While attending the recent NJ SCBWI Free Craft Day, I was fortunate to attend Sara Sargent‘s presentation about dramatic tension. During the presentation, a discussion of tension in nonfiction veered off with a series of questions about the Common Core. Currently in favor, the Common Core Learning Standards (defined here for NY) provide a set of standards by which to develop a consistent curriculum across grades and states. A significant opportunity for nonfiction kidlit writers, the CCLS mandate study of nonfiction and informational texts to a great degree.
While such an emphasis can enrich children’s reading habits – indeed, many children who claim to hate reading become converts to a love of reading when presented with well-written nonfiction about their particular interests – I find the strident emphasis of the CCLS on informational texts a little disturbing. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Joel Stein’s column in this week’s Time magazine (Dec.10, 2012), “How I replaced Shakespeare,” is a witty and irreverent examination of this very concern. Stein wittily demonstrates that the ability to write clear, concise, well structured nonfiction is encouraged not only by reading such writing, but by reading great writing – especially classic writers of the canon. His statement that “[f]iction also teaches you how to tell a story,” is the most concise argument for reading fiction I’ve come across.
Don’t get me wrong: I agree with the need for thoughtful and clear standards to construct curricula that ensure our children receive a good education. I just hope that the magic and beauty and inspiration that fiction provides is not lost in our rush to embrace nonfiction. As a children’s librarian and children’s writer, I see the need for wonderful texts, both true and “made-up.” After all, a good story is a good story, no matter the genre. Fiction, nonfiction, folk tales, fairy tales, newspaper articles and novels – there is a place for all of these in a child’s reading. In anyone’s reading.
For my fellow writers who prefer writing nonfiction, understanding the CCLS is a good place to start creating additional materials to support your books and articles. Creating study guides for teachers, questions for read-alouds for librarians – the possibilities are endless. To find out more about the Common Core Standards for New York, the following websites are essential:
For other states, the best way to find such resources is to search the web using the following formula:
your state name AND “Common Core Standards”
And to encourage you, several of the most popular books I’ve read aloud and circulated in the past couple of years are well-crafted narrative nonfiction. (My most recent success was The Wild Boy, by Mordecai Gerstein. It was a smash hit with kids from second grade through fifth.)
Here’s hoping that we as writers can encourage educators to reach common ground by understanding that reading – in EVERY genre and any format – is essential to an excellent education.