Trims and Design
Linda’s questions in the comment box made me think we should spend a bit of time on layout, design, illustration, and NF for teenagers.
Background: As you all surely know, the traditional standard for kids NF was similar to that which is still used in adult: the rectangle. Text rectangle facing black and white photo rectangle with caption — which might be a quarter page, half page, or even full page — or, as again is still the case in adult, all of the art might be gathered in the middle of the book. By the way gathering art in one place saves money in more ways than is obvious — not only are the individual pages easier to design, but the art is placed between the 32 page signatures — the groups of pages as they come from the printer. The Eyewitness book heralded the end of the era of the rectangle because they were designed by full spread, not individual page. Art used the full open two pages, and indeed was so central, and used in such unexpected and innovative ways, that text was reduced to captions. Art, full color art, on clear white space, destroyed the rectangle.
The Eyewitness books were not, however, a model for books that needed more text than you can fit into captions. Publishers turned to the sidebar printed over an image as a way to keep the old rectangle within what looked more like a fully designed approach. That quickly became the textbook. In a way the lineal descendant of Eyewitness is the Ology books, which are moving into nonfiction — design makes things possible that are way beyond the old rectangle. But Ology or Eyewitness is again not a YA format.
From Betsy’s Lennon to Tanya Stone’s Almost Astronauts designers have used surprinting in interesting new ways — the art escapes from its box to become part of the basic layout of the spread. Words appear over and through art — the designer understands that art is not just an item to study, it is the visual field you experience. I like to treat art in NF as a book within a book — I want the browsing reader who to be able to get my basic narrative just by skipping from one picture and caption to another — I want to hook the reader’s eyes, then seduce him or her to read the text. So in the book on the history of Sugar my wife and I wrote, we created a gallery of sugar work, showing the steps in the harvesting and milling of sugar in many times, places, and visual formats — a kind of filmstrip at the hear of the book.
Still, I think Linda is right that there could be a very sophisticated YA NF in novel sized trim, with, say, line art — a kind of teenage Wimpy Kid style — where the art does not need real estate, it just requires atunement and taste. That could make a very neat YA NF. I just have not seen it yet.