think younger

hugo-logo*climbs onto soapbox* *teeters*

I don’t usually get on soapboxes. I have poor balance and I don’t like it when everyone looks at me like that… Yeah, like that. But I just noticed that the deadline for voting for the Hugo Awards is approaching–March 10th!

If you attended Worldcon last year or have a membership for this or next year’s Worldcon, you are eligible to vote for the Hugo Awards. Please do! The good news is that even if you can’t make it to the convention, anyone can buy a non-attending membership for $60 which will let them vote for the awards, but I don’t actually know who does that.

Anyway, I love books for children. Probably 90% of my leisure reading consists of middle grade and young adult books. I write young adult books. So I was very pleased when I heard last year that there was a proposal to add a new award category for Best Children’s/Young Adult Book.

And I was shocked when it was voted down.

Apparently it lost by a narrow margin, but I just couldn’t see why anyone would be opposed to it, except for a lack of interest in YA and/or a lack of respect for it, or simply resistance to change. The issue goes much deeper than that though, and some of the major concerns are quite reasonable. There are questions about how to define the eligibility requirements for “children’s book” and whether there’s even a need for the category to be split.

But I think there are just as many good reasons to have a separate, prominent category: From what I hear, MG and YA books are selling more than adult books, certainly more than science fiction and fantasy are. By like, a lot. MG and YA books absolutely can be “as good as adult books” and often are. (Many are much better! Yup, I went there.) Obviously more adults are reading young adult fiction than ever before, or at least freely admitting to it. More young adults are growing into adults who still read young adult fiction, which I’m sure they just think of as “fiction.” Hollywood is mining children’s fiction for blockbuster films and new TV shows on the CW. The fact is, children’s books are becoming more and more significant to publishing.

Hugo

Illustrating this trend, in the last eleven years, two children’s books have won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, which is actually pretty good considering they were competing against adult books: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2001) and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2009). (Gaiman’s Coraline won as Best Novella in 2003.) Interestingly, neither of these books is actually YA. Middle grade FTW!

The first children’s book to appear on the ballot was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the year before, which makes sense because Rowling is pretty much responsible for putting children’s fiction on the map, or at least encouraged more adults to start taking it seriously. (Sure, books like Ender’s Game appeared on the ballot before that, but that was only recently marketed to younger readers.) Even though Azkaban is my favorite of the Harry Potter series, I can’t be too disappointed; the winner in 2000, A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge, is an incredible novel.

In the last twelve years, there have only been six children’s books on the ballot out of 68 nominations.  That’s not so good. I know that some amazing children’s books were published in this time frame, but they were all either ignored or missed by the voting membership. Now, it’s worth noting that in 2009, children’s fiction actually dominated the Hugo ballot, with The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (winner); Little Brother, Cory Doctorow; Saturn’s Children, Charles Stross; and Zoe’s Tale, John Scalzi. The odd one out was Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.

What can account for this brief burst of love for YA by the voting membership? Is it because the convention was held in Quebec that year? Were there fewer adult SFF books published? I have no idea, but my cynical side suggests that adult readers might have taken note of those titles because they were written by authors who were already known for their adult SFF. Of course those books were more than worthy of being contenders for the award, but it certainly does seem like an anomaly in the Award’s 60-year history.

My point is, I and many others think there should be a permanent Hugo Award for Best Children’s Novel of the Year. I understand it may not be proposed again this year, but whether or not it is, I’d like it if more people were thinking about the situation and recognizing the importance of children’s fiction, particularly to the science fiction field.

I became a lifelong SF reader (and eventually a writer) because I found William Sleator’s Interstellar Pig at a young age. Publishing quality, thought-provoking, entertaining SF for younger readers is the best way to help them discover the genre — not so that they will one day “graduate” to more mature books, but so that they will love speculative fiction in all its forms. A Hugo Award will help librarians and teachers find the best books the genre has to offer and get them into the hands of their young readers, and it would likely influence book sales, which probably helps everyone trying to make a living in publishing.

It’s also possible that the recognition will work in the other direction too: Those who pay attention to children’s fiction may become more aware of the Hugo Award and the larger SFF community. How excellent would it be for a kid to read and love a book with a Hugo Award sticker on it and find out that there’s a whole other science fiction section in her library, and conventions like Worldcon where she can gather with other fans and readers?

So my humble suggestion is this: When you fill out your ballot (before Sunday, March 10 at 11:59 p.m.), try to use at least one of your five slots for a middle grade or young adult science fiction book that you read in the last year (published in 2012) that you would want other people, kids or adults, to read. And if a children’s book ends up being on the shortlist, give it a chance. Read it and try to weigh it fairly against the other books on the ballot.

Sure, getting more children’s books on the ballot or giving the award to one could be a convincing argument that there really is no need for a separate award. But it would just as well demonstrate that children’s fiction is thriving, that there are more than enough contenders each year to make an award feasible, that the fans are paying attention, and that maybe we should keep the categories distinct after all, if only to give adult novels a fair shake every year. :P

So what do you think? Hugo Award for Best MG or YA: Good idea?/Bad idea? What children’s books would you vote for this year? Share in the comments below!

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Would you like to know more? Some further reading on this topic:

Facebook discussion page about the Hugo Award Proposal for Children’s Young Adult Books

Cheryl Morgan’s post about the proposal (2010), and a follow-up (2012)

Good advice from Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Making Light

Jane Yolen’s endorsement for the award

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Disclaimer: Admittedly, I have a bit of a bias with a couple of YA books of my own published last year. But my stronger prejudice is that I really want to see more children’s books on the ballot. I would have trouble narrowing my nominations down to just five.

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6 Responses to “think younger”


  • I think it’s a great idea!

  • I think YA ought to be a Hugo category. After all, that’s what the Norton Award which is given out along with the Nebulas is. Unfortunately, the people who make the decisions on categories tend to be rather conservative (in the original sense). Look at how long it took to add a category for graphic stories (AKA the Girl Genius Award). I think in the early days the host committee could create a category, kind of like demonstration sports at the Olympics. I think that may have changed some time ago. But if enough people lobby for it, the category could still come along eventually.

    It’s too late for this year, but for those who might want an extra incentive to purchase at least a non-attending membership it should be noted that an effort is made to get an electronic package out to all voters that containing as many of the print nominees as they can, a lot of the media nominees, and even some of the artwork. All told, it is certainly worth more than the cost of a non-attending membership.

    • I’d forgotten about the voting packet as an incentive for membership. I suppose because I still prefer hard copies to electronic, but it is definitely a nice feature which the Nebulas have replicated for the last two years. And I think it helps even the playing field a bit, because all voters have had the opportunity to review all the nominees and base their decision on the relative merits of the work.

      • It really is a good thing all around. I know when Jo Walton was doing her Hugo review over at Tor, almost everybody commented that they hadn’t read at least one of the novels, even in years when they were voters, and I’m sure the case is even worse for short fiction.

        And a correction to what I wrote above: it might be too late to get a non-attending membership and be able to nominate, but I don’t think it’s too late to get one to be able to vote.

  • Updated to add: I bought a supporting membership for LoneStarCon3! :)

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