Melissa Stewart, an award-winning and much-respected author of more than 190+ nonfiction children’s books, reached out to me to ask me to help raise awareness of the #KidsLoveNonfiction campaign. I was happy to help. Trained in biology and science journalism, Melissa most recently won a Sibert Honor award with Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen.
Raising the awareness of children’s nonfiction books is especially important in this time of book banning:
Records requests to nearly 100 school districts in the Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin regions — a small sampling of the state’s 1,250 public school systems — revealed 75 formal requests by parents or community members to ban books from libraries during the first four months of this school year. from NBC News
What types of books are banned?
All but a few of the challenges this school year targeted books dealing with racism or sexuality, the majority of them featuring LGBTQ characters and explicit descriptions of sex. Many of the books under fire are newer titles, purchased by school librarians in recent years as part of a nationwide movement to diversify the content available to public school children. from NBC News
Why are books being challenged? I believe this stems from our history of enslavement. “Black children cleaned the one-room schoolhouses — but were not allowed to read or write.” From The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth: Opal Lee and What It Means to be Free by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo.
The ignorance of the slaves was considered necessary to the security of the slaveholders. Not only did owners fear the spread of specifically abolitionist materials, they did not want slaves to question their authority; thus, reading and reflection were to be prevented at any cost. from Wikipedia
Slaveowners were fully aware that their control of slaves must go beyond physical coercion. Knowledge was power, and virtually all slave codes established in the United States set restrictions making it illegal to teach slaves to read or write.
This statute, passed by the state of North Carolina (1830–1831), was typical:
“…any free person, who shall hereafter teach, or attempt to teach, any slave within the State to read or write, the use of figures excepted, or shall give or sell to such slave or slaves any books or pamphlets, shall be liable to indictment in any court of record…” From A Black History Milestone, newsletter from Multicultural Bookstore and Gifts written by Tamara Shiloh
Much of BIPOC history is not being taught in our education system. Asian Pacific American history, for example, is largely erased from the history books. Anti-Asian hate crimes rose by a staggering 339% last year according to NBC News. One antidote is to teach Asian Pacific American history in the schools, and there is a movement to mandate that schools include this.
I believe that the book banning stems from the need to maintain a state of ignorance. Nonfiction books present factual information in an engaging way.
Today’s nonfiction authors and illustrators are depicting marginalized and minority communities throughout history and in our current moment. They are sharing scientific phenomena and cutting-edge discoveries. They are bearing witness to how art forms shift and transform, and illuminating historical documents and artifacts long ignored. (see below)
I support the #KidsLoveNonfiction campaign and I hope that you will too!
Announcing the #KidsLoveNonfiction Campaign
This morning, Mary Ann Cappiello, Professor of Language and Literacy at Lesley University, and Xenia Hadjioannou, Associate Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the
Harrisburg campus of Penn State University, sent the letter below to The New York Times requesting that the paper add three children’s nonfiction bestseller lists to parallel the existing picture book, middle grade, and young adult lists, which focus on fiction.
This change will align the children’s lists with the adult bestseller lists, which separate nonfiction and fiction. It will also acknowledge the incredible vibrancy of children’s nonfiction available today and support the substantial body of research showing that many children prefer nonfiction and still others enjoy fiction and nonfiction equally.
If you support this request, please follow the signature collection form link to add your name and affiliation to the more than 200 educators and librarians who have already endorsed the effort. Your information will be added to the letter but your email address will remain private.
Letter to The New York Times
Nonfiction books for young people are in a golden age of creativity, information-sharing, and
reader-appeal. But the genre suffers from an image problem and an awareness problem. The
New York Times can play a role in changing that by adding a set of Nonfiction Best Seller lists for young people: one for picture books, one for middle grade literature, and one for young adult literature.
Today’s nonfiction authors and illustrators are depicting marginalized and minority communities throughout history and in our current moment. They are sharing scientific phenomena and cutting-edge discoveries. They are bearing witness to how art forms shift and transform, and illuminating historical documents and artifacts long ignored. Some of these book creators are themselves scientists or historians, journalists or jurists, athletes or artists, models of active learning and agency for young people passionate about specific topics and subject areas. Today’s nonfiction continues to push boundaries in form and function. These innovative titles engage, inform, and inspire readers from birth to high school.
Babies delight in board books that offer them photographs of other babies’ faces. Toddlers and preschoolers fascinated by the world around them pore over books about insects, animals, and the seasons. Children, tweens, and teens are hungry for titles about real people that look like them and share their religion, cultural background, or geographical location, and they devour books about people living different lives at different times and in different places. Info-loving kids are captivated by fact books and field guides that fuel their passions. Young tinkerers, inventors, and creators seek out how-to books that guide them in making meals, building models, knitting garments, and more. Numerous studies have described such readers and their passionate interest in nonfiction (Jobe & Dayton-Sakari, 2002; Moss and Hendershot, 2002; Mohr, 2006). Young people are naturally curious about their world. When they are allowed to follow their passions and explore what interests them, it bolsters their overall well-being. And the more young people read, the more they grow as readers, writers, and critical thinkers (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2021; Van Bergen et al., 2021).
Research provides clear evidence that many children prefer nonfiction for their independent reading, and many more select it to pursue information about their particular interests (Doiron, 2003; Repaskey et al., 2017; Robertson & Reese, 2017; Kotaman & Tekin, 2017). Creative and engaging nonfiction titles can also enhance and support science, social studies, and language arts curricula. And yet, all too often, children, parents, and teachers do not know about recently published nonfiction books. Bookstores generally have only a few shelves devoted to the genre. And classroom and school library book collections remain dominated by fiction. If families, caregivers, and educators were aware of the high quality nonfiction that is published for children every year, the reading lives of children and their educational experiences could be significantly enriched.
How can The New York Times help resolve the gap between readers’ yearning for engaging nonfiction, on the one hand, and their lack of knowledge of its existence, on the other? By maintaining separate fiction and nonfiction best seller lists for young readers just as the Book Review does for adults.
The New York Times Best Sellers lists constitute a vital cultural touchstone, capturing the interests of readers and trends in the publishing world. Since their debut in October of 1931, these lists have evolved to reflect changing trends in publishing and to better inform the public about readers’ habits. We value the addition of the multi-format Children’s Best Seller list in July 2000 and subsequent lists organized by format in October 2004. Though the primary purpose of these lists is to inform, they undeniably play an important role in shaping what publishers publish and what children read.
Adding children’s nonfiction best-seller lists would:
- Help family members, caregivers, and educators identify worthy nonfiction titles.
- Provide a resource for bibliophiles—including book-loving children—of materials that
satisfy their curiosity.
- Influence publishers’ decision-making.
- Inform the public about innovative ways to convey information and ideas through words
- Inspire schools and public libraries to showcase nonfiction, broadening its appeal and
deepening respect for truth.
We, the undersigned, strongly believe that by adding a set of nonfiction best-seller lists for young people, The New York Times can help ensure that more children, tweens, and teens have access to books they love. Thank you for considering our request.
Dr. Mary Ann Cappiello
Professor, Language and Literacy
Graduate School of Education, Lesley University
Former Chair, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Orbis Pictus Award for
Outstanding Nonfiction Committee
Dr. Xenia Hadjioannou
Associate Professor, Language and Literacy Education
Penn State University, Harrisburg Campus
Vice President of the Children’s Literature Assembly (CLA) of the National Council of Teachers
of English (NCTE).
If you support the request to add three children’s nonfiction bestseller lists to parallel the existing lists, which focus on fiction, please add your name and affiliation to the signature collection form.
Allington, R. L., & McGill-Franzen, A. M. (2021). Reading volume and reading achievement: A review of recent research. Reading Research Quarterly, 56(S1), S231–S238. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.404
Correia, M. (2011). Fiction vs. informational texts: Which will your kindergarteners choose? Young Children, 66(6), 100-104.
Doiron, R. (2003). Boy Books, Girl Books: Should We Re-organize our School Library Collections? Teacher Librarian, 14-16.
Kotaman H. & Tekin A.K. (2017). Informational and fictional books: young children’s book preferences and teachers' perspectives. Early Child Development and Care, 187(3-4), 600-614, DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2016.1236092
Jobe, R., & Dayton-Sakari, M. (2002). Infokids: How to use nonfiction to turn reluctant readers into enthusiastic learners. Markham, Ontario, Canada: Pembroke.
Mohr, K. A. J. (2006). Children’s choices for recreational reading: A three-part investigation of selection preferences, rationales, and processes. Journal of Literacy Research, 38(1), 81–104. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15548430jlr3801_4
Moss, B. & Hendershot, J. (2002). Exploring sixth graders' selection of nonfiction trade books: when students are given the opportunity to select nonfiction books, motivation for reading improves. The Reading Teacher, vol. 56 (1), 6+.
Repaskey, L., Schumm, J. &Johnson, J. (2017). First and fourth grade boys’ and girls’ preferences for and perceptions about narrative and expository text. Reading Psychology, 38, 808-847.
Robertson, Sarah-Jane L. & Reese, Elaine. (Mar 2017). The very hungry caterpillar turned into a butterfly: Children's and parents' enjoyment of different book genres. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 17(1), 3-25.
Van Bergen, E., Vasalampi, K., &Torppa, M. (2021). How are practice and performance related? Development of reading from age 5 to 15. Reading Research Quarterly, 56(3), 415–434. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.309
p.s. Related posts:
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.