|cover illustration from CLOTH LULLABY|
The Society of Authors CWIG held an event at Waterstones recently entitled: Adventures into the Real World: Factual Books & Reading for Pleasure. The panel chaired by Anne Rooney, who has written more than 150 non-fiction titles, was varied – librarians, publishers, bloggers and writers – all in a quest to find out the benefits of reading factual books for pleasure & engaging readers who might not enjoy fiction – Jenny Broom, a publisher at Quarto, Dawn Finch, President of CILIP and a children’s author, Nicola Morgan, CWIG Chair, author of award-winning novels and factual books and Zoe Toft of the Federation of Children’s Books Groups and an independent children’s book consultant who oversees Non-Fiction November.
Two factors hit me – there are still factual books being written by committees and schools are seldom offered non-fiction authors. Both aspects devalue writers. Books that draw curiosity and passion from a child can only be written by a passionate writer. I was turned into a writer not by reading fiction but by reading non-fiction as a child. Books with minute detail and maps and drawings fired my imagination. What child would not feel the might of the Endurance, hear the ice cracking or be curious about the living quarters on paging through William Grill’s Shackleton’s Journey? (Flying Eye Books)
My own personal choices will always revolve around the same things that fascinated me as a child –art and creativity, the natural world, the stars and the minute detail shown in biological and botanical drawings and atlases. They are who I am today.
The mesmerizing and hand-printed book, Cloth Lullaby, (Abrams, New York) by Amy Novesky, where Isabelle Arsenault has so perfectly captured a sense of the artist Louise Bourgeois’s life next to the river as a child, the influence of her Maman and their loving relationship, and her later gigantic sculptures. Arsenault's drawings in blue and red and dark charcoal (no green ever for Louise Bourgeois) reflect the artist's own artwork and pattern without being a pastiche and draw together the theme of her work: a thread in a spider’s web. Wonderful for any creative child.
One Night Far from Here, by Julia Wauters (Flying Eye Books) – a magical and beautiful book with transparent acetate interleaved pages that reveal and draw colour from the printed page beneath so that the sea creatures on the acetate page seem to pulsate with iridescence.
And under this same theme of the natural world I love The Story of Life (part of the Welcome to the Museum series) by Katie Scott. The drawings in this book and others in the series are like finding an old copy of Linnaeus and remind me of the hours I spent next to musty shelves poring over the foxed pages of books kept by a very ancient lady who had lived in various parts of Africa. They nearly turned me into a botanist. What an amazing source this book is for a parent or an art teacher to inspire discussion on pattern and colour and wonderful for any child who likes to observe and draw.
Atlases seem to be making a comeback and I can't resists the Carnival in Rio where I can dance the Samba in Atlas of Adventure by Lucy Letherland and Rachel Williams (Wide-Eyed Editions). I'm not quite so convimced by the canoeing down the Zamzezi river page. I've done my own trip down the Zambezi and the pods of hippos were a tad more more terrifying than ones in life-belts! But a mystical Northern Lights page.
Scientific books that are fun like Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space, (Flying Eye Books) illustrated by Ben Newman and written by Dominic Walliman who has a PhD in Quantum device physics who says: He grew up reading science books and remembers vividly the excitement of discovering the mind boggling facts that science tells us about the Universe. If he can pass on this wonder and enjoyment to the next generation, he will consider it a job well done. This is a writer's passion.
Each pool is a little world all of its own and you can be the first person to discover it.
And memories of when I lay on my back in the dark as a child with my father looking at the night sky and the stars, are brought back by Nicola's words which seem written especially for me:
Sometimes you can feel
sometimes you can feel
sometimes you can feel the world turning.
My son recently asked me how does one spark curiosity in a child?
You don’t. It has to spark from within. With books, you lay out what is available for them to discover and help them find the perfect book that fuels a passion. The best advice at the Adventures in the Real World event, came from the floor from a librarian (sorry I don't know your name) who every break-time displays her very best selection of non-fiction books (ones that are sometimes too big or too delicate to leave the library) in the hope of luring even one child to discover a life-long interest and passion.
Please add your own special Adventures in the Real World, so we can all get reading.
I'm adding my own addendum as I forgot I wanted to include Saviour Pirotta & Catherine Hyde's Firebird – a celebration of the 100 year old Russian ballet (published by Frances Lincoln) that I consider narrative non-fiction. It was the incredible work done by children involved in the CLPE Power of Reading that I saw a few weeks ago that made me realise how forceful a book can be on a child's imagination.