Recently, narrative nonfiction has been getting a lot of buzz in the kidlit community. Editors look for it. Awards committees honor it. Teachers and librarians buy it. And yet, I wonder. I wonder. Does story appeal to all young readers or are some kids getting left out in the cold?
As an adult, I might read a review of a book or hear about it from a friend. It sounds good, so I buy it or check it out of my local library. I also read all kinds of blogs with thoughts straight from the author’s head and heart—no editor at all.
But that’s not how it works for young readers. There are gatekeepers between kids and the books they read. Lots of them. And as passionate and well-intentioned as those gatekeepers are, their own ideas and biases can act as filters. They affect what books are published for kids and what titles end up in a child’s hands.
I worry that the collective biases of the kidlit gatekeepers are weighted in a particular direction.
Think about it. Most editors and librarians and kidlit advocates have brains that work in a particular way. They are naturally drawn to stories and storytelling. They are what I call narrative thinkers.
But there is a whole different way of interacting with and experiencing the world. Analytical thinkers are straight-line thinkers--scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and computer programmers. Logic, not emotion, rules in the land of the analytical.
IMHO, these kids aren’t drawn to story in the same way that narrative-thinking kids (and adults) are. They don’t crave an emotional connection with the main character in a novel or a central figure in a biography. They want the data, and then they will interpret it for themselves.
They don’t want to read narrative nonfiction. Instead, they appreciate books with elements like patterning, analogies, metaphors, and calculations.
I strongly believe that analytical thinkers are currently being underserved by the kidlit community. We need to honor them by:
--appreciating the value of existing books that meet the needs of these students
--purchasing more books that will appeal to them (even if they don’t appeal to us)
Updated in June 2017 to replace the outmoded terms "left brain/right brain thinkers" with the terms "narrative thinker" and "analytical thinker," which I now prefer.