing interest in and recognition of Canadian literature for young adults. Many of us have observed the development of this genre with both an enthusiastic and an evaluative eye.


It was this excitement about Canadian young adult literature that prompted the Young Adult Caucus of the Saskatchewan Library Association to create the Young Adult Canadian Book Award. Established in 1980, it is intended to "recognize the author of an outstanding English language Canadian book which appeals to young adults between the ages of 13 and 18." This award would not only focus on and draw attention to Canadian young adult fiction, but also promote Canadian authors and publishing companies: "the title must be a Canadian publication in either hardcover or paperback, and the author must be a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant."

The first recipient of this award was Kevin Major for his excellent young adult novel about a Newfoundland family entitled Far from Shore. Other winners over the years have included O.R. Melling for The Druid's Tune, Mary-Ellen Lang Collura for Winners and Janet Lunn for Shadow in Hawthorn Bay. Last year's winner was Margaret Buffie for her novel Who Is Frances Rain?, a finely crafted novel of adventure/fantasy featuring fifteen-year-old protagonist Lizzie McGill. The runners-up were False Face by Welwyn Katz (Groundwood, 1987) and Dear Bruce Springsteen by Kevin Major (Doubleday, 1987).

In any discussion of young adult literature there are always questions about the genre--What is young adult literature?" being the most frequent. How one describes or defines young adult literature, or an understanding of what will or will not appeal to the young adult is integral to the committee's evaluation process. An immediate, instinctual response to any given title is usually quite accurate but is difficult to explain to another person. Another reliable rule of thumb is this: young adult literature is literature read by a young adult. During the process of selection and decision, the committee usually keeps these points in mind as well as the following guidelines:

How well crafted is the plot (weak, strong, believable, acceptable)?

Are characters well drawn and acceptable?

Is the dialogue natural, realistic, believable, appropriate to the setting?

Does the novel mirror or reflect current trends, concerns or issues of adolescents? How are controversial topics handled by the author?

How effectively does the title explore attitudes/ values or raise questions about roles and perceptions in society?

How well are the elements/motifs of fantasy, science fiction mystery, adventure handled and developed by the author?

Literary quality as opposed to "popular titles is another hotly debated aspect of young adult literature, particularly as it relates to the selection of an award-winning novel. If an award is to be given for a "book which appeals to a young adult" it is certainly desirable that the chosen title be one that is likely to be read by this age group. In other words, popular appeal is just as important a consideration as literary merit. Committee members, therefore strive to find a balance between literary merit and popularity in the evaluation of titles.


This year, the committee is fortunate to have the opinions of some Calgary young adults, who read this year's list of eligible titles. Should this process be successful, the committee may decide to encourage youth participation each year.

When the Young Adult Caucus established this award, it was originally intended that the award would one day be taken over by the Canadian Library Association. In November 1987, CLA Council passed a motion stating that the Young Adult Services Interest Group (YASIG) would take over the administration of this award provided that "YAC is cited in the history of the award and at least one Saskatchewan member be on the selection committee." The Book Award seal, originally designed by a young adult from Regina, will also continue to be used in association with the award and the author will continue to receive a leather-bound copy of the winning book in a formal presentation at the book awards banquet at the annual CLA conference.

This change-over, already in effect, will have many positive results. The Book Award Committee is now made up of people from across Canada, and the selection process will no doubt benefit from this national involvement and participation. It is also our belief that the award, its winners and Canadian young adult literature will have a higher profile and increased recognition from librarians educators and the publishing industry, as well as from young adults.

Being involved with (he Young Adult Canadian Book Award has been very satisfying for me. because 1 am better informed about the titles, I am more active in promoting the literature to young adults. It is also a way to follow the development of this genre as it improves and grows. Our Canadian novelists are producing many fine works of young adult fiction, many of which have been distributed in the U.S., translated into other languages, made into films, and received international attention and acclaim. To experience this through participation with the Book Award Committee is more than simple satisfaction: it is exciting, even thrilling.

Young Adult Canadian Book Award Winners

Brandis, Marianne. The Quarter-pie Window. Porcupine's Quill, 1985.

Brown, Jaime. Superbike. Clarke-Irwin, 1981.

Buffie, Margaret. Who Is Frances Rain? Kids Can Press, 1987.

Hughes, Monica. Hunter in the Dark. Clarke-Irwin, 1982.

Lang Collura, Mary-Ellen. Winners. Western Producer Prairie Books, 1984.

Lunn, Janet. Shadow in Hawthorn Bay. Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1986.

Major, Kevin. Far from Shore. Clarke-Irwin, 1980.

Melling, O.R. The Druid's Tune. Penguin, 1983.

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1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


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