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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

NCSS Was Great

NCSS was everything I hoped it would be and more. The teachers were very receptive to trade books and excited to meet trade authors. In addition to Ann Bausum and Betsy Partridge, who I knew would be there, Jim Murphy and Deborah Hopkinson were there, and it went extremely well. I was most fortunate in that I was presenting — in one session aimed at elementary ages, and another at high school — along with educators — Dr. Myra Zarnowski, and Dr. Jim O’Brien. That was perfect because it meant I could wax rhapsodic about ideas, images, thinking, writing, and then my co-presenter could present class-room tested strategies for using those same books with kids. The teachers were the most engaged, enthusiastic audience. For their part, they were getting two for one: we authors tend to be more lively speakers than their usual fare, but then the educators were giving the teachers very concrete advice on how to take beautiful books by empassioned authors and use them in real schools with real kids.

Looking ahead to the next NCSS in DC in December (I believe, check their website) that we should try to make a coordinated presence for trade authors. Right now, the process for getting a session accepted is quite formal and daunting. And even if you are accepted, badges are very costly. A publisher gets a few free badges if it exhibits there, but almost none of the kids book houses do. So there are hurdles. But I am thinking of proposing to NCSS that it have something like the ALAN workshop at NCTE — a long program dedicated entirely to trade authors. An august panel — Monica, are you listening? Myra? Betty Carter? — could select the candidates, then, with the help of NCSS,  pair author with educator — and then offer teachers the full length and breadth of trade NF authors — pre-k to IB-AP. We’d all have to be good citizens and stay within our time slots. But a day like that could be a real attraction for teachers (boosting attendance, always important to an organization) and making a convention that is becoming lively into a real circus tent of excitement and fresh ideas.

The one note of caution is that teachers face daunting challenges — time, budget, state tests. We all need to be realistic that inspiring teachers is not the same thing as suddenly selling more books. Indeed, on the other side of the equation, trade publishers are wedded to hardcover, and so essentially shutting out classroom teachers. So we authors need to be advocates on both sides, to the teachers and to the publishers. Still, this convention was an eye-opener and I was so glad I got to be part of it.


  1. Wow — do you all think there is enough interest for such a workshop? Do enough teachers who use trade books attend NCSS? As I wrote before that was not my impression the one time I went in 2000. But maybe Myra and others who are still involved with the organization (I dropped out some years ago as it seemed so not what I was about) know better. Since it is in DC in Dec 2011 I would definitely be game to working on something like this. But someone else who is still involved with the organization needs to take the lead.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    I’ve sent off an email with the same idea to a professor I know who has good contacts in NCSS, we’ll see what they say. I certainly did see enough teachers who are interested, but of course it is one thing to be excited at a conference and it is another to actually change what you do in class. Still all of us noticed that there were many more trade books in evidence — in the NCSS store, on the exhibit floor, and in the presence of trade book authors. I do think the key is marrying author with educator, though, so that there is a reality check when we speak about our books, and teachers feel we are giving them both inspiration and practical tools.

  3. Marc, this is a terrific idea. I spoke on an NCSS panel several years and the session was packed. Perhaps the success of such panels indicated that either history teachers are using trade books or want to and would like to know how and/or which ones. My husband is department head for the high school where he teaches, and he is designing a semester-long course for seniors called U.S. History through Literature and Film. (The course is for 2011-12.) He is in the process of trade book selection now. If any of your blog readers want to submit titles for consideration (fiction and nonfiction), he would greatly appreciate it. –Susan