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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Highs and Lows of ALA

Great News
Terrible News

Great: Nonfiction all over the place — Almost Astros wins the Sibert; Phil Hoose gets a Newbery honor and a Sibert honor for Claudette Colvin; Jim Murphy wins the Margaret Edwards; Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma Darwin both a Prinz honor and the winner of the new YALSA nonfiction award. Wonderful. And to add to the good spirits, Kirkus has found new owner and will be back and in operation very soon. Great.

Terrible: Best Books for Young Adults is now (under who knows what name) Best Fiction for Young Adults. Nonfiction, graphic novels, and adult books have all been declared ineligible. This was a unanimous and vile decision of the YALSA board — and the halls of Midwinter were filled with the anger/disbelief. The worst part is no one could give a clear explanation of the logic for the decision — or how this decision addressed the valid concerns of the YALSA membership. In effect YALSA has destroyed its heritage in the interest of what? 

Many past BBYA heads plan to speak up and protest and hope all of you do as well. I will supply a link to articles in which the Board spells out its reasons — they deserve that chance. But then I/we get to speak up, speak out, have our say.


  1. Marc, I came here to give you CONGRATULATIONS on Almost Astronauts…

    …but am totally sunk by the BBYA news. Please do post and provide more info on this.

  2. I would encourage everyone to actually read the information. The title BBYA will actually refer to the top of all YALSA’s select lists which will actually recognize more excellent non-fiction, graphic novels and adult books than now. Plus these will be chosen by people passionately interested in the formats which is better for everyone concerned.

  3. Laurie (Six Boxes of Books) says:

    Please read more about BBYA; much information has been posted on the YALSA blog ( The YALSA lists will be collectively called Best of the Best for Young Adults. One of these lists will be Best Fiction for Young Adults. According to a Jan. 14 post to the YALSA blog, “The selection committee for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction will publish its full list of nominations. This is a rigorous selection process that will ultimately recognize more nonfiction titles than BBYA ever has.”

  4. please look at my second post — it is very unclear what the nominations list will be. In fact the very wording you give is self contradictory: a nomination list which includes its “full ist of candidates” is not “rigorously selected,” it is the inital list of candidates before they have been culled. Now there is a plan to have only an annotated vetted list — but that then is not the nominations list — and, again, there will be no open discussion and no teen input in the nonfiction list — because it is an award not a list. This is simply wrong.

  5. E, you say the lists will be chosen by those “passionately interested” in the genres. But a committee selecting Best Books for Teenagers is not to be guided by its own passions, but by its devotion to the needs of its teenage readers. It does not matter if the judge likes fantasy, or poetry, or vampires, or nonfiction. What matters is that the judge is determined to find books that both set high literary standards for teenagers and engage teenagers — in other words are “best.” And the “passionate readers” we hear from in BBYA as it used to be constituted were teenagers — since every judge was instructed to share books with teenagers, and teenagers came to the Sunday sessions at the ALA conferences. An award is a closed door process where judges may bring in information from teenagers, but must rely only on the private delibrations of the committee. BBYA was the only forum for bringing in teen voices on nonfiction — and we need to hear from those passionate readers too.

  6. Yes, you have a point about the teen input. That is one thing I think is being ignored in the new plan. I was more talking about the issue of say a librarian who reads 4 graphic novels a year deciding if it was good or not rather than a committee who reads 50+.

  7. Ed Spicer says:

    Here’s what I think: When we have a Great Graphic Novel committee and a BBYA committee (as in the past). The BBYA committee will have those people reading and evaluating graphic novels when these people only read about 4 per year (or as many as are nominated). When a BBYA committee choses a graphic novel (American Born Chinese, Blankets, etc.) that makes the average librarian who does not read many (if any) take notice and is much more likely to have that librarian moving over to the Graphic Novel list. If, however, you isolate each list, it gives that same librarian who does not read graphic novels an easy way to ignore that whole category. Consequently I very much worry about what this will mean to libraries, especially all those who tell me they rely pretty exclusively on BBYA (which has been synonymous with YALSA for all these years).

  8. Not only will we be missing the input of passionate teen readers, we will be missing passionate adult readers’ thoughtful discussion and public evaluation of teen nonfiction. There will no longer be a place for librarians to hear that at conference (unless the nonfiction in question is in graphic novel format).

  9. You are so right — and clearly something not considered by the YALSA board.