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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

You and What Army?

Is the Problem Reading, Books, or…

The other day I mentioned the Horn Book special issue on boy and girl reading. Well I got around to reading Roger Sutton’s long interview with Jon Scieszca, and Jon said many things that I agree with, in fact have said in other times and places myself. One thread is about how for some boys reading is about facts, mastery of the world, not personal identification and the ability to go inside of a character. That reminded me of something my 7 year old son keeps bringing up to me — and which fits this blog perfectly. Whenever I tell him that I am working on a book, he suggests that there be some aspect of the book that readers can do. He wants the book to include places for readers to come up with their own ideas, suggest their own theories, email the author, post to a blog, make discoveries. He wants reading to be active and participatory, like the video games he so enjoys.

In one way he is asking for a book to be a book plus a parent, a teacher, a librarian. He is asking the book to make the space for everything surrounding a book that an adult can bring. In fact few if any trade books will have questions directed to the reader, or space for reader responses. And textbooks that have those embedded questions and games are not narratives. But I wonder if he may not be pointing to where we all should be going. Maybe every book needs an a shadow site. The book is the book, but then there is a play space, a discovery space, where the reader can move a step beyond what s/he has read. Who would create this — publishers are not going to provide that for every book, and while authors do have sites, they have neither the skill, time, nor knowledge to create, monitor, update echoes for everything they write.

So I am not sure who should provide this service, nor even if every K-12 nonfiction book needs it. But something about this idea of book and shadow book feels right to me. We need to tell stories, piece together evidence, as well as we can. But then we ought to recognize that some, many, most of our readers will also want to be active, to do something with the material we are giving them. If we can figure out how to give them that chance, I think we will have the nonfiction for the next generation. (and Monica’s suggestion of the Chicago Museum site points to one place that is moving in just that direction.)


  1. Marc Aronson says:

    I just learned about this film that teenagers made in Second Life — worth all of your interest both for the subject and that teenagers created it:

  2. “…he is asking for a book to be a book plus a parent, a teacher, a librarian.” What bothers me about this is that he’s asking to be removed from the social aspects of acquiring this information from a variety of sources. The parent, the teacher and the librarian all have different missions and perspectives and in a lot of ways this is the downside of technology; pulling people away from real communities in favor of virtual ones.

    And that Second Life video is further proof. That isn’t much different than the kind of re-enacted news that my friends and I did with bulky video cameras and awkward special effects 30 years ago (about global warming, I might add). Instead of real people that we can see and relate to we’re getting virtual people and situations which are as easy to gloss over and ignore as the violence in a video game.

    I hate that I sound like a technophobe because I’m not, but I’m not sure a book needs anything more than the book. I see these non-fiction titles that have “Internet-linked” content but how many kids are really following-through? Wouldn’t we rather have eBooks that included hotlinks in the text so readers could follow the info trail as their interest explainded, with interactive portals along the way for further study, experimentation and activites?