What Is the Definition of a Non-Fiction book for Younger Readers?
It has pictures. If that is not totally true (or if you want to quibble over what "younger readers" means and argue over YA) it is close enough. And yet so often when here, or in reviews, we talk about a book we speak as if it were text — and oh yes, there are some nice pictures. At the preconference at TLA there was a thread about illustrations, and it got me thinking. Viki Ash
www.alsc.ala.org/blog/ spoke about evaluating the art in non-fiction book along a continuum, a spectrum — and she gave some good examples of books that took, or squandered, opportunities art gave them to enhance or even go beyond what the words were saying. Then Matt Tavares www.matttavares.com/ took us inside the process of doing non-fiction art. On the one hand, he made clear the amount of research needed to get the details of a scene right. But then, with perfect examples from both Lady Liberty and Henry Aaron’s Dream, he showed how merely drawing what exists in a photo is not correct. The artist has to make an image that has drama, emotion — and which serves the ongoing arc of the story. The artist faces two ways — towards his research sources and towards the goal of engaging the reader.
Of course that Janus-faced position is exactly the task of the author as well. Indeed it is also the task of the designer — who, in the most obvious example, needs to place art so it fits with the appropriate text, but also has to keep track of the overall flow of the book, the amount of text on a the page, page breaks, gutters, etc.
The session made me realize that when we describe non-fiction for younger readers we really should be speaking about it as an interweave of art and text, and train ourselves to be as alert to how that has been carried out — at all age levels — as we are in picture books. We need to redefine our medium — it is not text with images, it is a fully illustrated book in which all the inter-related moving parts have been selected, created, and placed to bring our readers closer to the insights and stories we have to offer. Once again, if any of you know artists, designers, art directors who work on non-fiction and would like to speak about their craft here, I’d love to feature their work.