From Baltimore to Staten Island
I am on the road today, going to a booksellers’s convention Baltimore, then a Teachers’ Night in Staten Island. This seems like a perfect chance to visit the debate going on in PW about nonfiction. After all, Shelftalker is a children’s bookselling blog, and the whole discussion over there began with a report from one store that NF sold well, and from another that it was dead. So it will be interesting to take the temperature of the booksellers, then shift directly over to the classroom. I know in advance that many of the teachers actually have a different concern, but one which relates directly to the NF discussion: they worry about getting kids (boys) interested in reading at all.
I don’t want to cover everything Jon Sciezca says in the current Horn Book, and I agree with the poster over at PW that neither all boys nor all girls fits the slots he describes. But it is true that facts, pure, straightforward, unnarrative, unreflective, hard, cold, facts make great reading. And so long as adults resist that, so long as they treat baseball cards, and lists of fastest cars and deadliest snakes and power ratings on Magic cards as nonreading, they are going to convince large numbers of avid readers that they are nonreaders. Think of the current election campaign, how much weight is there in a poll number, in the amount of money one candidate has raised as opposed to another, to the date of one primary as against another. Soon enough we will be tracking delegate counts, and then projected electoral votes. In every one of those cases a number will carry with it the hopes and fears of millions, as well as a broad range of policy choices. Why shouldn’t we treat the numbers that weigh heavily in our kids’ lives as equally important?
There is another twist in this NF, children, and popularity issue that I noticed with my about to be 3 year old son last night. I was reading him one of our many Fire Truck books. I wondered, why is it that inpicture books NF is so evidently popular where it is, well, factual — this is a hook and ladder truck, this is a hose truck, this is the pole the fireman slide down – but once we move to chapter books and beyond, the fact book becomes the "informational," the reference, a lesser species than a novel? I know, novels offer interiority, depth of character. What is the equivalent for NF? Clearly, it is thinking — pondering, wondering, comparing, learning to engage with and master the world. But I think many adults want the next step in NF to be the same as that in fiction — story, character — rather than thought. Am I right?