Daily Archives: April 15, 2011

Thinking Further About Nonfiction

Jim Murphy has a post up over at I.N.K., “Battle Cry Freedom” in which he further considers aspects of the conversation Marc Aronson’s “New Knowledge” article provoked.  Jim is rightly concerned about problematic research and other questionable methods of creating nonfiction (say invented dialog) as well as the critics, reviewers, and gatekeepers who are unaware and thus support what Jim calls”rogue” books.  He wonders:

Which brings us to the most important element of the discussion: our readers — kids of varying ages and depths of learning and sophistication, who read (sometimes reluctantly, sometimes happily) and absorb the printed word as gospel. When a rogue book gets out (whether it’s a willful act to grab attention or build drama in a text or an honest attempt to re-interpret the historical record) who is going to pick up the pieces?

I wonder about this too.  Jim writes further:

Is it fair to expect librarians and teachers to constantly patrol and explain these problem texts to scores of young readers? And in case you think any errors might be minor in nature, please remember that recent Virginia textbook where the author informed young readers that thousands of slaves happily signed on to defend the south and its traditions during the Civil War. That text (and its historical implications) was floating around in schools for weeks and months before the error was caught and the books recalled. There’s no reason to assume something just as egregious couldn’t happen in trade books.

Whether they are as serious as this example, I’ve seen errors in lauded books of nonfiction that troubled me greatly and which were pretty much dismissed by those who already had decided these were terrific books. And even before Jim raised this issue I was wondering about it when doing my own debating with Marc.  Since I’m smack dab in the middle of the intended audience and see how they respond to books and ideas, I have similar reservations to those Jim has expressed.  Marc has responded here and he, Jim, and others have continued the conversation in the comments.

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Filed under History, Nonfiction