NNFN: “Facts should never be boring” – Nosy Crow Non-Fiction Takes Flight

Katherine Halligan is the “Head of Non-Fiction and Activity” at innovative publishers Nosy Crow. Katherine Halligan landed in the Crow’s Nest in January 2016, and has been busy building the new non-fiction and activity list there. She spends her days doing everything from dreaming up new ideas with the team to commissioning brilliant authors and illustrators, writing texts and eating cake.

Today she brings us a guest post about the different types of non-fiction she works on, its links with museums and other organisations, and the role of illustration in non-fiction books.

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“The world is full of great stories: from history to nature to the ways different peoples over time have interpreted their experience into art. But we do as great a disservice to the stories themselves as to the children who read them if we don’t capture their unique essence when we translate them into books. In order to make a child gasp with amazement or to help them remember something incredible, these stories must leap off the page and come to life. The very best children’s books are all about great storytelling and amazing artwork – and that is as true for non-fiction as it is for fiction… in fact, possibly more so. 

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Nosy Crow is at the beginning of an exciting non-fiction journey, the first steps of which are in partnership with the National Trust and the British Museum. From our Complete Bird Spotter’s Kit to Secret Treasures of Ancient Egypt, we are creating child-friendly books for budding bird-spotters and aspiring archaeologists – and everyone in between.

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We believe that a child’s experience of beautiful colour illustration should not stop automatically at the age of 5 or 7 – why should their world suddenly become simply black-and-white? – so we are creating colour books for children from 0 to 12. 

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For younger children, picture books such as Sebastien Braun’s Look and Say series and first-concept board books such as Rosalind Beardshaw’s ABC and 123 all encourage little ones to point and name the world around them, as they start to link language and meaning. Activity books can be fused with non-fiction content in a way that promotes learning by stealth: our beautifully sticker books help children connect with the natural world… and busy hands mean engaged minds!

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An inherent challenge of non-fiction publishing for younger children is that they do not distinguish between fact and fiction as adults do: their imaginary friends and Father Christmas and the Gruffalo are all as real to them as the facts they ‘read’ in a book. It is harder to create the ‘wow’ factor, because everything they are discovering about the world is amazing, and anything is plausible.

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So we have a responsibility to present the facts in a way that is as immediate and real as a picture book: those stories are the real competition as we attempt to capture a child’s mind and heart. And because the not-yet-reading child decodes books visually, the illustration is all-important.

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The recent trend towards stylish, beautiful art in children’s non-fiction is grabbing retailers’ and consumers’ attention. Despite a slight move away from photographic non-fiction, there is a real call for this potentially rich and immediate way of reaching a child, but it must be presented in a way that feels fresh and relevant.

Children are the toughest of critics, and brilliant design, gorgeous illustration and captivating stories are key to grabbing their attention and holding it. Facts should never be boring, and the best non-fiction can be as memorable and beloved as a favourite picture book or novel – as long as it’s done right, with the child always at its heart.”

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Our thanks go to Nosy Crow and in particular Katherine Halligan. You can find out more about the books Nosy Crow publishes on their website http://nosycrow.com/, or by following them on Twitter @NosyCrow.

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