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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

(Self) Publishing NF By Young People

The New York Times tells us that more and more young people are self-publishing their fiction and sharing it with the world:, and the online magazine Publishing Perspectives has taken this up as a cause: I see nothing wrong for the child in playing at being an author — just as kids play dressup with adult clothes, or play NBA superstar when they shoot baskets in the driveway. All are fun, all build skills (writing, storytelling, dribbling and shooting) all let young people try out who they might be, or make fun of what they see in adults. I see two problems, though, in the (very) young writer self-publishing fad. First, it can (or an eager parent can) put pressure on a library. I have already heard from librarians who are pressed to acquire self-published works by local authors. What will happen when a PTA mom or pushy Dad insist limited funds and shelf-space be devoted to their child’s work?

To put it a different way — there is one value for the child is the discipline, effort, and pride involved in creating a book — similar perhaps to what it requires to put on a class play. But it is another to treat the result of that work as enduring art. The school may charge for the class play, but it does not expect the library to house the DVD. The second question — which is not a criticism but an opportunity — is why the examples cited are always fiction? The book of facts — the Weird But True — compilations of images and neat oddball details of speeds, age, size, diet of various animals are very popular. Why not turn kids in the library loose and challenge them to create their own local Weird But True info about where they live — illustrated with photos or drawings or maps. Storytelling is a skill, and one you learn by being derivative — you copy in order to master. Doubtless most children’s self-published fiction is that kind of necessarily imitative skill-building. But creating something like a book of facts is a research, editing, and publishing project that a bright, motivated team of middle schoolers could do — and the library could have fun with. Create a contest for the best ones? Or make it an annual, the 2012 Weird and Wild Our Hometown, and display those. Let us know if you try it.


  1. Shirley Budhos says:

    What happened to writing in school? Class magazines, school newspapers, special interests which support students’ efforts in developing writing skills, discipline, organizing information, reportage, thoughts, materials, layout, production? That used to be a great way of students getting attention for fine work and working together. It seems that parents, perhaps overzealous and focusing on the empty self-esteem game, are usurping teachers’ roles.

    Teaching to the test uses up valuable time which can be better utilized in teachers leading students in writing more than answers to questions or summaries. Newspaper writing teaches students “tight” writing, composing with attention to observations, facts supported by evidence, etc.

    Vanity press is not the way to go. It’s misdirecting students’ efforts and views of themselves; there is a difference between amateurs and professionals, isn’t there?

    Before scanners and computers, my students worked on many in class projects/assignments in nonfiction and fiction, poetry, combining Social Studies and English,euphemistically now called Language Arts these days. And, how proud they were of their efforts.

    My first job after high school graduation was as a “consultant” for NYC high school newspapers because the printer of all Board of Education publications knew my work as a high school newspaper editor.And, many years later, as the faculty advisor of the high school newspaper, I found summer jobs for the writers, proofreaders, layout artists, now using computers, and they entered the professional world, without the dilettantes’ self-congratulatory perspective.

    I do hope that we still encourage competence instead of applause.

  2. More and more adults and kids are self-publishing and they (or their parents, even of the adults) want the books to be taken seriously, which means having them available in schools and libraries and bookstores. I think it’s all part of a bigger social problem/dilemma/phenomenon. Getting published in the past meant having an agent or editor or publisher think the project merited publication and the investment of time and money and the skills of various professionals. Today, people think it happens because, well, they want it to and can afford to assemble what appears to be a substantial book. I’m thinking libraries and schools need to push back a little to insist that every book (in whatever format) meet a certain level of quality (and, yes, those professionals can be the judges of that).

  3. Marc Aronson says:

    I agree that librarians — reviewers — adults who know books — new to draw a line between the pat on the head for effort and true publication; just as we scream and yell for kids hitting a last second shot in a game, but do not expect an NBA contract to follow. The parent who wants to spend money in the hopes others will buy the book can do what they want, but book professionals need to stick by their own sense of standards.

  4. Myra Zarnowski says:

    Anyone who has the money to pay for it can get “published.” However, in addition to having that beautiful artifact, we might also introduce our young writers to the roles of editor and critic. I trust that schools and public libraries will not stuff their shelves with mediocre self-published work–even if it’s donated, if for no other reason than it will not raise test scores.

    I think children need to learn how quality is assessed. They need practice answering the question, What makes a good book good? Serving on several award committees and applying their criteria has helped me become a better reader.

  5. In my hometown, lo these many years ago, the local newspaper sponsored a Young Writer’s project every year. The children (grades 3-8) learned how to write, illustrate, and bind their own books. Awards were given out every year, and the SCHOOL libraries had one shelf devoted to each year’s winners, who donated their one copy. The books could be read in the library, and were given back to the students at the end of the school year.

    Some schools also required all students to write a two-sentence plot summary of their book, which they complied in a folder. If a student read something that looked interesting, they could contact that student on their own and ask to borrow their book from their own home.

  6. Marc Aronson says:

    now those are some really smart ways to make use of childrens’ desire to write and to be known.

  7. While indeed the ease of self-publishing today is no doubt one reason for this another is, sadly, the focus in schools on testing making it far more difficult for teachers to have the time and freedom to do the sort of classroom publishing projects that were far more the norm at one time (and which I am lucky to still be able to do).

    As for the emphasis on fiction, in my experience, the kids who yearn to write and get publish tend to want to write novels. Many of them are already writing and writing and writing fiction at home. Whereas the nonfiction lovers are more likely to set up blogs with stats or facts or create a newspaper full of them that they distribute to their classmates. They are not as focused on the idea of being PUBLISHED out in the world as are the fiction readers and writers.

  8. Marc Aronson says:

    intresting, I was aware of kids wanting to write and publish fiction, I have never seen the NF blogs or kids (as opposed to school) created newspapers. If this is true across the board it is interesting — though I wonder if given the chance to create these factoid-color-photo books which are similar to magazines the kids would see that as something they’d enjoy.

  9. Here in the 4th grade at Dalton I’ve seen a number of kid-started-newspapers for fun and these often are very sports-stat -heavy. They will do polls about favorite movies, sometimes fashion stuff, whatever they want to do. And kids do start their own blogs from home— a couple of years ago some kids started one about candy.

  10. The writing curriculum used in my school is called Being a Writer, and requires each student to ‘publish’ one book per unit for the classroom library. It’s a great motivating tool for the students and they often write reviews of each other’s work on the back of each book! My students also write a set of ‘Talking Points’ (can you tell I live in DC?) about the work they did in class each that gets published on our class blog.

  11. Marc Aronson says:

    what grade is that? sounds like a smart use of the students’ desire to be visible and to comment.

  12. 3rd grade, but the curriculum is for grades 2-5 (I believe our K-1 classes use Lucy Calkins). I think it’s a California company, there’s a companion reading series called Making Meaning that we don’t use. We’ve had it for about 5 years now and it’s produced some pretty great results with the students.