I was fortunate enough to be part of the Orbis Pictus honorees panel, as If Stones Could Speak was one of winners. There were various slip ups — the room had changed and no one told me, time management was a challenge with one winner, Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring
by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan illustrated by Brian Floca (Roaring Brook Press) and five honorees, but there was something special in that room, which matched what I began to see on the floor. Every one of the authors spoke with the same passion and excitement:
•Birmingham Sunday by Larry Dane Brimner (Calkins Creek); Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” by Michael O. Tunnell
(Charlesbridge); If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge by Marc Aronson(National Geographic); Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures by Rebecca L. Johnson (Millbrook Press); Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age by Cheryl Bardoe
(Abrams Books for Young Readers).
The authors spoke about their original research and the strange and interesting things they discovered, the steps they took working with experts, from going down thousands of feet under water to watching the Graham company rehearse. What you could say about one book you could say about all of the others — an author who was thrilled to create, a fascinating subject, a writing process that kept readers in mind, an alert eye for moments when young people themselves had changed history or made discoveries, an clear faith that young people can and will be explorers, dancers, civil rights advocates, scientists, archaeologists, heroic pilots, if we only show them how much fun is to be had — and that the doors are wide open to them.
Now surely every year the Orbis Pictus winners are inspiring, but out on exhibit floor I began to see a sprinkling of NF from publishers who had ignored it completely; often enough it was a sports book, a multiculti hero, an explorer — middle grade boy book. Hardly new territory, but nicely done, and you could see the toe stuck in the water. Surely being at NCTE with the new CC strand must have encouraged publishers to show whatever NF they had. But even that is interesting. To be at a Language Arts conference and see trade houses realize they need to have some nonfiction was encouraging. And the books looked contemporary and appealing. What publishers have learned with novels they are applying to NF.
Between the panel and floor I feel the ice breaking, NF beginning to come back — and in a more lively, child-appealing, fresh form.