The Magic of Reality

by non-fiction author, Christopher Lloyd

In the first of a series of blogs about our annual conference, author and publisher Christopher Lloyd, who will have a stand in the publishers’ exhibition, talks about his passion for non-fiction. All of the exhibiting publishers will be invited to introduce their upcoming titles on Friday afternoon prior to the exhibition opening. For more information about the conference programme and how to book your place as a weekend or day delegate see http://www.fcbg.org.uk/conference/

One of the best things about being an author is having the chance to go and visit schools and engage children in the art of storytelling. After all, everyone loves stories – in many ways, it is what defines us as humans. We are the storytelling species.

But what never ceases to amaze me is how often the teacher who has invited me to visit their schools says ‘Oh it’s so refreshing to have a non-fiction author – in fact I’m not sure we’ve ever had a non-fiction author before.”

That’s terrible. For as long as there have been school libraries, there has been a bias against non-fiction. I have some theories as to why – but let’s just accept the balance today is still stacked against stories about the real world.

Yet, as far as I can tell, non-fiction is just as popular with children as fiction. In many cases, the only reason to read is to find out about something in the real world a child finds fascinating.

Maybe it’s an animal, or space, or an invention or a battle.

Part of the fault may lie with the publishing industry. It has been an exhilarating journey for me personally to have begun writing in 2006 and then had the opportunity to set up my own children’s non-fiction publishing house in 2010. For the first five years this was really a small lifestyle business, with myself and illustrator Andy Forshaw making one or two books a year. But since 2016 things have developed dramatically. Today, What on Earth Books has 10 staff and will be publishing 10 books this year and 15 books in 2020.

What’s interesting is that even-though we focus on children’s non-fiction, none of our books can be described as reference books. They are all stories.

Some of them, like my recent book Absolutely Everything! connect knowledge together into a giant, roller coaster narrative of 13.8 billion years in 15 chapters. Others, like Eye Spy, use a lift-the-flap concept to show how other creatures see the world – from a monkey to a snail and a frog to a fly. In fact, all the books we publish are stories – much more amazing than anything you can make up.

The association of non-fiction with the word reference has, to my mind, done tremendous damage to the potential for engaging many children with the joy of reading. If curiosity is the natural learning system hard-wired into our brains, then stories about the real world are as close as you can get to a natural choice for engaging children with written words on a page.

So it is with great joy that I weave my way around schools, museums and literary festivals not just in the UK, but from the USA to China and Iceland to Gibraltar. How lucky am I – but how much better if there was an even greater emphasis on non-fiction across the entire school system and without anyone detracting from its power by simply thinking non-fiction is about reference!

This is a guest post by Christopher Lloyd and the views expressed do not necessarily represent the FCBG. For more information about Christopher Lloyd’s series of non-fiction talks and workshops please visit https://www.whatonearthbooks.com/talks or come over to the What on Earth Books table at the FCBG conference.

 

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