I Have Not Heard From You Much Recently
and I wonder why. Are topics not catching your interest? The press of holidays? I notice that the area in which, outside of Monica and I sparing, you tend to fall silent is about teaching — how trade nonfiction is, or can be, or should be, used in the classroom. And yet I am certain that is crucially important for all of us: for authors, designers, illustrators, editors, and publishers — we must figure out how to reach schools. For librarians — if you are in a school library you certainly already work with teachers, and in public libraries you still have waves of kids coming in looking for books for their reports, and their nonfiction interests. For parents — knowing which books your kids might actually like reading could, or should, or do match classroom needs clearly matters. And finally, as I keep hearing directly from teachers — especially those in upper elementary and middle school — when you find a trade book that you can use in conjunction with the content you teach, you are thrilled.
And yet there is some way in which bringing the school, the classroom, the teacher directly into the discussion of what makes for excellence in trade nonfiction silences all of you. Can you tell me why? We are in a period where budgets are crunched, yet education is all important; where the old print model of book publishing — which first relied on reviews and hand selling in stores, then on placement in chains, and now on — well, who knows? is at best unreliable; but when we don’t yet have a good model for how to use email, blogs, downloads, to promote books. Everything is up in the air. As I’ve written here — and you doubtless have seen in the media — the Google settlement may, or may not, redefine out of print.
I mention these winds, these crosscurrents, because change often comes this way — everything hits at once, everything seems out of joint, until some fundamental shift takes place, and we arrive at a new equilibrium. And to me, the new path for nonfiction must be coordinating with the schools — figuring out how to reach, work with, understand the needs of, and educate (in how to use trade books) teachers.