As you all know, the Sibert is given for the best ALSC-age “Informational” book, such as the new CC standards deal with “information” literacy. So why that choice of term? In one way we might grant the ALSC committee that created the Sibert with an astute awareness of the problem with the world “nonfiction” — that singular example of defining a genre by what it is not. But why “information,” and what does that imply? I ask because I was in a wodnerful public school the other day browsing through its clean, well-stocked NF shelves, and feeling increasingly depressed. The sinking feeling came because I realized the shelves were packed with information, and thus not, as I see it, nonfiction. In a sense that section of the library was a print version of a database designed to answer “identify and define” questions.
What is addiction? Name five famous Hispanic Americans. Why are there hurricanes in August? Answers to questions like these were easily at hand in the hundreds of books on these shelves — all short, llustrated, and designed for wasy access to the answers you wanted. In a sense they were a report-help-machine, all lined up like soldiers ready to march into battle to help the student do the minimum of work to get a good grade. That is fine, we need resources like that — I rushed to use their equivalents when I was in middle school. But that is a very small subset of nonfiction. It would be as if equated the shop where you buy worms and select flies with fishing — and skipped the whole part of being in the water, matching wits with the fish, using skill, strength, patience to — as an author whom I no longer recall once said — “catch a surprise.”
To me nonfiction (whatever we call it) is about the hunt, it is about thinking, using your mind, your knowledge, your intuition, your skill to learn — you the author, you the reader. It is a detective story, it is therapy, it is forensics, it is science, it is, as Myra says, “inquiry.” Information may be your goal, just as you set out at 4 in the morning to catch a fish. But the experience, the process, is fishing. So our books are not “informational” — as if they presented settled knowledge that exists outside and we capture, dead on a plate. Rather our books are the hunt to learn, to find out, to discover.
So I suggest we call them Discovery books, and the CC should test Investigational Literacy — getting the tools, skills, patience, and hardihood to be a good scout. What do you think?