Did you see this article in the Times this morning? http://tinyurl.com/3n55h5g 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.