Here and There
This month feels like a cross section of where we are and are going in non-fiction for kids. This morning I begin another week teaching kids online via the Davidson Institute — I’ve posted a powerpoint that all registered kids can use — so essentially this is a national slide show that we will discuss via email. The classroom is wherever a student has a screen. So that is the digital classroom. But then Wednesday I take my boys (who are on Spring Break) to Washington — because place, physical reality, matters too. The’ve been there before, but Night in the Museum 2 has them eager to see the Smithsonian again. And since they have been to Valley Forge, Mt. Vernon seems the logical next place to go. So as against the digital everywhere, there is the importance of the specific, the actual, the material.
Next week Betty Carter and I lead that preconference on non-fiction at TLA. It has been fascinating to see what a large cross-section of publishers are creating in new non-fiction. Each house has to find that balance point between pure interest and pure instruction — and you really get a sense of that spectrum when you get books from so many places. I’ll be talking more about that here this week — how in the classroom setting which is the home for much, if not all, non-fiction, you find that sweet spot where the reader is eager to get to the book and the teacher knows exactly how she plans to use it.
Then in the last week of the month I am again the guest of the book people at U High in Bloomington, Il. The students and I have been in touch via Shelfari for some time, and now we’ll meet in person while they work on their own first research papers. In some ways I find this ideal, a real model for other schools — we have worked together very closely at a distance, but as preparation for being in a room together. I’d like to see a lot more of that — what if kids did online projects about historical sites, were in email contact with, say, the National Parks Service people in an important spot, then when they arrived came feeling more engaged, more relaxed, more ready to ask questions, more confident of what they were looking for?
The marriage of digital connection with historical place could, in a way, replace the textbook. Instead of a sidebar on Mt. Vernson, a class that is planning to go there could research it, be in touch with the folks there, then create a digital slide show about their visit — which the next class uses to begin its study.