November has arrived bringing with it a whole month dedicated to celebrating and showcasing the wide range of non-fiction written for children and young people. Yes, National Non-Fiction November kicks off today as we start our 30 days of Adventure in the Real World.
Each day this month will see a different aspect of non-fiction for children and young people highlighted. Interviews with non-fiction authors and illustrators, competitions, book lists, activity sheets and opinion pieces will be found in a variety of locations including magazines, on the radio, and online across a wide variety of websites. You will be able to take part in your own 30 day adventure by following the weekly round-up of links here on the Federation of Children’s Book Group’s blog, and daily via other social media, using the hashtags #RealWorldAdventures and #NNFN.
You might like to start your adventure by exploring the new pages we have here on the FCBG website: You could find out more about the book awards which are dedicated to non-fiction for children and young people, you could watch a selection of videos about non-fiction for children and young people, or even discover a great new book, using one of the non-fiction book lists we’ve highlighted.
If you know of a great non-fiction resource, please do let us know about it – either by leaving a comment on this blog post, or by sharing it on social media, using the hashtags #RealWorldAdventures and #NNFN.
To kick the discussion off for this month of adventures, we have a guest post today from Sean Callery, author of approximately 50 books which could take you adventuring anywhere from the American Old West to deep in the ocean, via the Tour de France and Roald Dahl’s shed.
Turning boys from liars into readers by Sean Callery
“It’s a lovely scene: a classroom full of children hunched over their books. Each in their own private world, gathering information or revelling in the trials of their hero.
Except, lots of them are lying. Well, not lying. Pretending. Take another look and you’ll see many of the boys are clutching information books. Fair enough: many boys love collecting facts. But the attraction of a non-fiction book for many boys is that they can stare at it, turning the pages every so often, without actually reading a word. And if some kindly soul asks what they are reading, they point to one of the pictures and talk about what they can see.
Children are very good at giving adults what they want – you want me to look at a book for 20 minutes? No problem. Just don’t expect me to read it. Why boys and not girls? Hmm. Warning! Massive generalisation from twenty years in the classroom coming up! Girls are, on the whole, keener to please and better at listening. Boys have a shorter attention span, and will readily retreat into their own private world. You have to work harder to keep them interested.
What are they interested in? Anything, as long as you make it appealing. Any good writer knows tricks to grab readers. For example, don’t say “It’s as cold as a freezer in the Arctic”, but rather “It’s so cold your spit freezes before it hits the ground.”
The subject matter changes. Little boys love diggers, football, war, and dinosaurs. Wow, so many young boys adore dinosaurs. Why aren’t they on the national curriculum? As they get older, they branch out to other subjects… and most drop the dinosaurs but love collecting facts (which is partly the appeal of football, with all those league tables and goal differences).
I remember one nine-year-old lad who was a tricky customer in the classroom and could barely read. He was bright, in a street-wise way, but not bothered about learning. Until he got a guinea pig. “How do I look after it?” he asked. “Here’s how,” I said, handing him a guide to keeping the little creatures. It never left his side. That book taught him to read, because he wanted to read it.
So what do authors think boys enjoy? Moira Butterfield says: “A great deal of my library PLR [the money authors get from their books stocked by libraries] comes from non-fiction books I’ve written that appeal to boys – on subjects such as machines, sport and battles. This suggests to me that, given a free library choice, this is what boys pick up.”
Fellow author Brian Williams adds: “I gather Raintree get positive feedback on their War Stories series. Apart from war, boys do hunger for facts (girls do too), and some drool over stats.”
And Anita Ganeri says: “I get a lot of letters for boys, in particular, saying that they like my Horrible Geography books because they’re cool, whatever that means! They seem to like the mixture of treatments – facts presented as lists, spoof newspaper reports, quizzes etc. One boy said it didn’t feel like reading because there was always something new to look at.”
OK, I’ve let some other writers plug their work. What would I push? Well, Scholastic’s Discover More series is mainly aimed at the US market, where a new (less prescriptive than ours) curriculum encourages broad thinking. Scholastic invests heavily in graphics that help create inviting books, and employs writers who are painstaking researchers (that’s me, folks, among others). The books are available in UK editions.
For the book that will get the boys in your life reading, remember the guinea pig: find that magic subject. Because if boys really want to read something, they will. And they won’t be lying.”
This guest post was provided by Sean Callery. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups. Sean Callery writes information and story books for children. You can find out more at www.seancallery.co.uk.