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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

In The Trenches

Here I Am in Bloomington, Illinois

About to go meet the hundred or so 9th graders I have been working with all week. It is a very interesting experience to see kids day after day, not just once for an assembly. They come into focus — not as a generalized "teenager" but younger, older, more alert, more defiant, more focused, more fuzzy — and I see the challenge of making contact, real contact, not just the buzz of a talk for an hour. I realize that even this is far different from spending a whole year with kids, day after day, with the rise and fall of their personal lives intersecting with the schedule of the school year. Still, this is fascinating.

The plan here is for the 9th graders to divide up into topic groups, then, based on their prior study of the Greeks, Romans, and Medieval periods to each write a 4-5 page essay. I help them shape their essay topics, and their research.

Some early observations — there are not enough non-fiction books for this age. Most of the books are aimed younger, or for adults. There is a real gap in high quality non-fiction for high school. I have heard that before, but now I really see it. For example, the boys here studying weapons and military strategy are bright, well-read, eager to engage with material at their level, but not really ready for long, adult, books on one war or another. No one is writing or publishing for them. Same with the really fun, bright, group of kids here who are concentrating on philosophy — from the anarcho-communist who believes we need a new form of government to the critic of Plato who sees the flaws in his vision of utopia. Then there is the girl in the Art topic group who wants to assert that graffiti is not the destruction of property, it is a political act. I have selected some of the best of the best here, many of the kids are more lost, or have more conventional subjects. But kids like this need books to engage their ability to think.

That’s my first conclusion from my week working with 9th graders.


  1. says:

    I want to suggest SEVERAL books — but will try to be brief and fun, the way a 9th grader would like me to be. BOOKS about cars and war machines are out and available…and I believe there is a bias AGAINST putting material at this level into the high school…for graffiti girl, YOU GO GIRL and please find this book and author at your local library…and failing that, your bookstore.


  2. Marc Aronson says:

    part of this post seems to be missing, what comes after Banksy: Wall and Piece?

    the problem was not a lack of car and war books, but a lack of such books aimed at high school readers — more complex than middle school books, less dense than adult.