Where is YA Nonfiction?
I recently read a story about Woodstock and the New York Times. At first, the newspaper of record covered the gathering as a disaster. But the reporters who were actually there came back and refused to take that editorial line. While it was wet, the mood was hopeful, optimistic, not grim. Overnight, the paper’s point of view shifted. In effect a generational shift took place within the hallowed halls of the Gray Lady. I was at Woodstock and I generally agree with the more positive view — it was a kind of playland of being young and counter cultural — teepees, painted VW bus, posters of gurus, kids camped out everywhere. The only negative from my point of view was that in that themepark of hipness there was no one to compare to — everyone was cool, cooler, I felt, than me. I mention this because this weekend our little town held its own Maplewoodstock — some cover bands, some local bands, Marshall Crenshaw and some better known bands. And if Woodstock symbolized the boomers shifting the narrative set by their parents, Maplewoodstock is the boom transformed.
The event was simultaneously counter cultural (as fashion), multicultural (in the faces of the crowd), old and young and intbetween mixed together. The binary opposition of teenager against parent is now the blurry blend of parents in tie die and kids in all and everything. As we who actually or symbolically went to Woodstock became parents (and probably for most of my peers grandparents) we wanted to be sure that there would not be a new generational clash. We want to listen to kids music, and share ours. In a way this is the story of YA fiction — for a long time a large set of parents did not see the reason for YA novels, they saw them as a ghetto that was holding their kids back from the classics. Today, mothers who grew up on Judy Blume are more eager to find a similar author for their daughters. The clash has become more of a blur, an overlap.
But we in nonfiction as still behind. Not as many parents grew up loving YA nonfiction (in fact there was — and is not that much around for them to love). So instead of parents eagerly looking for new nonfiction for their kids, or even warning their kids against it and steering them to adult books, there simply is not enough for them to notice. But there is an opportunity here — we need to write books that parents like and which engage kids. We need to create that same sharing opportunity for ideas and information as we have in the festivals where we share music and dance.