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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


I received an email the other day from an Israeli online magazine. J. Edgar the movie opens in Israel on the 31st, and a reporter must have found my website which mentions my forthcoming book, and he was trawling for background info for an article about the real man and the fictional depiction. It has been fun getting to share what I’ve learned, and when his piece comes out I’ll send the link to my many Israeli relatives (and use Google translate to see it myself). This experience is just one more example of what I keep expecting middle and high schools to discover — local knowledge is now international knowledge, and a marvelous resource.

Here is what I mean: when I visited Western NY I was near Niagara Falls. I assume that many schools at some point take a trip to see the falls. In turn, my 6th grade son and his class had recently toured Ellis Island — as nearly every tri-state middle school group must do. When kids far from Western NY study geography and learn about Niagara, wouldn’t it make sense for one teacher or librarian to contact another? The local kids could film the falls — do a research trip and create a small movie, a podcast, a slide show — then hold a Skype class meeting with the visiting class. In turn, or in exchange, a school group going to Ellis Island could make its own mini documentary, oral history, slide show — then share the results with their new pals from upstate.

All someone would have to do is create a national directory listing place, age of class, what is available, when. Obviously you would limit the Skype contacts so that a class in a popular place was not forever speaking to all and sundry, and the creations could be passively viewed as Youtubes. There might be an annual contest selecting the best 6th grade Ellis Island presentation, say — so a visiting teacher or librarian would know which to pick, and there would be a goal for classes — win the prize, be selected as the best. And there need not be just one “best,” one film might have an additional feature, a reenactment, an interview, that could be highlighted. Or the creations could be at different age and interest levels. Imagine all of the benefits — the creators pay more attention during the class trip, or return a second time. They learn about research, reporting, and presentation across various media. Each creation submitted might, in turn, allow you a download — and now you are getting direct, fresh, student-created insights into some other place in the US — or, indeed, throughout the world. If we offer, Our Visit to Ellis Island, why couldn’t kids in Delhi or Agra offer, Our Visit to the Taj Mahal?

If my cousins in Jerusalem can decide whether to see a movie based on my forthcoming US book publication, my sons in New Jersey should be seeing the Grand Canyon, or Mesa Verde, or the Alamo, through the eyes of their peers who live in the shadow of those site, right? Then lets make it happen. That would be a worthwhile New Years resolution.


  1. I did this over ten years ago, linking my class’s Ellis Island experience with a California’s class Angel Island one. We did a lot of great web work, but I’m not sure if most of the pages are active any more. Still, you can get at taste here:

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    see that is why we need a national directory — so that projects like this live in a central place, inspire new projects, and are used over and over again

  3. Shirley Budhos says:

    The Ellis Island experience could have been more relevant if Sasha knew that the names of his maternal grandfather and maternal greatgrandmother and greatgrandfather are etched on the memorial walls.For those of us whose families arrived at Ellis Island, a visit is emotional and educational.