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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

To Make This Simple

I am not saying NF authors who write for young readers need to speculate to be “in,” “new”, “better.” Rather, I am sayng that authors who speculate may indeed be writing excellent NF for young readers — and I am certain that the children’s book community is not entirely comfortable with that. I am making the case for speculation so that those who disagree can air their concerns, and those who are thinking of taking the plunge have a sense of how to do it well. So, if you have concerns, what are they?


  1. Hi Marc,

    As I said in a comment to your previous post, changing the label from “new” to “speculative” addresses most of my concerns, and I do now see it as a useful distinction. My only other concern would be that the author make clear what is known and what is speculative, as I’m sure any responsible author would do, so that readers can tell the difference. That being the case–go spec nonfic! :)

    Thanks for engaging the nonfiction for kids community on this discussion!

  2. This debate is fascinating because it gets to the heart of what nonfiction is all about – the research process, the decisions that researchers make in their quest for knowledge and the role that they decide they should play. Do I create new knowledge or is it more important, or more fitting, whether for my audience or my purpose, to articulate current knowledge in a new format? Will it become problematic or feel less authentic if authors are not creating new knowledge with their books? What are the choices available to the researcher/nonfiction writer and how does s/he go about making those decisions?
    This is what we’ve talked about much of the week on this blog….how can nonfiction trade book authors model this process and how can teachers teach this process authentically? How can we create an environment for children in which they are deciding whether to create original research or rely on a combination of pre-existing primary and secondary sources? How can teachers become the editors of their classroom, and advocate for research for all sorts of purposes, so that one student can do research and show what he knows through a survey nonfiction book while another shows what she knows through historical fiction? How can one student create an experiment and keep track of the results while another is researching the experiments of others? They are neither good or bad, just different, just as I believe nonfiction authors have the choice based on their background and expertise (like Nic Bishop’s or Nicola Davies in the life sciences) or their passions (the books you mentioned in your article, the ones Jim referenced in his). The limitations seem only to be the ability of the nonfiction author to “enter” a field perhaps not his/her own and orient him/herself deeply enough to dig in and research authentically and have the research vetted responsibly.
    We all see things from our own place in the world. So out of this conversation, I ask, “How do we reframe this online conversation so that it goes beyond those of you writing, editing or reviewing nonfiction?” How do we reposition the conversation to transform classrooms and the roles your books play in them? The discussion about what Marc has named speculative nonfiction is essential and valuable to all of us – those who write, review, purchase, and teach using nonfiction, whether we see these books as relatively new, or an evolution of modern nonfiction for young people as the genre has “come of age” from its embryonic mid to late-20th century origins, as a new, optional category of nonfiction or the dominant discourse in future works.

  3. Marc Aronson says:

    We absoutely do need to make clear what is known with some greater degree of certainty and what is more speculative.

  4. Marc Aronson says:

    Mary Ann — yes bring it all out into the classroom — all of these forms and formats, let the thousand blossoms bloom. My concern is to make space for Inquiry, not to overshadow or remove anything else.

  5. I’m definitely with you both on the “make space for Inquiry,” and I love the “let the thousand blossoms bloom!” :)

  6. Marc Aronson says:

    great — of course Mao then crushed the blossoms, but that is another story