I’ve been writing about my YA lit class at Rutgers here, but I also teach a Materials for Children class there. This week they are reading Kakapo Rescue; Marching for Freedom, and Almost Astronauts. One student commented, to her surprise, on how each of the books immersed her in the experience the author took on. Why should this have been a surprise? The sad truth is that for her — as for many people who go on to become teachers, librarians, indeed the huge category of parents-who-pick-books-for-their-children — nonfiction = textbook. She really had no recollection of exploring within a nonfiction book, as the class required her to do. In a way I think our mission needs to be to keep reminding people that a textbook is not a book, it is a classroom tool. It may be a more or less efficient tool, but that is all it is. The problem is that they have become such a defining part of the NF experience that many adults who select books for young people simply have no other image of what NF can be, could be, should be.
Can I ask you readers to do this: select one NF books writtend and published for our readers (0-18) and post here telling why you think it is an exemplar of excellence in NF — NF as pleasure reading; NF as immersive experience; NF as stimulating critical thinking; NF that opens minds and expands worlds? I ask because I would like to arm all of us for when we go to school, when we speak at conferences to say “Look, see, see this is what NF can do; we are not textbooks — those are our steroidal, genetically altered, cousins — from the branch of the family that lost its humanity when it merged with the machinery of educational sales. No, remember us? We are real living, breathing, books, by actual human beings with point of view, affect, beauty, care in language, intelligence in design, grace in use of art. Our books speak in a human voice.”
I’d like to create a small list, along with your book talk case for each book — and I hope this will touch on the full range of ages and grades — so that it will be very each to show the counterexample to someone who thinks of NF books as ancillary materials to surround the textbook. I feel a particular passion about this because YALSA’s terrible decision to exile NF from BBYA — worked as badly as I and others expected. Have anyone of you seen the annotated list of nominees for the YA NF award that was supposed to be circulated? I suppose it was, but has it gained any traction as a selection tool? Perhaps we can forgive those who seldom reading NF for considering it marginal. But that leaves it to those of us who know differently to speak up ourselves — to show my student how many immersive experiences NF can offer.