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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Separate Worlds

Proposals to give talks at NCSS are due tomorrow and I am working with several excellent professors to get ours in. At the very same time, I’ve been having editorial meetings with a publisher about a future book. The two worlds — Social Studies teachers and trade book publishers — could not be more separate. The publishers were, most often, English majors. They cut their eye-teeth in children’s publishing working on picture books for elementary schools. In their minds, you get a book into a school if it is, well, very good — gets stars, wins awards, can be used by a home-room preschool or elementary school teacher. Even YA novels get into schools if, like The Giver, or Speak, teachers think are just so well written. Those publishers assume that high school level social studies belongs entirely to text books. And there is nothing held in greater scorn than a text book — the very opposite of an author-driven independent literary creation.

On the other hand, the Social Studies teachers are under the pressure of cutbacks and testing which have favored Language Arts, especially the limited meaning of “literacy,” and math over history. They are scrambling to save jobs, save space for any freedom in teaching. They are squeezed by state standards and judged by “evidence of yearly progress.” They are, in fact, handed textbooks by their districts and so are stuck with the monsters. And yet, when you actually meet those teachers, they hunger for books that allow them to be teacher and stimulate their students to think. They were once lovers of history — thats why many of them, the best of them, teach Social Studies. They crave books that get them to re-view the past and so open the eyes and minds of students. And all of those teachers who are in private schools — or whose schools use the IB curriculum — are out of the shadow of the textbook.

So the teachers are invisible to the publishers, and the teachers don’t know where to look to find the kinds of books that would open up their classrooms. There are two separate and mutually suffering worlds. Our challenge as librarians, as authors, as editors, as reviewers and critics, is to bridge the gap: outreach to teacher, educating publishers. How many trade publishers attend NCSS? AASL? How many have even heard of NCHE? Once again, friends, it is up to be pioneers — to blaze the trail from one isolation to another.