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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


This Year, As Annual Takes Place in Chicago, I Happen to Be Meeting with Teachers

I did not plan it that way, just happened that I had no compelling reason to go to Chicago and instead I was invited to meet with a large group of 5th grade New York City public school teachers to talk with them about some of my books. In preparation for that session today I’m heading out to Dr. Myra Zarnowski’s class at Queens College, where she trains teachers for those same New York City classrooms. I mention this only because I am finding working with teachers fascinating. 

I’ve gone to ALAs since the 80s, and I always like it. I meet with librarians who know books and are eager to see what is new, what is coming, and to learn more about books and bookmaking. It is a warm, nourishing experience. After working by yourself most of the year, ALA is a kind of weekend coming out party where you get to be with appreciative friends. Working with the teachers is different. They are pressed — by a curriculum that runs, so they say, from Plato to Nato — an impossible spread. They are pressed by testing. Pressed by the needs of a wide range of students. Pressed by administrators. They do not have time to linger on books and be appreciative. They want help, guidance, tools — road maps to how they can use a book.

Figuring out how to supply that map is an interesting challenge. I need to pause and look at anything that is implicit in a book — a moral question, a historical background, a research approach — and make it explicit. I need, in effect, to supply the thinking that surrounded a book so they have that available when they use the book with their students. Maybe that is the key word, "use." They need the book to work, to be useful. I don’t intend to change how I write books, but I am getting more and more interested in how to supply those handles so they can work hard, so they can be used in class.


  1. Elizabeth Partridge says:

    Any creative process — sculpture, writing, working out math equations — takes time and lots of mental space. We burrow deep into that creative space to write books. But making the concepts rise up out of the book and become teachable is another, second, creative process. I’m also enjoying figuring this out.
    Check out Google Lit Trips for a cool new way of looking at books. This is a site where teachers use Google Earth to map out kids’ books.

  2. thanks for the lead, I will check it out. I also just heard of voicethreads, which gives anyone neat ways to link many kinds of digital information.

  3. Dianne White says:

    As a primary grade public school teacher and a writer, it’s encouraging to me to “hear” you ponder aloud about a desire to make the connection between books, teachers, and their students. It’s true, as we all know, that teachers are pressed to address so many topics in a way that “reaches” our students, all of whom come with wide ranges of abilities and backgrounds. It’s a difficult task and there never, ever seems to be enough time. Yes, I believe most teachers try to seek out sufficient resources, try to dive into the information, try to integrate trade books into the curriculum at every step along the way. And, yes, it’s hard! The curriculum pulls us in many directions and choices have to be made. Time is an issue. And yes, though our hearts are large and wide and eager to meet the needs of all our students, we (I), also, must try to leave time for a private life outside our (my)teaching responsibilities. The fact that you take seriously the question of how an author might assist teachers by supplying that road map serves as both an encouragement and shows that you’re well aware of the realities of the classroom. Understanding the best way to accomplish that bridge is, as Elizabeth says, a different sort of creative process, but a worthwhile one. I’m sure I speak for many teachers when I say that your thoughtful consideration and efforts in that direction are much appreciated!

  4. Dianne:

    This is like one of those romantic comedies where it is clear the couple is meant for each other, but they can’t seem to get it straight. We nonfiction authors desperately need contact with kids and classrooms. You teachers need authors who can bring kids to their books and ideas: we need each other, now we just have to find the means to connect.