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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Silence Is, Well, Silence

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.

Comments

  1. Tricia (Miss Rumphius) says:

    Still here and still reading, but swamped with work and April poetry posts!

  2. Kelly says:

    I’ve recently rediscovered your blog, and your recent posts have made me go back and review its description. The subject matter of this recent post is why I tune in…your last statement…powerful. Anyone that can answer it…write a book. Your audience anxiously waits.

  3. Marc Aronson says:

    thanks Tricia and Kelly, I’ll keep reporting on what I learn meeting teachers and in the schools — a couple more visits this month — but all and any ideas are welcome

  4. Amy says:

    Marc…I am reading, but it has been a busy spring. I work k-12 and find that those upper elementary and middle school age NF books are sometimes hard to find. I usually have to go below and above their reading levels to scaffold that “just right” book for 5-8th grade. I will be tuning in to here what you find.

  5. Marc Aronson says:

    amy:

    That is interesting, would you care to tell us what you think an upper elementary middle school NF should be? Give us a sense of what the right reading level would be, this is something we all need to know.

  6. DEBRA HANSON says:

    Hi all…I’ve been on spring break (hooray for downtime!)… Marc, this is a great question. I tend to stay silent on this topic because I don’t want to get too negative. I am finding it more and more difficult to engage teachers and administrators in discussions about using good trade books and non-fiction simply because the curriculum is becoming more restricted and dictated (using those textbooks and reading series we discussed in a previous post ) and leaving teachers with the impression (if not the reality) that there is little time or use for any other reading materials. That said, I believe trade non-fiction plays (or should play) a key role in the classroom and that getting classroom teachers involved in making purchasing decisions is essential. I have worked with teachers to try to get them to use more non-ficiton in subject-area teaching, but the fear is that they will “get behind” in their curriculum. The conversation needs to happen at higher levels – with administrators at the school and District levels – those who are mandating the curriculum.

    For boys in particular non-fiction books are the books of choice that bring them into a world of their own and give them the information they need to become an expert at something. I see 2nd through 5th grade boys, especially, devouring any non-fiction book they can get their hands on. Middle school boys become even more specialized in their choices. I think engaging kids in non-fiction in the classroom is just as important if not more so than self-selection in the library though. Good current non-fiction (well-written on the appropriate reading level, with engaging photos and color, and well-researched facts) could make social studies and science classes much more relevant for students – especially in middle school. I’ve often been disappointed in the quality of non-fiction books written for elem students (especially K-3). They are too simplistic or too difficult to read for the contnet needed. I find this mostly true with science books since that is my background. At the middle school level, I find that much non-fiction is just too boring looking (all text, not enough visual appeal for 11-13 yr olds) – even when well-written. The newer graphic novels have more appeal but something in between would be even better. That’s a start..

  7. Marc Aronson says:

    as ever, thanks. I see that Nic Bishop’s Spider book is a big hit in my hosue with a 4 year old and an 8 year old.

  8. jheitman22@hotmail.com says:

    Marc,
    I read and contemplate each of your posts. I often share them with colleagues. Comments or no, keep the posts comin’!

  9. jheitman22@hotmail.com says:

    Marc,
    I read and contemplate each of your posts. I often share them with colleagues. Comments or no, keep the posts comin’!

  10. marc says:

    I will keep the posts coming, not to worry

  11. marc says:

    I will keep the posts coming, not to worry

  12. DEBRA HANSON says:

    Hallelujah!! Something unexpected and unbelievable happened today! My principal called me into his office and said “I just heard about this new reading model where students use AR books (meaning trade books) to learn science and social studies, and I want you to start thinking about how we can get the best materials we need to put into classrooms to match the 3rd – 5th grade curriculum.” I just about jumped up and down…I’ve tried to get this message to teachers and administrators for three years, but somehow it just wouldn’t fly until it came from the “district” folks. Well, thank goodness it finally has come to life… I quickly told him that of course we need to be sure to include NON-FICTION as well as fiction and I’d be happy to work on that – enlisting teachers to assist of course. And oh, by the way, we need to do this for our middle school kids too! So, after my rant above, this is very good news…

  13. DEBRA HANSON says:

    Hallelujah!! Something unexpected and unbelievable happened today! My principal called me into his office and said “I just heard about this new reading model where students use AR books (meaning trade books) to learn science and social studies, and I want you to start thinking about how we can get the best materials we need to put into classrooms to match the 3rd – 5th grade curriculum.” I just about jumped up and down…I’ve tried to get this message to teachers and administrators for three years, but somehow it just wouldn’t fly until it came from the “district” folks. Well, thank goodness it finally has come to life… I quickly told him that of course we need to be sure to include NON-FICTION as well as fiction and I’d be happy to work on that – enlisting teachers to assist of course. And oh, by the way, we need to do this for our middle school kids too! So, after my rant above, this is very good news…

  14. DEBRA HANSON says:

    These technical issues with commenting on the bliogs is starting to get frustrating… it gives error messages when we try to comment, then the post shows up twice… Marc got anyone at SLJ that you can ask about that?

  15. Marcia says:

    I, too, read and pass along to colleagues as appropriate, but don’t always feel eloquent enough to post a comment. Need to read, though.

  16. Marcia says:

    I, too, read and pass along to colleagues as appropriate, but don’t always feel eloquent enough to post a comment. Need to read, though.

  17. marc says:

    Marcia:

    No eloquence required, just say whatever you like.

  18. Marcia says:

    Whatever I like? Thanks! I’ve been looking for a place to post what’s keeping me up at night. And after realizing that “War is…” echoes in my latest demon – I’ve come looking to your blog for reason. What’s keeping me up at night? 2 things really – but juxtaposed they equal one huge political demon! After sharing details of the upcoming Presidential address to students on Sept 8th with staff at my school, I’ve learned that our administrator has deemed the speech too politically controversial. We will not be watching the speech in our schools. The next day, I received a letter from my high school-aged children’s principal (same school district) notifying me of the military branches’ designs on their addresses and phone numbers. That is, if I do not want my 16- and 17-year olds to be contacted by military recruiters, I’ll need to put it in writing in the next few days. (Darn tootin’!) So – the way I see it, I’ve learned this week that The President cannot “indoctrinate” my children on the benefits of public education during the school day, but the school is bound to hand over their names and addresses to the military?!?!??!?!? Tell me I’m over-reacting.

  19. marc says:

    you should write an Op-Ed about that juxtaposition for your local paper

  20. Marcia says:

    I feel I should, too. But it might jeapordize my employment. Being a parent, school employee and alert citizen is a heart-breaking combination.