105 Ways to Give a Book

Nonfiction vs. Historical Fiction, plus FOREWORD!

Today my first article is posted at ForeWord — or will be any minute now. I wrote about the picture books that should be in every public and school library — and certainly some home libraries — for Black History Month. Some of the books are nonfiction and some are historical fiction. Several I think blur that line, making me — and who knows, maybe you — question the nature of a nonfiction book. It’s certainly easy when your book is titled Bees and it’s all facts about, you know, bees. But it gets trickier when the book’s about a person and some blanks have to be filled in to complete the story.

So Henry’s Freedom Box is historical fiction because it’s based on a true story, but all the details aren’t known. But Only Passing Through is a biography of Sojourner Truth, though there are parts that read like a story. How about last year’s Caldecott Honor Award winner Moses? It is considered a biography in my library, but I dare say that the parts where Harriet Tubman is addressed by God make it more of a fictionalized account by my definition.

Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen VictoriaTake Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria, by Kyra E. Hicks. I was certain that the book was historical fiction, mainly because it reads like a story. In 1830, Martha Ann and her family bought their freedom, and with the assistance of the American Colonization Society, moved to Liberia to live. The children could attend school in Liberia, and they were finally free from slavery in America. Even after a deadly fever took away her mother and father, the children decided to stay in the country far from their home. When the queen of England sent ships to patrol the coast of Liberia to keep slave catchers away, Martha Ann made herself a promise to meet Queen Victoria someday. Through years of waiting and some hard times, Martha Ann never forgot her goal, and worked to make it come true. I liked this book because it shows a different perspective on this time in history, and offers a lesson in reaching for our dreams. When I went to the Library of Congress catalog entry, it appears I’ve been reading a straight biography all along. Who knew?

So for Nonfiction Monday at Picture Book of the Day, let me wonder what pushes these books into one category or the other. For more on the perfect picture books for Black History Month — not like I wasn’t offering huge hints on what I’ve included — head over to ForeWord’s blog and put in your own suggestions — but only up to 1899, because I’m covering the period from 1900 onward with Friday’s entry.


Tricia said...

I think the problem here is one of perspective. Nonfiction gets a bad wrap, and when authors try to make it interesting, and write narrative nonfiction, readers wonder where it fits. I for one am thrilled there are people out there trying to make this stuff more exciting and easier to read. Nonfiction doesn't have to read like a textbook to be informational.

Chris Barton said...

MotherReader, momentarily setting aside the matter of where to shelve a book, I've grown increasingly comfortable with the idea of children's and YA writers putting a creative spin on nonfiction topics in order to make those topics more accessible or meaningful -- except for one thing: What's the best way to convey to young readers that this is what the author has done? Any thoughts?