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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


We Are All Astrologers 

That is, those of us who write and edit nonfiction for young readers live by the stars. Not only do we yearn to get those glittering nods of approval but we interpret them — if a book is racking up the stars, we hope it means award committees will take notice. So a star is both a specific pat on the back and a sign, a cabalistic omen of the future. But, as you all know, there are just a very few publications that regularly review our books and hand out stars. And while we all gaze expectantly at SLJ and Booklist, and Kirkus, and the Horn Book, and BCCB, and VOYA, (PW has essentially stopped reviewing nonfiction for kids) the overwhelming majority of potential book buyers — whether parents, or teachers, or certainly kids — have never even heard of these magazines. I wonder then how they learn about our books?

The adult book world has been taking it on the chin, in part because newspapers are shutting down their stand-alone book review sections. Washington Post’s Book World was the most recent loss, after the L.A. Times. Outside of the New York Times, how many newspapers still have a distinct book review section? More than a decade ago I suggested to the then editor of the Times Book Review that he expand his coverage of YA books by running online reviews. He didn’t think that was a good idea, as it suggested a two-tier system, with some books/reviews "deserving" to be in print, and some online. But today some of those papers that have dropped their stand alone sections promise more coverage online. That could be great — if it happens. Nonfiction, it seems to me, would be an ideal candidate for online reviewing, especially since teachers and parents could then add comments on how they have used books with kids.

The blogsphere, whether in aggregators like Good Reads, or the many individual blogs devoted to books, kids books, nonfiction, adds another layer, another means of getting the word out. But, at least to me, it seems diffuse — there are so many separate voices and none have distinct authority. There are many flickering comets, but no stars.

So friends, how do you, how does the vast American public, learn about new nonfiction? Any ideas?


  1. Tricia (Miss Rumphius) says:

    I’m a bit of an oddball in that I regularly check Books in Print to see what is coming out, and since I’m a nonfiction lover, that’s what I look for.

    My son and I go to the library every Friday when he gets off the bus. Our first stop is the NEW shelf in the kids section. The librarians set off a special area for nonfiction, so all the new titles are highlighted.

    Finally, I participate in Nonfiction Monday, where bloggers review nonfiction for kids. I learn about new titles here, though the number of participants is relatively small.

  2. I agree–it’s about what’s highlighted at the library, either on a “new” shelf, or picked for display by librarians. Presumably the same thing is at work in bookstores, but it’s in libraries that you really see kids seizing nonfiction that looks interesting.

  3. Marc Aronson says:

    You are both on to something — I did that as a kid, rushed to see what was on the New shelves, nonfiction, or some novelist whose last book I loved. But look at the steps that requires — library has to learn of the book, have the budget to buy it, and get it out to be read. At a minimum I’d say that is a six month delay after pub, probably more like a year as a national average. Chain bookstores do nothing like this, and there are so few indies that they almost don’t count. Still, wonder if publishers could do something like YA Galley with NF ARCs — so that libraries could start sharing them pre-pub, using the New Shelf as a form of publicity.

  4. Anna M Lewis says:

    I have to hop in and mention I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids –

    A year old, we have already gathered quite a following. Let us know what you think.

    I was very disappointed when The Tribune stopped their individual book section. So glad there’s still the NYT!

  5. Marc Aronson says:

    Thanks for mentioning INK, and people who read this blog should certainly know about it.

  6. I’ve been beaten to the punch, but I would agree–libraries! I always hit the “New books” sections, whether they be fiction or nonfiction. Libraries, I assume, are reading those journals, so they are still highly influential. IF they are indeed still reading them, that is!