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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

California

I am writing this from Glendale, outside of LA — my last trip for a good while. I’m here to speak to teachers, elementary through high school, through a Teaching American History grant. These are federal funds that brings experts — academics but also authors and, as I’ll explain in a moment, public figures, to meet teachers and give them new insights on American History. I was here last year and was pleased to be invited back. On our drive to the hotel my host eagerly reported that Myrlie Evers (widow of Medgar, and first female head of the NAACP) will be coming — and her personal stories of the Civil Rights movement were riveting to hear, even second hand.

So being here I can’t help reflecting on last weekend in San Diego — ALA. It was a tough weekend — just back from India and wondering what if any news would come from the committees. It is a tough thing — because you know calls go out, and so a silent phone means you didn’t win anything, but you don’t know the precise cutoff moment to put away your hopes. Committees are their own special world — last year, for example, Sibert chose Tanya Stone’s Almost Astronauts, while this year the group seemed (and this is total guesswork) to lean younger — to be making a kind of statement about what it sees as ALSC nonfiction. There is really nothing an author can do but turn on your computer and get back to work.

Except perhaps this — my own trip out here a week after ALA underscores how nonfiction is in this weird place. In one way we await the judgement of librarians, on the other our works have a natural place in the classroom (the hardcover problem notwithstanding). My sense is that we need to keep reaching out to both: communities - reviewers, committees, collection development gurus, and to teachers, social studies educators, curriculum planners. We are in both worlds and not entirely a comfortable fit in either. Librarians have the freedom to select books read for pleasure, but also then the concern about a child’s response to the book; teachers have the opportunity to guide a child’s reading — to lead him or her into a book, but are constrained by tests and state standards. And we need to speak across and between those worlds.