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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


Reporting from the Frontlines

Tomorrow is the last day of the seminar for New York City elementary school teachers my wife, Marina Budhos, and I have been running — based on the book we are writing about the history of sugar. It has been great. We were asked to do it by Dr. Rachel Mattson and Terri Rutyer, I’m embarassed to say I don’t know the official sponsoring body, but Rachel is Historian in Residence at the school of education connected to NYU, and Terri is a master of teacher training in the New York public schools.

So here we are, two authors who generally write for upper middle grade to high YA and even adult, meeting with teachers whose classes run from K-5, talking about how sugar changed the world. The great news is how well it has worked. We’ve learned a great deal from them about what makes a big, new, subject like this work with kids. They, so I’ve heard, have learned a lot about history. This experience makes me want to meet with teachers every time I’m working on a book. I usually share manuscripts with scholars, with other writers, with young readers, with librarians. But this is the first time I’ve worked with teachers.

I feared I’d pitch everything too high, or that they would require the kind of scaffolding that just does not fit in a trade book. But I came to see that they valued enthusiam, new ideas, fresh approaches, while also responding eagerly to Terri and Rachel’s suggestions. As Terri said — new approaches often start out with a bang in a classroom, then fizzle, leaving students with random, disconnected, facts. I am learning so much about how to marry my broad interests with teachers’ needs. I feel like this is the beginning of what could be a great relationship.