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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Yeh Girls! Boo Publishers!The Times They Are a Changin

I hope you have all read about the amazing American girl sweep in the first Google Science Fair: Some 10,000 students from 91 countries and in three different age cohorts submitted projects, and three American girls won. As Shree Bose, the older teenage group winner said, “Personally I think that’s amazing, because throughout my entire life, I’ve heard science is a field where men go into,” Ms. Bose said. “It just starts to show you that women are stepping up in science, and I’m excited that I was able to represent maybe just a little bit of that.” Clearly girls like science, can do really well at it, and their work is both supported and recognized by adult professionals. But if you read the literature we write, edit, publish, and sell for teenage girls, you would never, ever know that. YA novels are about fantasy, romance, changing bodies, relationships, personal psychological and emotional states — all very true to (some aspects of) girl adolescence. Entirely missing — except in the figure of some brainiac as part of a detective team or an awkward middle grader — is the smart girl whose mind is on making scientific discoveries. And YA NF? Forget it — outside of Marie Curie, Rachel Carson, and Jane Goodall, you would think a woman never made use of scientific method.

Wake up publishers, editors, reviewers — you are missing the boat. Young people are bright, interested, curious about the world, eager to make discoveries. Enough with the dating-a-vampire stuff — it was fine fluff, it did its thing, it captured a moment, great. But it is time to move on — the real world beckons. This morning I played Dylan for Sasha and a friend over for a sleepover. The Times They Are a Changin is still a powerful anthem, but listen carefully:
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’

For us in the 60s that was about Civil Rights and Vietnam and being young and alive. But now the same words are as true for a publishing industry stuck in an image of Girl Trouble which does not recognize how ready young people are to learn, to inquire, to think, and to make changes in reality — in science, politics, economics, medicine — not just in fantasy quests, boyfriends, or diet.


  1. Myra Zarnowski says:

    To be fair, the Scientists in the Field Series by Houghton makes an excellent contribution by showing women and men scientists at work.