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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Common Core — And Where We All Fit In

Did you see this article in the Times this morning? It is about one high school in Queens that is experimenting with the Common Core standards approach to teaching — as opposed to the NCLB standards that states manipulated in order to arrive at the results that would release federal money. The new standards aim for depth, not coverage,: ” Book reports will ask students to analyze, not summarize. Presentations will be graded partly on how persuasively students express their ideas. History papers will require reading from multiple sources; the goal is to get students to see how beliefs and biases can influence the way different people describe the same events.” Notice — those who objected to my articles on speculation, passion, and point of view — that this focus on historical approach is precisely what I have claimed we are doing in our NF, and reviewers need to learn how to judge. If schools are asking for books that make belief and approach evident — those of use writing NF have all the more reason to tip our hands, to show why what we are writing about matters to us.

The CC standards have particular relevence for NF authors, since the assume that students will be reading more NF: “While English classes will still include healthy amounts of fiction, the standards say that students should be reading more nonfiction texts as they get older, to prepare them for the kinds of material they will read in college and careers. In the fourth grade, students should be reading about the same amount from “literary” and “informational” texts, according to the standards; in the eighth grade, 45 percent should be literary and 55 percent informational, and by 12th grade, the split should be 30/70.” So all of you reviewers and librarians who have questioned why we need YA NF, or who have eliminated YA NF and merged those shelves with adult, or turned to databases — you are going directly against what your schools will be asking of you.

My tone here may be off — I sound a bit hectoring, or crowing, to myself. But there is an urgency here — as we have discussed here often, the slant of the children’s book reviewing and library world is towards fiction, and yet now the schools are shifting away from textbooks and towards NF that young people actually read. We together, as a community, really need to talk about what kinds of NF young people need, how to create those books, review them, and share them. It would be a tragedy if, just as the shools moves towards NF reading, we closed up our YA NF shelves — marginalizing the library just when it should be the place for finding engaging, stimulating, challenging, NF pleasure reading. And just when teachers will need to lean, ever more, on librarians to find out which NF books their students should read.


  1. When I spoke about the Common Core Standards on panel recently, I made a specific point to identify one of the holes in the Standards with regard to young adult nonfiction. There are still many that think that high school students must be reading works for adults (whether fiction or nonfiction) exclusively. In the Standards for ELA on p.32, there is a list of “Texts Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, and Range of Student Reading K-5.” Within the nonfiction column, there are many wonderfully appropriate elementary level nonfiction picture books and chapter books. But that very same chart for middle and high school students on p. 58, “Texts, Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, and Range of Student Reading 6-12″ has no young adult nonfiction; all of the examples were written for adults. Moreover, most of them are historic, with little representation of science or technology.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    fascinating and depressing — so glad you are in there advocating — but this fight over YA fiction has been so won in the classroom, now we need to start all over with YA NF. How? Whom do we need to address?

  3. Myra Zarnowski says:

    I read the NYT article you mentioned with great interest and growing enthusiasm. It seems that the CC standards are calling for what many of us have known (and practiced) for many years: In depth learning with authentic materials promotes learning and develops interest in further learning. This is the kind of teaching I did when I taught seventh grade at the Little Red School House in NYC, but it is also the kind of teaching I did before that in the Newton Public Schools in Massachusetts. And I was not alone in doing so. These are excellent schools because they enable teachers to teach for depth. All children deserve this type of teaching.

    It is also important to stress to parents and other educators that children and YAs should be able to read F and NF literature written for them. At the junior high/high school level, there is a push to rush students into adult books. As a junior high school teacher, a parent boldly questioned me in front of other parents about why I allowed my students to read young adult literature. The implication was that my standards needed to be higher. My answer? Because they are young adults and this literature addresses their concerns.

    I also think that authors need to be aware of what the school curriculum is. I often read wonderful NF books, but these books are not on the topics I am looking for. They are great for independent or even group reading, but they are not helping me teach the social studies/science topics I am required to teach. So, it would be nice if some NF authors would sometimes (not all the time) think with us educators about the topics we are teaching and how these topics might best be approached.

  4. Marc Aronson says:

    sigh — i know we should think more about school needs, hard to juggle with freedom for author interests. The more CC standards leave room for depth, the easier for us to write within their framework.

  5. It was nice to see this article featuring Hillcrest High school and I want to point out that this is a high school with an active, well-staffed library. It is sad to see many schools cutting back on library staffing or even eliminating their school libraries completely even as the Common Core standards will be demanding more information literacy skills. To say nothing of the constantly increasing need for students and teachers to make sense of the information flood!

    In response to Mary Ann –
    I found that the text lists for the common core standards are disappointing even at the elementary level. The lists are heavily mixed with out dated and out of print texts. I suspect that the requirement that the texts be copied in whole or part on the website made it difficult to get permissions for some more current books.

  6. Marc Aronson says:


    Thanks for you comments — and that bit about needing to be available on the website is an interesting twist.

  7. Debbie Remington says:

    As a Media Specialist at a K-8 school, I try to promote Nonfiction literature whenever possible. We even have NF Week when students MUST check out at least one NF book along with any additional books. I am responsible for creating the required summer reading lists for grades 5-8. I always include a couple NF books and my students are (to their surprise)grateful at the end of the summer!

  8. Marc Aronson says:


    Please let us know which books you include on your summer reading lists — this is an issue I often discuss with my library students: the need for NF on those summer lists. Perhaps we can create a master list here with suggestions for various age and reading levels.