All About The Words
Humans tend to categorise. We like to know where to put things and so where to find them. There are good psychological reasons and, in principle, I don’t have a problem.
I don’t have a problem, for example, with categorising some of the books I write as fiction and some (most nowadays) as non-fiction.
I would have a problem if anyone judged their value according to that categorisation. But no one does, surely?
Hmm. Not so sure. I think there are clues to suggest that many people, albeit subconsciously, value fiction over non-fiction. (I’m just going to focus on children’s books here.)
Let’s look at these clues.
Review coverage. Children’s book review coverage in print media is a barren landscape generally, with oases in such magazines as Books for Keeps and Carousel. But fiction writers (especially in YA) have the huge blogging world to welcome them. Not so non-fiction writers. Yes, I’ve had some welcome coverage for my YA non-fiction in various places, including a few blogs, but really, only a non-fiction book with very wide appeal is likely to appear in serious review-land. That’s why we so badly need the children’s-only websites such as LoveReading4Kids and Bookbag.
The biggest prizes. Carnegie Medal: although it says that all categories including non-fiction are eligible, the judges’ criteria focus almost exclusively on plot, dialogue, character and character development. Hard to see how a non-fiction book could be considered. Greenaway Medal: this was won in 2015 by a non-fiction picture book but note that the award is for illustration, not writing, and my point relates to writing. Costa Children’s: “non-fiction is not eligible”. UKYA Prize: “… the best YA fiction books….” Children’s Book Award: I can’t find the criteria but I also can’t find any non-fiction books on the lists. Blue Peter: Hooray! There’s a “Best Book With Facts!” category! The Aventis Science Prize used to have a children’s category – I know as I was on it. No more.
Regional prizes. I can’t check them all but I checked some I’ve been shortlisted for (with novels). This is in no way a criticism of these awards, which do the most wonderful work in getting young people reading. I’m just illustrating how little chance of award celebration non-fiction books have. Well, I had a list but I’ve decided not to give you it because a) I couldn’t find non-fiction on any shortlist b) I couldn’t find any criteria which seemed to include non-fiction and I did find some which specified fiction and c) I don’t want to name them because they have every right to focus on fiction and they are all fabulous awards. Literally.
The vibe. Excellent initiatives, started by inspirational individuals, are raising the profile of UK children’s books. Examples are UKYA – “celebrating UK YA fiction”, Project UKYA – “to raise awareness of UK YA fiction and authors” and MiddleGradeStrikesBack – “passionate about middle grade fiction”. This is wonderful. But they only cover fiction. Don’t get me wrong: this is their right. My point is that there’s a non-fiction hole.
Subconscious bias – every taxi-driver who ever has the dubious pleasure of driving me, asks what I do. After the inevitable chat, usually necessitating my denial that I am JKR, I’ll ask what he/she likes reading. You would not believe how many times I get a variation of: “Oh, I don’t read really – only non-fiction, biographies, things like that.” How have so many people – men, mostly – got the message that their non-fiction reading somehow doesn’t count? Are women doing this, perhaps, as primary teachers and home reading monitors and role models? If so, we must stop.
Put away your violins, please – we don’t need them! We’re having too much fun writing our books. I’m just here to fly the flag for great non-fiction everywhere, in National Non-Fiction November, a celebration organised by The Federation of Children’s Book Groups, who never forget the value of non-fiction.
Another organisation which explicitly values non-fiction is the School Library Association. This gives me the chance, ever so unsubtly, to mention their own very important book award, the SLA Information Book Award. I have personal cause to be glad of its existence because The Teenage Guide to Stress is shortlisted. Hooray! I am hugely looking forward to the ceremony on November 11th.
Since I don’t expect a chance to make a speech on the night (even though it is my birthday – double hooray!), I’ll take this opportunity to thank the SLA, the FCBG, my publishers (Walker Books) and super-ace editor Caroline Royds, school librarians everywhere and young readers everywhere, for just reading, whatever category of book it is.
Nicola Morgan writes and speaks, in the UK and internationally, on various topics around the teenage brain, cognition, stress and the reading brain, including digital reading and the challenges of the internet age for parents. She’s also an award-winning teenage novelist and former teacher and dyslexia expert. She is an Ambassador for Dyslexia Scotland and has served on various Society of Authors committees. She divides her time between Scotland and England and owns beautiful boots. And books. www.nicolamorgan.com
This guest post was provided by Nicola Morgan. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.