Thursday, 29 October 2015

Reading Non-Fiction titles outside school - why it's more important than ever! A ReadItDaddy Editorial

November is "National Non-Fiction Month" and this week's editorial is inspired not only by the upcoming celebration of children's Non-Fiction titles - but by a fairly innocent looking Tweet from author Nicola Morgan:

It's been widely reported many, many times that reluctant readers - particularly boys but definitely both boys and girls - are quite often more interested in non-fiction than fiction. I can't quite remember how it first came about that we made huge efforts to stimulate Charlotte's reading with a good mix of fiction and non-fiction titles but it was certainly quite soon after we'd joined our local library for the first time.

For children, libraries can often be the only place they'll be exposed to 'learning books' outside of school but for most kids, it's also the place where they are in direct control of what they read - and what non-fiction titles they pick up alongside story and picture books.

That's hugely important, and from the outset it's really quite something to see a child going through the non-fiction section in a library's stacks and seeing what they pull out.

Charlotte's love of history and science stems directly from the way we gently coaxed her towards digging out books in the non-fiction section - often gloriously illustrated and packed full of facts, these books tell their own stories to children and definitely in the case of history books, are often as full of amazing characters and 'plot twists' as any story book you can name.

I doubt many teachers would actively discourage a child from reading non-fiction for pleasure (so I'm rather intrigued by the background to this tweet). After all, a huge part of a teacher's role is to engage their class with the subject matter at hand - so if a child displays enough interest in the subject to want to explore it outside school as well, what's not to love?

Unless...there's some bizarre theory that non-fiction should not be 'dumbed down'. It should be wholly academic, perhaps some might say even 'dry' so it does not muddy the message it's trying to impart. Perhaps it's that we're now so petrified that our children won't learn if they're having fun that children's non-fiction is somehow frowned upon?

If that's the case, again I'd have to disagree and point out that you'd have to search high and low to find a non-fiction title these days that 'dumbs down' its subject - simply because kids will not put up with that in their non-fiction reading matter just like they won't put up with poorly written (or illustrated) fiction (and gawd, how many times do we have to point this out to would-be children's writers - that children are not there to be babied or patronised with hollow stories that don't inspire them or satisfy their curiosity?)

It does seem that it's long been the belief that a certain amount of 'talking down to' is required when you're broaching certain topics and subjects with kids (again whether in fictional or non-fictional titles) and I'd have to once again vociferously argue that this truly is not the case. Kids are like hungry sponges when it comes to facts and figures. You wouldn't try to wash with a sponge that was only given a tiny drip of water would you?

Do celebrate National Non-Fiction Month again this November as many book folk will be doing so! Mix it up a bit in your own children's reading materials for that month and I promise you, you'll be very pleasantly surprised by the results! Go seek out brilliant books by publishers like Usborne, Flying Eye Books, Wide Eyed Editions, Thames and Hudson, Chronicle and so many others who are truly producing the brightest and best non fiction books for kids these days.