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Why YALSA’s Nonfiction Awards Finalists are Worth Checking Out

2012 December 11
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by Flickr user K.G. Schneider

I am novel addict. If left to my own devises, I could spend all my leisure reading time devouring books filled with stories about monsters, ghosts, wizards, dragons — you get the picture. I think many of my fellow YA lit-lovers would say the same about themselves.

While I firmly believe you should read only books that you enjoy reading, there are a lot of reasons to expand your literary horizons and delve into a book you normally wouldn’t reach for first. Young adult nonfiction is an area of YA lit that doesn’t get a lot of attention. There are some fabulous nonfiction books written for young adults. Sure, they might not draw the big bucks into a publishing house like a series of exciting dystopian lit would, but they can be just as engaging and thought-provoking to read.

At YALSA’s recent (and fabulous) Young Adult Literature Symposium, Scott Westerfeld said something that stuck with me. To paraphrase: “Teen readers are promiscuous.” What he meant was that teens, unlike adults, aren’t chained to certain genre. They are liminal — that is, occupying a space between two distinct boundaries — and in a particular time of their lives where they can and should explore who they are, and the possibilities of whom they might become, through literature. This, alone, is reason enough for YA lit enthusiasts to embrace the nonfiction genre. Many of us who work with teens in schools, libraries, or elsewhere love our work because of this unique liminality that teens possess. There’s nothing more exciting than connecting a teen to the next book that will shape his or her identity, right?

On account of this liminal nature it’s important to connect teens with all sorts of books — not just the latest best-selling series, or hottest new novel on the shelf. Readers, especially teen readers, should be presented with lots of choices of literature to encourage exploring themselves and the world around them. Nonfiction is an important piece in the puzzle of figuring out life. History, social issues, politics, and health: these issues affect young adults every day. Life is confusing, even for adults. In a perfect world, we would present teens with an arsenal of awesome literature to help them through the weirdness of figuring out who they are and how they fit into our complicated world.

If you’re interested in expanding your horizons and delving into young adult nonfiction, now is a great time to do so. YALSA’s 2013 Nonfiction Award finalists were just announced, and I, for one, am super excited about the list. From Steve Jobs to the Titanic to the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, there is a lot in this fascinating mix to help readers of all ages learn about the world we live in. Isn’t it cool that YALSA makes it so easy for us to find great nonfiction books for young adults?

In honor of the 2013 Nonfiction Award finalists being announced, I encourage you to be promiscuous in your reading and try a nonfiction selection. Explore, cross boundaries, and be adventurous. Delight in being liminal!

– Jennifer Larson, currently reading Intentions by Deborah Heiligman

Editor’s note: if you need a little help hooking in to nonfiction reading, we’ll be posting fiction titles that share subjects, themes, or other elements with each of the Nonfiction Award finalists in the coming weeks. If you see titles you’ve enjoyed on those lists, you should give the corresponding nonfiction title a try! (And, conversely, if you loved that nonfiction title, you’ll have new fiction titles to add to your reading list!)

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