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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Teachers, Textbooks, Secondary Lit

Where In the World Do Trade Books Fit?

I was speaking to teachers in Glendale, CA the other day when one of them asked if I had ever written secondary materials for textbooks. I haven’t, indeed I have only the most shadowy sense of what such materials are. And yet it seems that they are precisely what trade books should be. It is just a fact, a reality, of K-12 public school education that the extremely large textbook publishers dominate instruction. They have such good contacts with the school systems, on both the approval-administrative level and the meeting-the-needs-of-teachers ground level, that they cannot be moved. They may gain or lose market share to each other, but no outsider will dent their hold. But if their dominance is a given, then they are also a distribution channel. The question then is how to develop materials that are author-driven, that have voice and individuality, but which fit well with textbooks. 

I mention this because we in trade books work in an industry that is aimed at the library and the store. Our forays into the classroom are tentative at best, and rely on the kindness of strangers. We have no direct means of entry. And yet so many of the books we write link to curricular topics (in fact editors always ask precisely that), and often we as authors, editors, designers think our books combine passing on information with engaging writing — which, it would seem, is precisely what a teacher would want in a classroom. Sure there are tools like SLJ’s own Curriculum Connections, and Booklist’s Booklinks that aim to bring the two world together. But I have to think the textbook houses have a more direct feed.

Back in the whole language days, publishers bundled up paperback picturebooks to support reading instruction. Shouldn’t there be a way to bundle up trade nonfiction for upper elementary, middle grade, even YA so that students have a chance to read something that engages them — while they march through the swamps, forests, and deserts of the textbook? To put it a different way — why are we laboring in the fields to create engaging nonfiction, while they are filling up schools with educational materials, and there is not the slightest communication between us?


  1. Linda Zajac says:

    Since you brought up this question it got me thinking. With very little effort I came up with this. Wouldn’t it be nice if schools could contract with local libraries to deliver engaging educational nonfiction books to the schools on a regular basis (weekly/monthly…) to supplement the curriculum? This would divert some educational funding to libraries. I know our town library relies heavily on an endowment and grants. The big question is do the teachers have the extra time to stuff these exciting books into their curriculum? I am a firm believer that standards are great guidelines of what should be covered, but many many kids are capable of learning ideas and concepts before they are presented in school. My kids were doing addition, multiplication…before it was taught in schools. Is this a feasible idea. Got me?

  2. Linda Zajac says:

    I was at my library this AM to pick up an ILL book and found out they “sometimes” bring books to schools if the school library requests them. There is a system in place, but it doesn’t sound like teachers or school libraries request books that often. But to me, this seems like a very important method of keeping students current on the latest discoveries, especially in the field of science.