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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


Building Bridges to the Past
Yesterday SLJ put out an article on the BBYA story — with some of my comments, 
YALSA Axes Venerable BBYA List — if you have not seen it. This same week, Apple revealed its Tablet — one more step towards a day when we will be creating books illustrated with video, sound, and other multimedia extensions. And, as mentioned, I’ve been teaching online, working with young people all over the country. Everything is swirling about, changing. And yet I also spent part of the day yesterday meeting editors, agents, and publishers — and find regular old books are being written, edited, and published. I began looking at Jim Murphy’s fine new book The Truce with my 9-year-old last night — which meant having to explain to him what World War I, and how it was different from World War II. When I visited his 4th grade class earlier in the week, only one student knew what 2010 counted back to — what was year zero.
          So the present and the future insistently demand our attention — threatening to destroy things we value (BBYA for example), but offering the promise of new wonders (Tablet) and yet as that whirlwind blinds us, it takes real effort to look down at roots, at foundations, at where we came from (history). To those 4th graders, the past is as blank and mysterious as the future is to me — which also means when they can pluck something out of the past and have it seem real, it is as exciting as when I get a glimpse of new possibilities (like working with kids online). The kids are not bored with the past — they simply have no contact with it at all. 
           Maybe that is how I should define my work: Building Bridges to the Past — taking young people step by step, on that Yellow Brick Road to times and places they have never heard of, have no conception about. Maybe we have so wiped the slate clean of old views of the past (Eurocentric, American Exceptionalist) that young people have no markers at all — which means entering the past can be as much of an adventure as sailing into the future — it is all a vast unknown. What if we agreed that every 4th and 5th grader was going to study the glory days of Harun al-Rashid in the Baghdad of the 700s — unfamiliar to most adults, a time of knowledge (Harun created a House of Wisdom as a place for the world’s knowledge to be shared), linked to literature (1001 Nights) — and we all explored together — setting out as teachers, children, parents, to pluck wonders out of the past — even as the future knocks on our doors.


  1. Interesting post. Since I have been a high school teacher for 37 years, I no longer am amazed at how much our students DON’T know. I just try to explain a bit and point them in the direction where they can find out more. When I have a speaker or they research more about a time or place, they often become fascinated, wondering aloud why no one has ever told them such things existed.

  2. I also find kids open, curious, and surprised (or distressed) by a past that no one has ever shared with them. That blank slate does offer potential — if we can find the way to make it feel like the start of an adventure.