The Fuzzy Line Between Fiction and Nonfiction

I really appreciate Julie Danielson’s Kirkus blog post, “The Stories In Between” as she considers a topic near and dear to me — the blurry line between certain works of fiction and nonfiction.  Two picture books she considers are Greg Pizzoli’s nonfiction Tricky Vic and Deborah Hopkinson’s Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig. These are both works of history, something of particular interest to me. Julie refers to the following comment I made on a 2014  blog post of Betsy Bird‘s about invented dialog in picture book biographies:

… As you know I tried for years to write the story of Sarah Margru Kinson as nonfiction and finally was convinced to fictionalize it. The result is being called historical fiction, but it hardly is a novel in the conventional sense. I think it is a lot closer to some of the titles you cite here.

I’d love to see some sort of new genre that encompasses books like this, those that have fictional elements, but are based on true events and people. One of the reasons I feel so strongly about this is that I feel it will bring many more people to young readers’ attention. So many people did not leave the sort of paper trails needed to create a full work of nonfiction. As a result they are often not the subject of books for children and/or the same set of personalities get repeated attention. Additionally, the ones we need out there are may well be those who were marginalized in their time which is why the paper trail isn’t there. So if we were more open to books that stand on that fiction/nonfiction border and do so honestly and openly we’d have more diverse voices and stories.

With the current discussion on diversity and how to present slavery to children in their books, I think my final point about reconsidering or making a new genre in order to bring in more stories is all the more critical.

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SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books — Guess the Judge!

Today we begin revealing judges.  Here’s a hint for today’s: she was the very first EVER to win a Newbery Honor for her type of book. Find out who she is here.

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Frances Hardinge Gets Her Due!

US Frances Hardinge fans have been continually frustrated that she is not better appreciated on this side of the pond. On the other side…well, here’s a lovely bit of news — her latest book The Lie Tree has just been awarded the Costa Award’s Book of the Year. She is the first children’s book writer to win the overall award (over adult finalists) since Philip Pullman over a decade ago.

Happily The Lie Tree is coming out this May in the US thanks to Abrams. I can say that it is fabulous, my favorite of all her books to date, and well deserving of the award. It is historical, mysterious, creepy, engrossing, and wonderful. Now I am just hoping Abrams will bring out an earlier book of hers I also liked very much, A Face Like Glass.

 

 

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Lewis Carroll’s Caucus Race

As we in the US await the results of the Iowa caucuses, here’s a look at Lewis Carroll’s take on caucuses. (First part inked and illustrated by moi):

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and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out ‘The race is over!’ and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, ‘But who has won?’

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, ‘everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’

‘But who is to give the prizes?’ quite a chorus of voices asked.

‘Why, she, of course,’ said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out in a confused way, ‘Prizes! Prizes!’

Alice had no idea what to do, and in despair she put her hand in her pocket, and pulled out a box of comfits, (luckily the salt water had not got into it), and handed them round as prizes. There was exactly one a-piece all round.

‘But she must have a prize herself, you know,’ said the Mouse.

‘Of course,’ the Dodo replied very gravely. ‘What else have you got in your pocket?’ he went on, turning to Alice.

‘Only a thimble,’ said Alice sadly.

‘Hand it over here,’ said the Dodo.
Then they all crowded round her once more, while the Dodo solemnly presented the thimble, saying ‘We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble’; and, when it had finished this short speech, they all cheered.

Alice thought the whole thing very absurd, but they all looked so grave that she did not dare to laugh; and, as she could not think of anything to say, she simply bowed, and took the thimble, looking as solemn as she could.

If want to see more of my Alice illustrations go here.

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SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books 2016 Edition

We’ve announced the contenders and later this week will begin revealing this year’s judges (who are yet again awesome). The Battle Commander (myself, Roxanne Feldman, and Jonathan Hunt) and our SLJ operator Shelly Diaz can’t wait for this year’s battle to commence. Meanwhile please read Shelley’s “Primed for a Fight: SLJ’s 2016 Battle of the Kids’ Books Contenders Revealed” for an overview and a comment from me about the possibility of this year’s YMA honors changing the game going forward.

 

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Andrea Davis Pinkney’s Sit-In and Martin & Mahalia

Some weeks ago I was preparing a lesson for our 4th graders as part of our Martin Luther King, Jr Day observances. The school (grades 4-8) was focusing on the music at the March on Washington and I thought of Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney’s Martin & Mahalia.  When I talked about it this week I mentioned that a recent book Andrea had edited was getting negative attention. The kids remembered she’d been to the school a few years earlier to share with them Sit-In. I then read both books to them and we all relished the history, the art, the design, and the poetic language. Aware that Andrea might need a pick-me-up several kids were inspired to write to her about these two books. You can read their thoughts here.

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Coming Soon: Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale

Kate DiCamillo burst onto the children’s book world with a flash, receiving a Newbery Honor for her very first book, the realistic and much beloved Because of Winn-Dixie. Ever since she has explored different genres, piling up well-deserved honors along the way; her books include witty stories for early readers featuring a toast-loving pig, a fairy tale celebrating a sensitive and brave mouse, fables of elephants, tigers, and (china) rabbits, and her most recent Newbery winner — a delightfully surreal story that opens with a vacuum cleaner turning an ordinary squirrel into a poet.

In Raymie Nightingale, out this April, this uniquely talented writer has returned to her roots, to the Florida of her childhood, centering on an imagined small town that feels just down the road from the one in Because of Winn-Dixie. It is the summer of 1975 and Raymie Clarke’s father is gone, run off with a dental hygienist. Now Raymie is at Ida Nee’s to learn how to twirl a baton so perfectly that she can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition and get her photo in the paper for her father to see, wherever he is. Also at Ida Nee’s are Louisiana Elefante who has swooning tendencies and rough and tough Beverly Tapinski.  Over the course of this gorgeous spare novel, as the competition draws near, these girls — each with fears and pains of her own — become unlikely friends.

In tight chapters that are sometimes barely three pages, crisp paragraphs (DiCamillo is the master of the one sentence paragraph), and elegantly crafted sentences, Raymie Nightingale is a book to savor, to read and re-read. Fans will recognize DeCamillo’s unique wry voice as it gives readers vivid images, dizzying ideas, humor, heart-wrenching emotions, and gorgeous, gorgeous language.  You all have something to look forward to this April, I promise.

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