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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


What I Learned Buying a DVD Player

In the swirl of last second tasks before we set off on vacation, one of my chores was to buy a portable DVD player and a few disks — to keep the boys happy during some long otherwise difficult stretch. The trip to the store fit perfectly with the theme of this column. the Best Buy shop was all stimulation — sound, light, gadgets. I found a simple machine, and then went in search of a few titles to please my 7 Year old, and few for his 2 and half year old brother. Guess what I found? Almost all the titles were fiction. Not only that, but the kind of fiction — TV shows, action adventure, cartoons, animated films with animals being silly in one way or another — that relied entirely on the same constant, and easy, stimulus that comes in gaming, or, for that matter, the music filling the air.

I was in the world of the Pin Ball — everything flashing light and sound, and that is what all of the movies made available to my kids. Now I have loved some relatively recent kids films — Nemo, Toy Story, Lion King — so I both had some experience picking from similar shelves, and a sense of what folks are doing. And, to be fair, there were a very few bedraggled looking National Geographic disks there on wolves or some other endangered creature. But folks, that store is exactly what I have talking about here: no one, not the owners, not the DVD makers, believes that kids might actually enjoy learning something. We are heading off to Europe and there was not a single DVD on real knights, real castles, not to speak of real swords, peasants, cathedrals, ports…. Nothing.

We as a culture have gotten so entranced with the immediate we forget, forget, forget that you also please a child by giving him or her knowledge. Why isn’t there a whole shelf of "kids history" DVDs — not History Channel, but elementary age, showing battles, heroes, songs, food, revolutions, inventions — the great people, places, and events of world history? Now that Disney owns Baby Einstein, couldn’t they do that? Give us great history for kids?

If we want to know why it is hard to get real NF books to teenagers we can start by lookin at the DVD shelves and all of their offerings for toddlers.


  1. This is true across the board with kids. I make a concerted effort as a teacher to read nonfiction books to my class and to talk to them about a wide range of books. But, we tend to focus on fiction all the time.
    (I’m not sure we really want Disney in charge of this – remember Pocahontas?)

  2. Chris Barton says:

    In this respect, Netflix is really no better. Of the options in the “Children & Family” section —

    Ages 0-2
    Ages 2-4
    Ages 5-7
    Ages 8-10
    Ages 11-12
    Education & Guidance
    Family Adventures
    Family Animation
    Family Classics
    Family Comedies
    Family Dramas
    Family Sci-Fi & Fantasy
    Kids’ Music
    Kids’ TV
    Teen Comedies
    Teen Dramas
    Teen Romance

    Animal Tales
    Book Characters
    Coming of Age
    Must-See Family
    Rated G
    Rated PG
    Tween Faves

    — only the “Education & Guidance” (!) section obviously includes the sort of stuff folks like us have in mind. And it covers everything from “Egypt’s Golden Empire” to “Arthur’s First Sleepover,” so good luck quickly zeroing in on what your kids are passionate about.