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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

On the Road to Somewhere

I’ve Been Lucky So Far — Left Ahead of the Snow, Returning After the Cleanup

Or so I hope — the plane flight home looms ahead. I have been lucky in another way, too — I spent Wednesday in two schools, giving five presentations to classes ranging from 20 9th graders to a 60 or so high school kids whose teachers wanted them to come (in other words defined by the subject they were studying, not the grade level). I was speaking about Race — stirring up the pot of racial categories and identification. It is usually pretty easy to kids to join in, to talk , to express opinions, to agree and disagree with me and each other. But yesterday I had the great fortune that each time, after the talk, one kid, or a couple, would come up to me and ask for mere — indicate that he or she was really interested, and wanted to read, wanted to learn, wanted to think about this question — what is Race, where do those definitions come from, how can they change over time — where do our self-identifications come from? Those moments are so gratifying.
         Maybe it is different for those of you who work with kids in classrooms or libraries — you have these experiences all of the time. But we who write are at a distance from our reades — their response is filtered through, well, you — the reviewers, teachers, librarians, parents, who see them. You can tell us if our books are likely to reach kids or not. But it is only rarely that we have that direct contact, and can begin to see what in our writing, our thinking, our approach really connections — what catches a kid so s/he really wants more? I was emailing with another 9th Grade class that is also reading my book on Race. One student happened to be reading Hitler Youth — she was very taken with the book, and so could use the knowledge she had gained there to join in speaking about Race. That is perfection — the way NF for young people can help them build a mental library, build up bodies of knowledge that they can compare, contrast, interweave in their minds.
         You know — that might be an interesting assignment for one of you — recently some of the YA has clustered in themes — The Civil Rights movement; Hitler and Hitler Youth; Lincoln — how about gathering those recent books into clusters, and suggesting ways they inter-relate — how they could be read together? how they contradict each other? how they build on each other? While we each write alone, we seem to write in similar areas — what do those clusters of books look like as minilibraries — in what ways is the whole greater than the sum of the parts. If any of you wants to try such an annotated list, I’d be happy to post it here.