Warning: You May Perceive This Post as Special Pleading — Or You Might Just Find It Interesting
I’ve been pleased at the early reviews and reader comments on Tanya Stone’s Almost Astronauts www.tanyastone.com/index.php, a book I edited. But one comment over at Good Reads faulted the book for "editorializing" too often, especially about the contstraints women faced in the early 60s. Tanya has written about how she came to include her own beliefs, her own passions, in the book www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6632968.html And I must admit I encouraged her to show her cards, to reveal her passion — why she cared about these women and their story. But if we leave this particular book and its strengths and weaknesses out of it — lets look at that term "editorializing" — what exactly does it mean in terms of nonfiction for younger readers?
Clearly the word is meant as a criticism — the author has stopped being a researcher, a historian, and turned into an advocate, a partisan. Or, to put it in more familiar kids books terms, has made storytelling secondary to preaching — to advocating for one position. The implication is that that the author may have slanted the story, or, even if s/he has been totally fair, that the author’s judgmental presence takes away from the story s/he is telling. Right?
And yet, those of us who admired We Are the Ship did so for its clear voice, its unahamedly personal point of view and stake in the story it was telling. Debbie Taylor, who disagreed with me about CSK over at Read Roger last week, has argued that there is a didactic tradition in African-American books for young readers, an "uplift the race" strand which should not be seen as aesthetically inferior to "pure" storytelling. Well if that is so, why can’t anyone who has a strong passion, who feels there is a wrong to be righted — and who is scrupulously fair in his/her research — also incorporate that passion into his/her nonfiction? If there is a crime, discrimination, oppression, isn’t outrage a normal human response?
Just as I defended "speculation" the other day, I think that passion is, in fact, necessary to the nonfiction we write for today’s readers. There is a website already on just about any topic we want to write about — and it has color pictures, it may have sound or video clips. Who needs us? Who needs books? Kids need us if we, we as adults, we as human beings with our own voices and passions, are visible. Of course we must be fair — we must admit flaws in our arguments, and direct readers to books and sites that disagree with us. But we should not hide, we should not be bland. Bland is our enemy. And the alternative to bland is not just storytelling — as if we were writing documentaries. The alternative to bland is caring — having a dog in the fight.
What do you think?