The other day I saw this YALSA content analysis of Printz winners: http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya/2011/02/the-printz-award-winners-under-a-microscope-content-trends-committee-challenges-and-teen-popularity/ The article reviewed the commonalities of the award winners and honorees. My accurate but somewhat peevish reaction to the essay was that it missed the most obvious trend — Printz winners are nearly always fiction, and, not only that, nearly always novels. When we created the award we explicitly opened the door to anthologies, to graphic novels, to plays, to nonfiction. But with just the more rare exceptions, committees have relentlessly selected single author novels. One objection to my grouching has often been that there are not that many YA NF books published (there certainly have been plenty of YA poetry anthologies, though that genre is fading). Last night in class my student pointing out something I had never considered — which showed my own blindness.
There are NF biographies and history books that can easily claim to be for 12-14, and even a bit older. So the objection that there is no YA NF is wrong. But my student asked why there is no YA NF on science — genetics, medicine, ecology? Think of Ship Breaker — why couldn’t there be NF on half-men, and ecological disaster, and the actual beachfronts where ships are broken down today? The obvious answer is that there are series books, or For and Against books on many related topics: Global Warming; Recombinant DNA, Destructive Weather (those go down to pre-school age), Super Viruses, etc. And there are textbooks. But why are there no trade books? Neither the simple step of a YA Henrietta Lacks book to something more personal and innovative — a scientists in the field book for teenagers.
Or take the Watson-v human on Jeopardy story. I am certain it is already in Time for Kids and similar middle grade magazines. How far a step would it be to go from there to a book on AI, gaming, humans — the real science of Enders Game? AFter the contest I heard one of the human contestants on NPR explain — accurately if somewhat peevishly — that the machine won because, as a machine, it could buzz that 1/8 of second faster than a human. An IBM scientist agreed, but — accurately if somewhat peevishly — said that Jeopardy is a game, any advantage a player can have within the rules it should take, and surely humanJeopardy champs have their own honed skills at button pressing. Gaming — what is strategy, what is tactics, what is a sign of intelligence — a perfect chapter in a YA NF book on Watson, Gaming, Science, and AI. But the genre simply does not exist.