Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kids Clapping for Nonfiction!

For my inaugural post, I was planning on introducing myself and talking a bit about the different approaches the trade vs. educational market nonfiction take, and what that means to writers and readers. But after what happened yesterday, I guess I’ll hold off until March for that. Although I will introduce myself, as I was always taught to do by my dear old Gram.

Briefly, I studied English at Oberlin College and received a Master in Education from Southern CT State University. I was an editor of children’s nonfiction for 13 years before moving away from New York City and starting to write full-time. I’ve been doing that for a bit more than 10 years now. Nice to meet you. So, on to what happened yesterday.

A local school put together a wonderful program called A Day of A Thousand Stars, in which people from all over the community descended upon said school for a marathon read-aloud. Every half-hour, a different visitor was escorted to one of the classrooms by a lovely 4th grade host. The joint was buzzing with visiting readers! The local celeb pediatrician, the youth soccer coach, the high school principal, the high school stars of a recent musical production, the lady with the greyhound therapy dog, and me, local author. Most readers chose from the wonderful selection of picture books in the library, or even brought their own favorites to read to their designated classroom.

I brought nonfiction.

Can you feel their hesitation? I did. But not for long.

First, I hooked them with the notion that they were getting sneak peeks. I had no selection of bound books with me. I opened my bag and took out one f&g, and one stack of color printouts. Books that were not quite books yet. Oh yeah, that got their attention.

Until one child asked, “Wait, are these true stories?” (Think Fred Savage in the Princess Bride saying, "Wait a minute. Is this a kissing book?" Same disdain.)

Yes, I nodded.

Was that disappointment I detected in their eyes? Never fear, I pushed on.

First I read from my f&g of Elizabeth Leads the Way and got them riled up about how unfair it was for women who lived in a time when they had no rights. A time when a girl named Elizabeth Cady got more and more fed up and finally did something about it. That class perked right up! They totally got it. Lots of heads nodding up and down.

Then, I read them Sandy’s Circus and saw them marvel at Boris Kulikov’s paintings. This story had them on the edge of their seats. Who was Calder? Is he still alive? How did you know about him? Where can I see his art? And on and on. It was a serious thrill for me as well, since I had never read this story aloud before. After all, it won’t be a book until September.

They asked questions, they clapped, and they asked when, oh when, would they be able to get their hands on some nonfiction! My day was made. Those are the moments when you thank goodness you had the good sense to truck on over to a local school and participate.

The only thing that came close—and this is for authors everywhere—is when one of the guest readers showed me the book he brought to read. A beloved, ragged copy of a book he has had since kindergarten—and yes, the book was nonfiction!
P.S. A note about the book title links: linking to the specific book pages on my website doesn't seem to be working and the links are defaulting to my home page. You can still get to where you want to be by clicking on Picture Books. Sorry! I'll try to find out why.


Anna M. Lewis said...

WooHoo! Fantastic inaugural post!
I just recently had the honor of sitting in on the author presentations at the St. Charles Lit Fest. I LOVE to see it when the students get it!

And, I can't wait to get my hands on Sandy's Circus!

Looking forward to your post in March.

Anonymous said...

Great story. And I think one of the problems is that so much non-fiction aimed at school is all "information". It's about finding what you need to write some dry report.

Which is why I love this blog. Who needs dry facts when great stories are out there and people like you are telling them.

Wendie O said...

Please, please turn off the snapshot pop-ups. They aren't readable. They make no sense. And they cover up the blog message that we are trying to read.
We want to read your words.
really and truely we do.

Anywho, aside from that anoying problem, this blog is such a great idea. Keep it up. Nonfiction Matters!
(to steal Marc's Blog name)


Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu said...

What a great experience! Encore! Looking forward to the books.