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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Of the Literal Minded and the Defenseless

When Adult Authors Show Their Passions, Are They Overwhelming Readers or Freeing Them?

Over at CCBC, the listserv run by the Cooperative Center for Books for Children in Wisconsin, the focus has been on a new book by Perry Nodelman — the highly respected expert on books for young readers. They have been examing ways we as adults try to shape the experience of kids reading books (picture books and fiction). the key term that caused waves was "manipulation" towards our ends, values, beliefs. The key term that caused controversy was "manipulation" — while some would like to see our effort to instill values, paint role models, send messages as a good thing, Perry was arguing that it is a form of imposition, not leaving the reader to find his or her own meanings. So I asked him about nonfiction.

Earlier this week when I was in Michigan, one student asked me — since we know younger kids are literal minded, at what age should we as adults begin to describe our own biases and emotions in nonfiction? In other words, if kids are too young and an author states a passion or point of view as his or her emotion, won’t the child instead take it as a directive. When do kids just need to be caught up in stories, information, gathering knowledge, and when can we begin to show ambiguity, and personal stake, and emotion?

I don’t have a pat answer. Perry writing back to me said that all knowledge has some angle of vision, so the more we show that the better, the more room that leaves for the reader to question us and take a different path. I strongly agree. But I also do know that it is possible to confuse, overwhelm, silence a child by saying too much. I suspect that rather than drawing a firm line of ages and grades — X approach until Y age — it is a matter of tone and approach. So long as our intent as authors is to connect with readers, be fair to our subjects, and honest about our biases and points of view then in each book, each project we will have to feel for the bottom — search for the right mix and mode of expression. What do you think?