Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Posted by Rosalyn Schanzer
Happy New Year, everybody—2010 is kaput! Adios to pictures of pelicans drowning in oil. Outta my way to massive layoffs, home foreclosures and cranky voters. Goodbye to the multisyllabic Icelandic volcano that grounded so many airplanes and to the Somali pirates who hijacked so many ships. And for Pete’s sake, no more vuvuzelas! 2011 is ready to roll, and maybe we can get a few things right this time around.
In that spirit, I’d love to rev up some excitement about nonfiction this year and help to put it on the map at a time when it’s needed most. Nonfiction books for kids may not explode pieces of the planet like last year’s BP oil spill or the war in Afghanistan, but they can certainly give the next generation a leg up on preventing such disasters. Why? The big surprise is that we’re currently in the midst of a Golden Age of nonfiction writing for kids. The quality of work that’s being done is simply astounding. Just look at all the things that first-rate nonfiction books can do:
Despite our best efforts, our children are falling behind the rest of the world in education. The U.S. ranks 17th in the 2009 OECD tests comparing student performance in reading, math, and science.
The best nonfiction books are written with such care and are so thoroughly vetted that they get the facts straight, unlike many of today’s error-prone textbooks.
Better yet, these books are anything but boring. Their pages overflow with magical ways to get kids excited about the very subjects they need to learn in school; math, science, history, social studies, reading, writing, economics and the arts. The best nonfiction can do something else too; it encourages readers to think outside the box of tests and test scores. We need all the creativity we can get. It’s one of the main traits that made us successful in the first place.
Not only that, but nonfiction books are fun to read in their own right. They are not textbooks, after all. So nonfiction gets to be hilarious. Or insightful. Or creative to the nth degree. The books can often shock and surprise their readers, and their fabulous artwork adds luster to the tales and enhances the information. Their pages can examine any subject in great depth. They can relate the best stories of all time, and like their fictional counterparts, they can present their true tales as mysteries or as adventures or even as romance. Readers are introduced to the most interesting people of all time too, each one up close and personal with all their flaws and imperfections as well as the deeds that made them famous. What's more, they don't even have to be famous.
I often wonder who’s reading this blog. Other INK bloggers? Writers? Nonfiction fans or artists or teachers or editors or parents or kids or lurkers and surfers? I imagine that I’m usually preaching to the choir , and if that’s the case, maybe we can give nonfiction a shot in the arm this year. But if you’re simply curious or were just passing through, try taking a look at these books. I think you’ll be in for a treat.