Saturday, 9 November 2013

National damp squib day? - Anne Rooney

Thursday 7th November was National Non-Fiction Day. Bet you didn't notice, did you? No, me neither, and I spend a lot of my time writing non-fiction.

"National Non-Fiction Day was created by Scholastic to mark how significant and important non-fiction books are for the development and retention of intellectual and cultural heritage of learning for children. Through reading non-fiction, children can find a way to open the door on a lifetime of reading and writing." 
Primary Times (or, rather, from the press release they have reproduced pretty much verbatim. Let's hope that wasn't written by someone who hopes to write for children; parents and teachers might possibly be able to prise some meaning out of it.)

Quite apart from that being really, really badly written...if NNFD is marking how important non-fiction books are for children (which is not in dispute) why does no-one hear anything about it? This is such a shame, such a wasted opportunity! Non-fiction is a gateway drug to further reading, to knowledge, to loving learning, to fiction.

Good non-fiction gets children marvelling at the wonders of the world, history, the universe. It makes them want to learn, want to read. Yet non-fiction is treated as the poor relation of fiction. Parents and teachers who wail that boys don't read usually mean they don't read fiction - many are happy to read factual books. So let's celebrate them, make them available and encourage children who like to read them. Reading for pleasure doesn't have to mean reading fiction. All fiction is, after all, sparked by the truth - non-fiction. 

National Non-Fiction Day was launched in 2010 by the Federation of Children's Book Groups and Scholastic, a highly respected publisher with an extensive list of children's non-fiction. That first year, it was not large but it had more events and featured book than this year. The website then announced that NNFD 'aims to celebrate all that is brilliant about non-fiction and to highlight that it is not just fiction that can be read for pleasure.' Good stuff - shame it's not really happened.

The NNFD website now redirects to the site of a tiny publisher called What on Earth Books, which appears only to produce 'wall books' by Chris Lloyd, its 'founder and CEO'. These look quite jolly, though I've never seen one so can't give any useful verdict. Lloyd has previously published two books with Bloomsbury - there's no suggestion that he's not a real writer. But he's hardly the whole world of children's non-fiction publishing! (I put no store by Amazon reviews, but will share this review of one of his Bloomsbury titles just because it's obviously written by an idiot - the writer gave the book five stars and then said it 'will not fail to disappoint.' Erm. With good reviews like that, who needs bad reviews?)

I did comment on the blog for NNFD trying to find out why the day seems to have gone AWOL, but the comment failed moderation and I've had no email response. I can only conclude, sadly, that NNFD is really NOT going to raise the profile of non-fiction one jot. Indeed, it does it a massive disservice with its badly written publicity materials and its promotion of just one trio of self-published books by a single author. Perhaps I shouldn't have drawn attention to it at all, but it is such a shame that something which could have helped to turn children into enthusiastic readers has just become a national damp squib.

If any teachers or librarians DID know about the day, and DID do something to mark it, please do report back in the comments. I would love to think that someone is promoting the huge range of wonderful children's non-fiction books published in the UK.

Anne Rooney will be talking about writing children's non-fiction at the SCBWI annual conference in Winchester, 23rd November


Charlotte Guillain said...

Well said Anne! Seems like such a wasted opportunity when there are loads of great non-fiction authors ready and willing to wave the flag. Maybe we should launch a breakaway Non-Fiction Week?!

Jeannie Bagshaw said...

School librarians are great promoters of quality children's non-fiction. We are anxiously awaiting new titles on WW1 and the Stone Age to resource the new curriculum.

Stroppy Author said...

That's good news, Jeannie. I am sure there will be a wealth of WW1 materials out in time for next year. Stone age.... I've not been approached by publishers about the Stone Age. Anyone else?

John Dougherty said...

Non-fiction's always been undervalued, I think. How many people say they 'don't read' when what they mean is that they don't read fiction?

I don't think you're wrong to draw attention to this, Anne. Maybe by next year, you'll have an army of non-fiction authors ready to wrest the day out of the hands of its neglectful creator and do something with it!

Stroppy Author said...

John, there are plenty in EWG and Nibweb willing to do it - it just wasn't clear this year that it was necessary. But next year...

Penny Dolan said...

Good points made here.

As far as I understand it, National Non Fiction Day was/is an initiative of the Federation of Children's Book Groups, an organisation of volunteer book enthusiasts. (They were also the originators of the Children's Book Award, now the Red Hose CBA)

I recall the wall-book being the subject of a session at an FCBG Conferences. The N/F day was the idea of a past FCBG Chair,but the nature of such roles is that the people move on and/or other matters become the committee's priority.

Maybe there's a need for other people to take this idea onwards? A link with the National Literacy Trust, for example? Definitely an idea worth developing, especially in an era of (possibly bought-in) interactive whiteboard education.

Penny Dolan said...

Sorry, that should have been Red HOUSE not hose. (Red hose? Far too mediaevalist a concept. Dorothy by way of Chaucer.)

Stroppy Author said...

I was thinking a red hose (more fireman's hose than medieval tights) would be rather fun.

Yes, Penny - FCBG started it with Scholastic. The domain name is registered to Scholastic. When it started Nibweb (national group of children's n-f writers) *asked* to be involved but Scholasti wouldn't allow it. Which makes it very frustrating that the FCBG and Scholastic have not only wasted it but for some reason bought into the idea that helping a self-publisher market his books is a good plan! No one literate has even checked the web copy of the press releases - it's a disgraceful mess.

John Malam said...

Hi Anne, Thanks for blogging this. I knew you would. My posts to FCBG have also been ignored. For the record, the concept of having a National Non-Fiction Day was discussed in the Nibweb forum long before FCBG / Scholastic claimed it as theirs -- hijacked it, even. You probably know that I bought all the TLDs in 2006, and still own them. This, to me, explains why the 'official' domain ended up as the instantly forgettable This aside, children's non-fiction needs a table-thumping champion, with a clearly defined brief to put this overlooked genre on the national radar.

Sue Bursztynski said...

National Non Fiction Day? Was it only in Britain? What a shame I missed it!

As a writer of non fiction(masses of articles and seven books) I have found how hard it is to sell. Many trade publishers have given up on it altogether.

As a teacher librarian, I know that a lot of teachers do think it's a poor cousin to fiction. I can remember wen we had "reading periods" when teachers would tell boys to put down that (non fction) book and get a novel NOW! Sometimes I was able to persuade them to let the student read one of the non fiction-for-entertainment books in a series in which I had a book. Thank goodness we've stopped the reading periods and replaced the with a broader literacy program that includes sient reading and non fiction books are a substantial part of the offering.

Anne Thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diana Kimpton said...

Can anyone set up a National Day? Are there any rules or is it a free for all? If there are rules, do they allow you to call something a National Day when it's just a promotion for one book (or previously for one publisher's books). Can non-fiction authors get together to do something better?