I hope I’m not being too repetitive, but I’m nothing if not consistent. Since books keep appearing that blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction, and people keep asking whether or not that’s acceptable; I keep feeling compelled to pipe up with an answer.
If pushed to choose Yes or No, my answer is No. But a Yes or No answer simply won’t suffice in this ever-stretching conversation. So I continue to redefine what is acceptable to me as I think about it. I wrote about this issue for the Horn Book in an article called A Fine, Fine Line (a reference to Avenue Q, which I admit, probably means I need to find a 12-step program for Musical Theatre Lovers Anonymous), and in a New York Times review of a biography that muddied the waters to the extent of inventing a narrator who engaged in fictional dialogue with the real-life subject.
Here is my consistent line in the sand (not that anyone should care what I think!). If an author and/or publisher fictionalize parts of a book, but take the time and care to ensure that readers are made aware of which bits are fiction and which bits are true, I don’t worry as much for the reader. But if the team does not do this, I find it misleading and unfair in terms of our responsibility to our young readers. I have no beef with engaging books, dynamic packaging, and trying to keep things interesting for kids, especially while so much of their non-book media world is so dazzling and shiny and potentially distracting. But when the entertainment factor starts to get in the way of their knowledge base being filled with half-truths, I believe the line has been crossed.
Now, you may have noticed that I am not citing any specific books to scrutinize even though I referenced ongoing conversations about new titles in my second sentence. That is intentional, as I’m starting to think this is less about particular books and more about a growing lack of attention to what, in my humble opinion, has the potential to create a problem for young readers. It’s not a new problem; it is more of a revisited phenomenon that had fallen out of favor and is being embraced once again, as evidenced by a recently published book that has the words “fact and fiction” in the subtitle. So clearly, this blending is being done with some planning and thought. These decisions are intentional, and being made by plenty of smart people in our field, so I welcome any and all opinions—especially those that might shed some light on an aspect I perhaps have not yet considered.