Let’s Face It
We all have a list of reasons for why NF books for younger readers are not greeted with the same love and passion as either picture books (I know, there are NF picture books, but you know what I mean) or novels. But at ALA, a friend put his finger on one that we don’t always discuss. As we walked through the show and looked at one too many display of color-photo-illustrated simple NF titles, he said to me. "These books are cynical." He was exactly right. Row after row of full color images of Truck, Plane, Frog, Shark, Wolf, T-Rex, Volcano with very simple text, all said the same thing: these kids don’t need much — give them a large image, lively if you can, certainly as inexpensive as possible, don’t waste too much time on thinking about what to say, run the books through a simple design program with a couple of sidebars, and print. The books are cynical because they assume you can get away with it. Your readers won’t know the difference, neither they nor their parents, teachers, or librarians will know the difference.
The more cynical NF there is, the easier for people to get a general impression of NF as stamped out, industrial, somehow less individual, less crafted, less personal, then a novel or, say a picture book by Chris Raschka or David Weisner.
Do I mean series? Yes and no. A series does not have to be cynical, I know that for a fact. But it is true that some are. So in saying "cynical" I am not being euphemistic. There are cynical poems and novels and picture books and biographies. There are highly personal series. Still, there is a warning for all of us in my friend’s impression. The more books we produce that lack individuality, the easier it is for others to see all NF for kids as having that characteristic — the easier it is for them to see our work as, well, less crafted, less personal, than other genres. And that is bad for all of us. We cannot afford to be cynical.