Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stocking our Nonfiction Shelves

I read PW Daily via email each morning and one bright spot amidst grim industry news is Shelftalker, bookseller Alison Morris’s blog about children’s books. Last week starting on December 1, Alison had a running feature in which she asked, “What books should no self-respecting bookstore be without?” Each day she’d mention a different age group and ask her readers to suggest five books that they think a bookstore should carry within that category. The original four groups were YA fiction and nonfiction, middle grade fiction and nonfiction, picture book fiction and nonfiction, and books for babies and toddlers. Then she added adult books so people could weigh in on that as well.

It was generally fun to read the ideas of the 100+ people who responded over the week. Being a nonfiction author, I had a bit of an agenda: I wanted to see how much nonfiction would be mentioned in the mix. Of course, the proportion wasn’t close to I would have liked it to be. In fact if our own Anna Lewis hadn’t contributed her nonfiction ideas, we’d be in real trouble. (As an aside, not too many people wrote in for the adult day. But 6 out of the 7 who suggested adult books had at least one nonfiction book in their list—very different than for the younger age categories.)

I’m not really whining here. I’m just interested in this idea. Some of the children’s nonfiction considered a “must have” for any bookstore included: We are the Ship, Becoming Billie Holiday, Our Eleanor, Hole in my Life, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Way Things Work, The Cartoon History of the Universe, Frozen Man, What It Feels like to be a Building, work by Tana Hoban, Frida, books by Denise Fleming, How Bright is Your Brain?, Kid Chat Gone Wild, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women who Changed America, Global Babies, and Baby Talk.

I happened to be talking to Terri Schmitz, the owner of Children’s Bookshop in Brookline MA, the other day. Although I didn’t ask her the “must have” question, I know she loves Oh Rats! The Story of Rats and People and Phineas Gage: A Gruesome by True Story About Brain Science among so many others.

What about all of you? How do you think we should fill the kids nonfiction shelves of our imaginary book store?


BookChook said...

From what I've seen here, every single INK writer very much deserves a place on that list. But I would also add an Australian writer whose non-fiction books I LOVE: Narelle Oliver. The illustrations in Sand Swimmers are fantastic and her depth of research is obvious.

Susan E. Goodman said...

That's a great suggestion, Book Chook. And you also brought up a good point. The INK writers ARE worthy, but if it makes people more comfortable to comment, perhaps we can just assume that all of us are already included!

Anonymous said...

Two series came to mind immediately: the Magic School Bus series and Houghton Mifflin's Scientists in the Field books. Also, I wish someone would re-issue Bianca Lavies's books, which are terrific.

I am so frustrated with the local B&N bookstore, which carries very little quality nonfiction for children. It did not even carry Nic Bishops FROGS, which I needed for a holiday gift.

Anonymous said...

The owner of my local indie bookstore has been very frustrated in her efforts to sell children's nonfiction. She said most customers who come in are women buying for their children or for their children's friends, and the women invariably want fiction because that's what THEY like to read. It's an uphill battle, but I try to help by offering suggestions of good books along with some handselling tips.
My personal list of must-have books for the nonfiction shelf would include The Race to Save the Lord-God Bird, by Philip Hoose, and The Great Fire, by Jim Murphy.

Anonymous said...

A subject kids in the midwest are interested in is the so-called "children's blizzard" of 1888. There are a couple of good titles for 2-4 grade readers: "The School Children's Blizzard" by Marty rhodes Figley & Shelly O. Haas, and "Blizzard: the 1888 Whiteout" by Jacquelnie Ball.

Marcia Calhoun Forecki
Better Than Magic

Susan E. Goodman said...

Hey Marcia--if you're interested in books about that storm, another great one for slightly older kids is Blizzard: The Storm that Changed America by Jim Murphy. Another that I truly love that is a fun picture book is Terrible Storm by Carol Otis Hurst.

Anna M. Lewis said...

I just read this after seeing the mention on ShelfTalker today.
Of course, I had to chime in with my NF favorites... and I had to add a few arty ones, too!

FYI, in my post at the end of this month, I have some great NF YA "arty" books to rave about!

Great post!