Interesting reading this week. Best quote: “Nonfiction remains the kitchen-bound Cinderella of young adult literature, while her stepsister—fiction—remains the belle of the ball” (p. 184). Oh how I laughed. Also hilarious: Cold War paranoia spurred the Man to give money to libraries to raise little astrophysicists so Russia wouldn’t plant a hammer & sickle flag in the moon. So, thank you, Cold War Soviets and your threatening advances in science during the space race. You got the government to give money to libraries (and RIP Laika). I love that the American Congress saw education as a weapon. That means librarians are… arms dealers. Yes! I haven’t felt this dangerous on a Wednesday morning since I was a wandering mercenary and erstwhile lady assassin. But enough about that…
I don’t think I ever read any nonfiction written specifically for a young adult audience. I’m not sure I’ve even seen any YA nonfiction. Actually, there may have been a few supernatural dictionaries and histories lurking on the fringes of the teen section at Chapters, but they were shelved alongside double-agent fictions – fictions pretending to be nonfictions, like How to Coerce a Sparkly Vampire into an Eternally Boring Marriage, that sort of thing.
My nonfiction diet as a child and young adult consisted of healthy servings of…
Really old issues of National Geographic
So… many… National Geographics… National Geographic is the king of photoessays, and like any good king, they serve the people. Anyone can read a National Geographic. When you’re a kid, you’re limited to the photos and maybe the captions, but even those provide so much information! My mom would collect old issues like a magpie. I devoured them, especially the archaeological stories. I still love reading them – and I still think the pictures are the best part.
I also read tons and tons of Eyewitness Books
Okay, I still read tons and tons of Eyewitness Books. Because they’re AWESOME. Especially the Viking one. I guess I am a sucker for the “lexigraphic approach,” as Cart calls it. He also calls the DK series revolutionary (and I do love anything revolutionary). There is something so wonderfully freeing and almost illicit about reading an Eyewitness book; it’s definitely not the traditional reading experience. Flipping through the pages as quickly or as slowly as you want to, reading whichever “bite-size, nonlinear nugget” of information you want to and ignoring the ones you don’t care about, and, like the old National Geographics, lingering over the glorious, mouth-watering pictures that, to me, eclipse anything written on the page. The images speak for themselves (or as Cart says, they convey information). Sometimes, it’s even more visceral. Once in a while, you find an image that just hits you right in the gut and makes the information incredibly meaningful – like a twisted gold arm-ring in the Viking book that, for some reason, makes the past so close when I try to imagine the person who wore it. I think Kindersley, the creator of the series, best conveyed the unique value of the books: “Through the picture I see reality and through the word I understand it.”
And the last major nonfiction works of my youth?
Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Especially this one:
Ghosts, Witches and ESP. This book taught me so much. And also terrified me. I still keep it spine facing in on my bookshelf. When I was seven, I stole it from my evil grandmother’s Labyrinth-junkyard basement (actually, my grandmother kind of looks like the Junk Lady from Labyrinth) – don’t judge, she never knew it was gone, it was crudely defaced, and she’s mean – and it was my best act of thievery ever. I learned so much… the Bell haunting, Anne Boleyn’s ghost walking the ramparts with her head in the crook of her arm, Edgar Cayce, the real Rosemary’s baby, the curse of the mummy’s hand… I’m actually freaking myself out just thinking about it. Anyway, one of my most cherished books. (Twisted, right?) I read it over and over, and the small, three-sentence blurbs and wicked cartoons have actually inspired me to do much deeper research into the stories that interested me.
(And yes, it’s nonficiton… Skeptics. You’ll see. One day, you’ll all see…)
Another Cart-ism: storytelling is not necessarily making things up. (I’m paraphrasing, and he’s quoting someone else, but it’s still gold.)
So, that’s my take on nonfiction for young adults. I checked out the YALSA website to find out more about their Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. I hadn’t heard of any of the nominees, but some of them looked quite interesting.