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The Next Big Thing: Nonfiction in the Spotlight

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

Even if you aren’t somehow involved with students or education, you’ve probably heard of the Common Core State Standards, a new initiative that aims to standardize learning expectations and improve student performance. With only five states yet to adopt the Common Core, it’s looking like this is the future of education in the United States.

How will it affect students and reading? Increased standards of education can only lead to increased standards of educational materials, and I suspect that the adoption of the Common Core means we are going to see some big shifts in how print materials are created and packaged. As books increasingly share space with databases and online resources, to say nothing of the burgeoning trend of transmedia, print resources will need to be exceptional if they wish to compete. The Common Core also highlights the use of “informational texts” — nonfiction, that is — across disciplines (even English classes: in fourth grade, “literary” and “informational” texts should be used in equal amounts in English/language arts, but in 8th grade 55% of readings should be informational, and in 12th grade, 70% will be).

So what’s the big new trend for nonfiction? I’m guessing we will see a veritable explosion of high quality nonfiction that is as compelling as it is educational.

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Recent years have already seen the pendulum begin to swing away from the dry, homework-y tomes of yesteryear. If you were in high school before the 1990s, your textbooks probably had some black and white images of Important People, possibly doing Important Things — and that’s if you were lucky. While those textbooks can still be found in just about every classroom across the nation, I suspect schools will soon forgo many of the standard texts in favor of a carefully curated list of books that will present subjects in ways that are dynamic and engaging. I vividly remember the first time I cracked open Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group. Not only did the cover and the title grab my interest, but the content of the book held it until I had read the whole thing. And the whole time I was reading, I kept thinking, “Why aren’t there more books like this for students?” With the Common Core, I think we will see them soon.

Looking for interesting nonfiction right now? Check out YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, which launched in 2010. Mark Flowers also did a mid-year nonfiction roundup this summer with some great new titles.

— Summer Hayes, currently reading Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

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4 Comments

  1. Young adult nonfiction, much like juvenile nonfiction has been a victim of stereotypes (dry, boring, etc.) for a number of years. In the last ten years at least it has figured heavily in Quick Picks, and provided a wealth of opportunities (albeit not always as lauded as its fiction counterparts) for readers looking for an under-appreciated gem in a wide variety of genres. I do believe that the standards will make it easier for some of those types of books to find a readership. This is not a subject about which I am particularly impartial: older titles (with fiction read alikes) were explored in a book I wrote for Libraries Unlimited titled _Reality Rules: a guide to teen nonfiction reading interests_, and I have a new volume coming out in at the end of the month.

    • It’s interesting that it might not be nonfiction for teens that changes, but instead it might be our *perception* of nonfiction for teens, or our awareness of nonfiction for teens.

  2. Kristin Kristin

    Hi –

    A gentle correction: the logo you show is for the Common Core organization (commoncore.org). While Common Core has a CCSS-related curriculum, it is not the organization behind the development of the multi-state standards project. That is the Common Core State Standards , which have a mostly-red circular logo; the correct web site is corestandards.org.

    • I had no idea they were different organizations! I’ve changed the logo in the post — thanks a lot for the clarification.

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