Subscribe to SLJ
Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

"Hunger for Opposing Points of View"

If You Did Not Catch Dennis Overbye’s Essay, "Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy"

here it is, This was in the Science Times yesterday and perhaps your attention was distracted by the awards (I don’t know the Sibert honor books, anyone want to tell us about them, we had discussed We Are the Ship here). I found the essay brilliant, and directly relevant to us, because it captures the glory of the kind of thinking all non fiction writers must do — which is, thus, the gift we offer to non fiction readers. Overbye says "science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look  for truth." And since science is a process, not any given result, it also requires — and thus can be used to inculcate — values such as "honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, opennes, accountability and tolerance and indeed hunger for opposing points of view."


That is what I’ve — and so many of you in your comment posts — have been preaching here. Nonfiction is not about having the final right answer, it is about searching for the best answer you can find, while inviting, courting, seeking out, challenges to your views. It is the assertion of your best effort in the secure knowledge that all of your research, intuition, luck, and narrative skill has produced a fraction of truth that is sure to be re-viewed by the next seeker. And thus the great pleasure in nonfiction is not so much storytelling as it is thinking, sharpening wits — engaging kids in that endless process of building knowledge. Storytelling is fine, but it is a means to the end of getting kids into the game, it is not the game itself. If one of the greatest pleasures of fiction is identification, one of the greatest pleasures of nonfiction is discovery.

What is something you recall discovering when reading nonfiction — now, as a student, as a child?


  1. On the Sibert honors–What to Do About Alice? is a great book that I had hoped would win the Caldecott (though I do like what they chose). When I first read it, I commented that the author was able to keep her momentum going even after Alice (Roosevelt) grew up. Too many biographies I’ve read that are written for children sort of peter out after the subjects get older and start acting like grownups.

    As to your question–I remember vividly how much I enjoyed reading (and rereading several times) Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember, about the sinking of the Titanic. I was mostly drawn in by the human stories, but I found myself equally fascinated by the way the ship was built, the way radio transmission was used at the time, and why it took particular ships a particular length of time to reach the wreckage. This was my introduction to footnotes and endnotes, and I was delighted by what seemed like “secret” information outside the main text. It was also the first time I found that two people experiencing the same event can report the facts quite differently. I think I would have been in third grade the first time I read it.