Reality à la Mode: Why Do We Never Discuss Nonfiction Writing Styles?

While at a conference at Princeton a week or two ago (and yes, as you suspect, I am going to attempt to work in the word “Princeton” into pretty much everything I write, think, or say for the next two years or so, so gird thy loins) I was in conversation with author Marc Aronson […]

While at a conference at Princeton a week or two ago (and yes, as you suspect, I am going to attempt to work in the word “Princeton” into pretty much everything I write, think, or say for the next two years or so, so gird thy loins) I was in conversation with author Marc Aronson when he brought up a rather interesting question. Why is it that when discussing Fiction, people fall over themselves to talk about different writing styles, and yet so little acknowledgement is given to authors of Nonfiction and their individual techniques? It gets a person to thinking.

Make no bones about it, Nonfiction in the realm of children’s books has increased not only its presence but also its respect in the last few years. You might credit or blame the Common Core State Standards if you like, but there’s no denying that compared to even ten years ago we’re seeing a surfeit of superior informational text offerings, many of them sublime.

Now just this last weekend I attended the Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet and it was there that I noticed, once more, that none of the major award winners featured there this year were Nonfiction titles. This was particularly noticeable on the Newbery side of the equation. Last year was a magnificent Nonfiction year (as seen here and here) but nothing moved beyond the usual Sibert Award area.

RhythmRideThis year, I’ve already seen some stellar Nonfiction, and no two authors sound quite alike. Read the John Hendrix book The Faithful Spy and in a blind audiobook test you’d never confuse his written technique with that of Rachel Poliquin’s Beavers or even a picture book like, say, Nothing Stopped Sophie. Think of your favorite authors as well. There’s Tonya Bolden, Steve Sheinkin, Deborah Heiligman, and more. Did you ever stop and read the Andrea Davis Pinkney book Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound? I mean, talk about voice. That book just explodes with character and soul and grace.

These books have respect but there’s still a kind of reluctance to discuss them on their own terms. Let’s remember that in the midst of our Newbery and other award discussions, it shouldn’t be “discuss Fiction first, Nonfiction second” but rather “Discuss the best writing for children, regardless of whether or not you’re talking about Fiction or Nonfiction works”. The cream almost always rises to the top.

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