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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Great Idea from a School Librarian

I Mentioned My Trip to Stonehenge a Few Blogs Ago and

invited you all to tell your schools and the teachers you work with. Anita Beamon at University High School in Normal, IL took me up on that. We began talking about how I could get questions from students to bring with me to the site, and how I could communicate back with them. Anita’s bright idea was that I should take a digital camera with me. Now I can be the roving reporter on the site, I can film the actual dig in progress, I can ask the questions posed by the students directly to the archaeologists, and then, when I get back, simply send the files to the school. 

In a way this is like Vicki’s idea of having kids film experiments from her book. But, instead, I am filming the research that will go into making the book. I love this idea. I think one of the great frustrations those of us who write NF feel is that we really craft 2 or 3 books, which the world greets in a very narrow way. That is, first, we have the research journey — how we ferret out the information that goes into our books. Then we have the aesthetic challenge — how to shape what we have learned into a form that suits our readers. Finally there is the matter of art and design – finding the right archival art and working with design to use it in the best ways. After all of that, so often, our books are judged as "useful" if they allow a student to do a better report. Anita’s suggestion allows me to bring students in to the first part of creating a book — so that the research itself, just that process of learning, stands on its own.

I think one reason we in NF often feel snubbed by the fiction folks is that people are always evaluating us as less appealing, less interesting, less engaging than an imagined story. We want to say — wait a second — what we have given you was itself the result of an adventure story — our search for answers. I love having the chance now to include young people in on that first adventure, long before the actual book reaches the world. I think we should all do that — make the story of how we came to know what we know an indendent narrative that we give to the world. We can then use thse films, or taped interviews, or slides, as part of our presentations. The book is the package, and it contains many stories.


  1. Loree Griffin Burns says:

    I agree, Marc … recording field research visually is a great idea. I keep a “Research Trips” page on my website; its filled with images and descriptions of my field research. Teachers and students tell me these images/anecdotes provide a concrete way to envision the process of creating a non-fiction book, and in my presentations of this material I am quick to point out that the research trip informs the entire process, to use your terms, it informs the creation of all three books within the nonfiction book (research journey, aesthetic challenge, art & design).

    Loree Burns

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    I am very glad to hear about your site, Loree, and will direct others there. The research journey is a part of our work that teachers need to know.