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26 August 2012 @ 06:18 pm
I Is for Invention  
Often when i am speaking to groups of kids, I talk about some of the central questions authors pose as they write. I recall Joan Lowery Nixon talking about one of these in a presentation once as she talked about the origin of her book, WHISPERS FROM THE DEAD. Since this dandy mystery is one I still booktalk to middle school and high school groups, it has stayed central in my mind. Nixon lived in a neighborhood were a particularly gruesome murder occurred. The parents of the suspect put their toney house on the market to pay for his legal defense, but no one wanted to buy the house as it was where the murder had allegedly occurred. Nixon passed the house day after day and began to wonder what would happen if someone who did not know the backstory on the home would see if for sale, see the bargain it had become and purchase it. Further, she posited, what if the family who was moving in had a teen who had experienced a near-death event. Would that teen somehow sense what had happened? That WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF question gave birth to the central conceit of the novel. I would talk about WHISPERS and then do a riff booktalk based on that WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF question.

Creating something often begins with a WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF or a WHAT IF. WHAT IF all those years ago, the employee at # M had abandoned his new try at a glue when he found that the sticky stuff was temporary? How would I live without my post-it goodies? WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF all those years ago, someone came home wondering how those danged burrs managed to stick to socks. What if he did not take a close look at the burr under a microscope and see that hook and eye connection that eventually developed into Velcro?

I do not know the origin of the factoid, but it has stuck with me for years. At one point, the former Soviet Union demanded that speculative fiction be removed from schools and replaced with more nonfiction, more STEM (does this sound familiar to you?). Instead of an increase in invention, there was a dip in creativity. Makes sense, I think, when we consider that fiction asks us to think WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF. And so I come to the CCSS (and you knew I would end up here eventually, right?). While there is a misconception that fiction must be totally supplanted by nonfiction, there is a call for more nonfiction. I welcome that, but I have heard that many are being told the distribution should be 80% nonfiction and only 20% fiction. It is happening in more than one place, too, under CCSS (and maybe that is because the suggestion that we still use fiction is not made clear?). This has created a domino kind of effect with publishers rushing to point out the nonfiction they have and with "experts" offering workshops on nonfiction. As Jim Burke noted earlier today, Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware).

So, my point? Before we throw out the baby with the bathwater, let's stop and consider: what are some resources for good nonfiction? ORBIS PICTUS, SIBERT, YALSA EXCELLENCE IN NONFICTION FOR YOUNG ADULTS: all lists of award winning nonfiction books. From the CBC. two lists: NOTABLE TRADE BOOKS IN SCIENCE and NOTABLE TRADE BOOKS IN SOCIAL STUDIES. And if you can locate a copy of Abrahamson and Carters' NONFICTION FOR YOUNG ADULTS: FROM DELIGHT TO WISDOM (oryx Press, 1990), grab it.

But let us not forsake fiction entirely, please. Instead, let us connect the two in text sets, books ends, etc.
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