Hey librarians and YALSA members! The election has opened up and I wanted to share a couple of my friends and fellow bloggers that are on the ballot! Angie Manfredi and Jennifer Rothschild are both on the ballot for the Nonfiction Award Committee. Angie blogs at FatGirlReading and Jennie blogs at Biblio File. Check out their blogs because they rock! And of course, to convince you further of their awesomeness, I have interviews with both of them!:)
-What do you enjoy about NF?
Angie: There's a lot of answers to that, I guess, but for me it keeps coming back to me is how much I enjoy watching teens interact with non-fiction. There's just something about seeing reluctant readers pulled into the immediate truth of a non-fiction title or hearing teens "ooh" and "aah" over a non-fiction book full of pictures and facts. I love that non-fiction is a way for teens to experience literature and books in an entirely unique way, a way that lets them see the world, their world, in an whole different light.
Jennie: As they say, truth is stranger than fiction. I love that you get all the drama and tension, heartbreak and laughter that you get in fiction, but it's all true! I like that we get different stories, but also different ways to tell a story. Some narratives read like novels, some really use design-- photographs, graphs, side bars and pull-out boxes. I love the variety both in subject matter and in visual representation.
I think the role of nonfiction often gets overlooked. Many times teens read a fiction book and want to know more about what was going on in the book and turn to nonfiction for more background information.
When I was a teen, I was obsessed with disease and virology. Books like Outbreak by Robin Cook and Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton were great, but the ones I really turned to were the Nonfiction-- Hot Zone by Richard Preston and And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts were huge influences on me. For a number of years, I really wanted to go into virology as a field.
-What past book would you award the NF award to?
Angie: So many good choices but definitely the first on my list is No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin because it's so powerful and so well written and researched and balanced and well documented and engaging and appealing. It's one of my favorite teen titles of all time, period.
Jennie: I'm very pleased with last year's and this year's winners*, so I'm going to list books that came out before the award was created (that's not cheating, is it?).
Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (who won an honor this year with They Called Themselves the KKK)
What the World Eats by Faith D'Aluisio and Peter Menzel
George Washington, Spy Master by Thomas B. Allen
Also, I think a lot of great nonfiction books for teens were being published as adult books. Some of my favorite adult titles for teens are
This is Paradise by Hyok Kang, Philippe Grangereau and Shaun Whiteside
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Persepolis by Marjana Satrapi
Ten Green Bottles by Vivian Jeanette Kaplan
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
*Ok, I was surprised there wasn't any love for Secret of the Yellow Death by Suzanne Jurmain, but the books the committee did choose are so awesome, so I'm not complaining.
-Why do you think the NF award is important?
Angie: Well, I know it's made my library's collection so much stronger! It's hard to keep up with non-fiction sometimes, especially because non-fiction geared for teens and not children or adults is a newer genre, but the award is a reminder of how truly diverse and great the field is now, which can help encourage librarians, teachers, parents, the general audience to buy more non-fiction and feature it more too. I started booktalking Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman (2009's winner) and was gratified to see so many teens want to check it out and subsequently love it. I might never have been encouraged to do that without the reminder from the Non-Fiction Award committee that, hey, this book is out there and it's special and it speaks to teens. That's why these YALSA awards exist and matter, after all. And, of course, hopefully it will raise the profile of the genre and encourage publishers to publish MORE of the good stuff!
Jennie: First off, I think nonfiction is very important. It teaches us about the world around us and within us. It offers insights and entertains. Because of this, it's worth celebrating.
Beyond that, in the last few years, we've seen an explosion of nonfiction titles for teens. Nonfiction fans have been blessed with more selection than ever. But! As with any explosion of titles, there's a lot of variance in quality. I think this award, coupled with the list of vetted nominations, is useful to highlight the best of the best, but it also shows publishers and authors examples of what truly great nonfiction can look like. I think the list is also a really useful selection tool for librarians, especially in a time when everyone is dealing with extremely limited acquisitions budgets.
-What are some of your favorite YA NF reads?
Angie: Thanks to the 2011 Excellence in Non-Fiction Nominations list, I discovered Lerner's great series Civil Rights Struggles Around the World, which has a truly fantastic set of titles about a wide variety of Civil Rights struggles throughout history, including often ignored movements. The books are well-written, unique, engaging, inspiring, and good for both report-writers and readers who just love non-fiction for the great, true stories it has to tell. We Stand as One: The International Ladies Garment Workers Strike, New York, 1909 was so good it gave me goosebumps!
Jennie: Everything listed already in these answers. Also, it's more middle grade than teen, but the Scientists in the Field series is wonderful for a million different reasons. I love books about history and China. I also love books about food. What I love the most are books about a subject that I don't think I'm interested in, but are so well done that they make me care and make me want to know even more about a topic I've never thought twice about. That's one of the reasons why I love the Scientists in the Field series so much. Secret of the Yellow Death is a recent title that grabbed me like that. Last year's honor book Written in Bone did the same. Last year's winner is another example. I had never really though about Charles Darwin's personal life before Charles and Emma, but I couldn't put it down and have spent a lot of time talking about it ever since then.