Subscribe to SLJ
Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Play’s the Thing

This is a blog about our books and performance:

First off, Paul Fleischman wrote to let me know about the new play that has been made out of a manuscript of his — here is information in case you can make it. Having read the manuscript I can tell you it is like a cross between Penn and Teller and the Dictionary:

Paul Fleischman has a wild nonfiction play about word nuts coming to the area.  It’s called Logomaniacs and displays in freak-show style 26 real-life experimental writers, puzzle-makers, spelling reformers, language inventors, etc, one surname per alphabet letter.  Georges Perec’s novel without the letter e, Ernst Toch’s Geographical Fugue, extreme wordplay from the pages of Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics…People only care about money?  Here’s a raucous defense of the arts and hymn to our instincts for play and creativity.  Paul will be there for an onstage interview after the December 12 show, along with a few of the play’s subjects.

When: December 9-19  /  Th-Fr at 7:30, Sa-Su at 3
Where: West Side Theater, New Jersey City University, Jersey City
Who: Actors Shakespeare Company
More info:  /
Second: at NCSS tomorrow, my co-presenter, Dr. Jascon O’Brian, will show how he turned several aspects of Sugar Changed the World into a classroom role play game in which students are given enough information to make a decision in a historical context, which they then need to explain or defend in a paper. This is a familiar tool for teachers, but it was a thrill to have him offer to do this for me — and to read the result.
Third: Which leads me to this thought — companies all over the country have cottoned on to the idea of turning books written for younger readers into plays — from Clack, Clack, Moo on up, lively books turn into fun plays. But not nonfiction. Why couldn’t someone do little mini documentaries, little mini stagings of dramatic trials, or big discoveries, or intense debates, as we describe them in our books? Why should fiction have all of the fun? I would live to see our books take life not just in classroom exercises but in shows — Susan’s trip to the Klan, Betsy’s visit to Selma, the Congressional hearing about women who wanted to become astronauts in Almost Astronauts, the courtroom clash taken directly from the Salem transcripts which I use to begin Witch-Hunt — how cool would it be to have an evening of staged nonfiction — not ficitonalized, just using our books and contacts with us to bring to life what we labor to describe on the page. Know any theater people? Pass it on.


  1. Brilliant idea! And a terrific way to make nonfiction come alive. Wasn’t the Newbery Winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick), considered nonfiction? And yet it was a series of plays that had to have been fictionalized…Still, you’re so right that nonfiction is an untapped resource here.

  2. I love this idea, too.

  3. Many years ago, as a Brownie Girl Scout Leader, I created a play to teach the kids about government. I followed up with a tour of the State Capitol and the Old State House. Our tour guide was very impressed with how much the girls knew given their size. They answered all but 2 questions. There is a lot of power in plays. They make learning fun and memorable too. I still remember that day and half the time I can’t find my keys.

  4. Yes, yes, yes! GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! works wonderfully as a play — our 7th and 8th graders performed it a couple of years ago. They did all of it — monologues and the expository bits as well.