NNFN: Re-imagining Non-Fiction – What if?

Today’s guest post comes from Alex Woolf. Alex has has worked as a writer and editor for over 20 years and has written over a hundred non-fiction titles, as well as some 18 novels and chapter books, aimed mainly at children and young adults. His non-fiction encompasses a whole variety of subjects, from science and the natural world to politics and social issues, but his favourite subject is history. He lives in Southgate, North London, with his wife and two children. In today’s post he asks us, “What if?”

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In ‘You Wouldn’t Want to Live without Books’ (Salariya),Alex speculates on what life would be like without books (shiver!).

In ‘You Wouldn’t Want to Live without Books’ (Salariya),Alex speculates on what life would be like without books (shiver!).

“I have recently been asked to write some books for a fabulous new series from Salariya called ‘You Wouldn’t Want to Live Without…’ The titles have included such diverse topics as ‘Soap’, ‘Money’, ‘Bees’, ‘Books’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Vegetables’. In each case, I have had to pose the question near the beginning of the book: what would life be like without such a thing.

I see this as quite a fruitful way of approaching non-fiction topics for children. So much of our world we take for granted, and asking children to imagine doing without one key aspect can really help focus their minds on its usefulness. It also encourages them to ask questions about the origins and development of these things, and how our relationship with them has changed over time – all of which is addressed in the books.

I’m sure I’m not alone in having had conversations with my kids about how the world has changed since I was young. This is particularly noticeable with technology. They are slightly amazed that when I was their age, I had to look up facts in a book called an encyclopaedia, or that I had to go to the chemist to develop my photographs. If we speculatively remove something like the Internet or camera phones from the world, it helps to demonstrate in a very real way the astonishing impact of these technologies on society.

In ‘A World After Nuclear Disaster’ (Raintree), Alex uses a fictional nuclear disaster as a way of exploring what could happen in a nuclear winter.

In ‘A World After Nuclear Disaster’ (Raintree), Alex uses a fictional nuclear disaster as a way of exploring what could happen in a nuclear winter.

The Salariya series is mainly focused on science and social history topics, but there may be potential for adopting this approach with other subjects. For example, what would the world be like without democracy, the United Nations, human rights or environmentalism? One could also speculate on how history might have turned out without a particular individual (Hitler always springs to mind), event (the 1914 assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand) or social movement (women’s suffrage or civil rights). Sometimes you have to imagine the world without something to realise its importance.

Extrapolating on how the world might be altered if something did or didn’t happen has been a favourite theme for many science fiction authors over the years. Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle and Robert Harris’s Fatherland are classic examples of this, re-imagining history following a Nazi victory in the Second World War. I believe that non-fiction authors and commissioning editors could take a leaf out of these fictional books, so to speak.

I’m not suggesting that entire non-fiction books should be devoted to such speculative questions, but I do believe they would make very worthwhile topics for a spread or chapter within a more general book about a particular subject. I’m sure they would inspire some interesting classroom discussions. If anyone has any suggestions for hypothetical scenarios that non-fiction books could address, I’d be fascinated to hear them – please do leave a comment on this blog post.”

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In ‘Assassination in Sarajevo’ (Wayland), one of the spreads asks the question: what would have happened if Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been killed?

In ‘Assassination in Sarajevo’ (Wayland), one of the spreads asks the question: what would have happened if Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been killed?

Our thanks go to Alex Wolf for his post today. If you’d like to find out more about his work you can do so here:

Website: http://alexwoolf.co.uk/
Twitter: @RealAlexWoolf
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Alex-Woolf-author-163044690377900/

Please note: The views expressed in guest posts do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.

One response to “NNFN: Re-imagining Non-Fiction – What if?”

  1. Cath Senker says:

    Thanks for this post Alex. I worked on the What if we do nothing? series for Franklin Watts a few years ago and I think such speculation can help young people to think through the consequences of our actions and the differences they could make in the future.

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