As a historian, author, and longtime advocate for nonfiction, there are many things I like about the Common Core English/Language Arts Standards: their focus on historiography and authorial point of view, their mission of training young people to be problem-solvers, their validation of nonfiction-lovers’ passion for the genre. In this inaugural issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book, I’d also like to stress the great potential for bringing excellent nonfiction books first into school libraries and then into classrooms — not just as “educational tools” but also as vehicles for critical thought, question-raising, theory-presenting, and insight to be gained by readers.
To fulfill the Common Core standards, teachers need resources of increasing complexity, not flattened-out and dumbed-down summaries of concepts and events. Teachers need texts that challenge readers to tackle longer passages, more complex ideas, a richer vocabulary: in short, the content that books of quality nonfiction have to offer. And librarians are there to point them in the right direction while taking seriously the real-life roadblocks teachers face on a day-to-day basis.
The Common Core is built so that each leap adds new knowledge and skill that makes the next leap possible. And so there is the leap coming for us in the library and trade world — the leap into the classroom, into the world of teachers and students where our books should belong. There are challenges, of course: getting school librarians and teachers to rely on each another (assuming the school has a trained librarian), for one thing, and publishing more high-quality YA nonfiction at school-budget-friendly prices. Problems, yes, but these are the problems of three worlds — libraries, classrooms, and publishers — that have been separate for far too long. Look to Nonfiction Notes to help bridge that gap by providing concrete suggestions of high-quality, useful books that are also enjoyable, eye-opening, and mind-broadening.
From the October 2012 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.