Just a few more thoughts on this topic–though I’m still hoping we can get some others to comment or guest-post on the subject.
First of all, regarding Margaret Atwood: you’re right, Handmaid’s Tale was the first Atwood I read, but Alias Grace is her best of the ones I have read (and I haven’t read Blind Assassin). Although, as you point out, hers vary widely in style and genre, so it’s a little hard to compare them.
But let’s talk YA. How about John Green? Looking for Alaska, a debut novel, won the Printz Award in 2006 and An Abundance of Katherines won a Printz Honor in 2007. In my opinion, Katherines is the better book, moving beyond the–let’s face it–typical first-novel autobiographicalism of Alaska and doing something really different and interesting. But Katherines did win an honor, something none of Green’s subsequent books have managed to do. And here again, it’s hard to know how much of that is anticipation and familiarity. John Green has an amazing fan base, both online and in terms of real readers who actually buy his books, and of course, that includes the librarians who are on award committees. But it does make me wonder a little bit if I and other readers are able to read his latest book, The Fault in Our Stars, completely objectively. Would I have a different reaction to it if I had read it without knowing the author? In this case, possibly not–because it sounds like a John Green book. The characters are John Green characters, and the dialogue is John Green dialogue. So if I didn’t know John Green had written it, I might be thinking, “Wow, this author is really ripping off John Green.” But it will be interesting to see where it lands in this year’s Printz deliberations.
Filed under Awards, Books, Teens
I have a ton of thoughts on your last post, but I want to focus on one thing in particular: your point that librarians are biased towards nonfiction that “reads like fiction.” Is this something that we (meaning YALSA members) can (or should) try to change? Obviously, as you point out with the 1962 biography example, nonfiction itself goes through a lot of fads and changes. Maybe this is just the current trend and we should go with it? Still, I feel like there are books that are being slighted.
You’ve been on the Printz Committee, and you’ve appointed people to the Printz Committee. Is this a topic that comes up at all? Is it possible to change a committee member’s mind about what makes a Printz-worthy nonfiction book? Or, is it possible to find librarians who have different approaches to nonfiction to appoint in the first place?
1) My nonfiction books fall into both categories, in a way. My two history books, both part of Lucent’s World History Series (The Reformation, 1995 and The Age of Exploration, 1998) I wrote with the intention of telling the stories behind those interesting times. Nevertheless, because they were part of a series, there were certain constraints I had to meet, including the format (double-column, textbook-style; black and white illustrations; timeline, etc.). I also tried to be as neutral as possible, although I know that some of my biases came through, especially in the Reformation book. I was always aware as I was writing them that I wanted them to be interesting to read, but also useful for students doing reports.
The other two books, Sports in America (Lucent, 1996) and Space Exploration: A Pro/Con Issue (Enslow, 2000) were definitely written with school reports in mind. In fact, I had some struggles with the editors on both of these books, because I wanted to emphasize my own opinions (of which I have many on these two topics), but they wanted them to be very factual in the “opposing viewpoints” style: “Some people say this, while others say that.” I could see the point, but it was actually hard for me to do.
A little while back I did a post for The Hub in which I put together a list of notable nonfiction titles from 2012 so far, culled mostly from starred lists and books by authors who have previously won awards. One of the things that I noticed while I was putting together the list was that I almost reflexively ignored a whole category of books which we might call “curriculum support.” For example, Booklist gave a very enthusiastic star to a book called Money in Sports by Nick Hunter, which is parts of a series called Ethics of Sports, and gives all sorts of fascinating statistics and information about money in sports but is essentially fodder for a school report. In contrast, the books I listed all fall into what we might call “narrative nonfiction”: books that tell a compelling story. Obviously, these narrative NF books can be used (and often aspire to be used) in school reports and research, but many of them are of such a limited focus that it seems unlikely that they would be. But even granting that there is some overlap, the whole experience got me thinking about this possible dichotomy between narrative and curriculum books. (Also, as an aside, the concept of narrative vs. strictly information NF is clearly not solely a YA or Children’s issue – it exists for adult books as well, but it seems to be particularly relevent to teens because of the every present school assignment issue.)