On Wednesday, I wrote a post about the pros and (oh, yes!) cons of narrative nonfiction on my personal blog, Celebrate Science. It led to so much discussion on Twitter, that I thought I’d explore my evolving ideas a little more here.
So we all know that lately narrative nonfiction is getting a lot of buzz in the kidlit community. Editors look for it. Awards committees honor it. Teachers and librarians buy it. And yet, by and large, kids just don’t seem to be drawn to it.
Now there are lots of possible reasons for that, but today I’d like to talk about what kinds of nonfiction school librarians tell me elementary kids do love. They pick it themselves, and they read it enthusiastically.
#1 The Gunniess Book of World Records
#2 Anything like The Gunniess Book of World Records, such as the National Geographic’s Kids Everything books
#3 Any book on any topic they are interested in, whether it’s an award-winning book or not. All that matters is the topic—dirt bikes, snowboarding, spiders, dinosaurs, monsters, cars, UFOs, ghosts, swords.
These books generally don’t win awards. They aren’t the ones the adult kidlkit community gets excited about. And for the most part, they aren’t the books editors are actively seeking out. Why is that?
Frankly, I think the answer has to do with brain chemistry. Yep, I’m serious.
Think about it. Most editors and librarians and elementary teachers and kidlit advocates have brains that work in a particular way. They are naturally drawn to the arts and humanities and social sciences. They are right-brain thinkers.
But there is a whole different way of interacting with and experiencing the world. Left-brain thinkers are straight-line thinkers–scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and computer programmers. Logic, not emotion, rules in the land of the analytical.
Left-brain thinkers love reading and sharing The Guinness Book of World Records and other just-the-facts books because these titles are chockful of what they love best– data. Kids can use the information they gather in these books to learn about the world and its possibilities and their place in it. And that’s what they want more than anything.
IMHO, these kids aren’t drawn to narrative (fiction or nonfiction) in the same way that right-brained kids (and adults, such as most book editors and elementary teachers and librarians and kidlit advocates are). They don’t crave an emotional connection with the main character in a novel or a central figure in a biography. They want the data, and then they will interpret it for themselves.
But right-brained kids aren’t reading narrative nonfiction. They are perfectly content with novels. And so that leaves narrative nonfiction sitting on a shelf.
So here’s my take home message: I strongly believe that left-brain thinkers are currently being underserved by the kidlit community. We need to honor and nurture their analytical minds by:
–appreciating the value of existing books that meet the needs of these students
–purchasing more books that will appeal to them (even if they don’t appeal to us)
–creating more books that help them understand the world and its possibilities and their place in it.
If we want a strong STEM workforce in the future, we need to meet the needs of curious left-brained thinkers today.
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