Monday, August 11, 2008

Boys and non-fiction

I wrote this letter to the Age newspaper in response to an article by that wonderful children's writer Paul Jennings, which was published in the education section one Monday. My letter was published, although the next time I saw the article it had the same list of suggested books. And don't get me wrong, they were great books, but there seems to be some idea that if it isn't fiction, it isn't reading. Or, at best, they say with a rolling of eyes, "Oh, well, at LEAST it's reading..."

But non-fiction is still story-telling, as I've found out over the years as a writer of non-fiction for children. It's just telling a story that is true.

I've found that my students will usually shut up when I'm reading to them - but it has to be true. The weirder the better - it has to be so weird it could almost BE fiction ... but it's not. And they read the newspapers or watch the news on TV. Quite often, they'll say, "Oh, yeah, I heard about that on the news ... on Sixty Minutes... "

So, off to find something else "stranger than fiction, perhaps in MX or in the Age Odd Spot which I will follow up in Google News, to present to my class.

Meanwhile, here's the letter:

"I enjoyed Paul Jennings' article on encouraging boys to read. Mr Jennings is one of Australia's best writers for girls and boys alike. What he says is absolutely right, as far as it goes. Teachers can't do all the work. Parents need to be involved. And yet... your recommended reads for boys included not one non-fiction book.

Boys love non-fiction. As a librarian I have watched English teachers yell at boys to put down that book on soccer or cars which would have engaged them and get a novel - right now! As a teacher myself, I've seen a noisy, almost-all-boys class hush and listen when I read them some bizarre news story, followed up by, "Miss... is that true? Really?" I've been at children's literature panels where participants grumbled, "Oh, well, at least they're reading..." implying that they SHOULD have been reading fiction.

All right, I admit it: I write non-fiction. Two-thirds of the sales on my latest book have been through Book Club, where children can choose what they want. What does this suggest?

If you want boys to read, you have to offer them what they want to read."

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