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Behind the Locked Door, part two

Posted by lpearle on 23 May 2012

With a mere 30 days before ALA Annual starts, the YALSA Excellence in Non-Fiction for Young Adults book award committee is reading reading reading. I’ve read something like 30 books thus far on a variety of topics, and rumor has it that another 10-12 books are due to arrive at any time. The Committee is discussing the books using both e-mail and ALA Connect, assessing them per the charge:

To annually select the best nonfiction title published for young adults between November 1 of the preceding year and October 31 of the current year, available in English in the United States and, if desired, to also select honor titles. The short list of finalists will be announced during the first week of December, with the winning title announced at the following ALA Midwinter Meeting. The winners and honor authors will be recognized at an ALA or YALSA Conference.

Now, that’s a little vague. In determining what’s “best”, we’re looking at text, how the images integrate with the text (and enhance it), what additional materials there are (e.g., a glossary, a timeline or a bibliography) and how the whole contributes to our knowledge of the topic and is marketed to young adults. So, for example, last year’s Turn Right at Machu Picchu or 2010’s Unbroken, while filled with YA goodness, were written as adult books and marketed to adults, were not eligible.

There’s also a question of accuracy. While not explicitly mentioned in our charge (or any YALSA definition of “best”), accuracy in non-fiction is imperative. If there’s a glaring factual error, there may be smaller, less glaring errors. Or errors in areas of the topic about which I have no prior knowledge. Example: if a book tells me that the people of Mexico speak Mexicoan (I’m watching the Conversations with Dead People episode of Buffy as I type, hence that gem), I’m going to question what else I’m missing in the book. Wouldn’t you?

Some of the books we’ve read have had errors. Some have had questionable facts from questionable sources. Some show bias where they perhaps shouldn’t. And some have been clearly written for a younger group (it’s possible the publishers aren’t clear about our age grouping).

Luckily, those are in the minority. Overall, however, the books have been good. We’ve been nominating a number of them (there’ll be an annotated list of all the nominations available for use as a collection development tool – here are previous year’s lists [note: you’ll need to log in]). We’ve even had a field nomination. What’s that?

Field suggestions are encouraged. To be eligible, they must be submitted on the official suggestion form. The form will allow for both a rationale and summary of nominated titles. Committee members will be notified of all field suggestions, which are eligible to be considered for nomination by members. Nominated titles must also have a second from a committee member. Only those titles that have been nominated will be discussed at Midwinter and Annual Conference meetings, as well as phone meetings, though a committee member may request that a suggested title be moved to the discussion list and thus treated as a nominated title. Furthermore, all nominated titles must be discussed. To prevent a conflict of interest, publishers, authors, or editors may not nominate titles in which they have a vested interest.

If you’ve read a YA non-fiction book that you think deserves our attention, here’s the form. Don’t forget, however, that we – the Committee – need to second your nomination. Don’t let that deter you, though, because there may be a book (or two) that we haven’t really thought about, or one that we’re on the fence about and your nomination may be the nudge the book needs.

Stay tuned for more from Behind the Locked Door.

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