Out of the Wild Night by Blue Balliett Blue Balliett Pieces & Players Hold Fast by Blue Balliett The Danger Box by Blue Balliett The Calder Game by Blue Balliett The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Nantucket Ghosts by Blue Balliett Blue Balliett Contact Blue Balliett Bio Blue Balliett Events Blue Balliett Awards & Reviews Blue Balliett Foreign Editions Blue Balliett Teacher Info Blue Balliett News


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ouch, Oof: the Battle of Fiction vs. Nonfiction

     I’ve just returned from the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention, one with strands reaching into the lives of teachers, librarians, academics, university students and lifelong learners.  It’s a fabulous gathering of thinkers and word-lovers, and again and again I heard the tension in conversation about the looming public school Core demands, and the place–if any–of fiction in the structure of that upcoming Core curriculum.
     Ouch!  Oof!  Fiction and nonfiction are slugging it out behind closed doors.  I’ve just read a marvelous New York Times article called, What Should Children Read? http://nyti.ms/RXKCQi  It inspired me.  As it isn’t fiction, is there irony here?  Nah, behind all inviting nonfiction lies a story.
     These are odd times.  It used to be that fiction and nonfiction carried equal weight as complimentary ingredients in a school curriculum; they were also the salt and pepper, or maybe the oil and vinegar, that seasoned lots of less intriguing but healthy stuff, at least for those students who weren’t math and science stars.  Both fiction and nonfiction shared stories that gave you a reason to gather necessary skills and tools -- tools that would send you out into the world one day as a capable communicator and wage-earner yourself. 
     Not to overdo the cooking metaphor, but everyone likes to taste and eat, and…  well, I see my job as a fiction writer, one whose work often appears in schools, as this:  I’m a maker of good smells in the learning kitchen. I try to leave readers of any age hungry.  To make anyone who reads my mysteries want to dig and explore further, and to ask more questions.  (I should also mention that my books don’t fit neatly into the category of either ‘mysteries’ or ‘fiction’ as they always seem to be packed with facts and real-world ideas.  Facts, after all, are the best teasers in our puzzling times.)   I wish I heard the messy word ‘inspiration’ being mentioned in talk of school reform as much other multisyllabic terms like ‘data-driven instruction’ and ‘high-stakes assessment.’ I feel this is a mistake, simplistic as it sounds.
     I believe the job of fiction in our schools should be to make readers curious about non-fiction, to make them love the process of following words and ideas, and to make the world at large feel more relevant.  Fiction has the power, ironically, to make nonfiction come alive. 
     There.  I’ve thumped the podium.  And waved my spoon.