Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SLJ Round One, Match Seven: Storming the Rhythm

Anita Silvey's choice: The Storm in the Barn or Sweethearts of Rhythm

And the book moving on up is....

But first.

Both of these books involve a marriage of text and illustration; and Silvey takes that element of the books very, very seriously. Talking about the font seriously. Silvey also shows how to write critically about a book; this is not a "bad review," but the best example of a review that examines the various parts of a book, from design to text.

But, most interestingly, Silvey says "I have very strong biases about presenting history to young readers. Unless a work is obviously historical fiction, I prefer for writers to focus on what we believe to be fact—rather than to blend fact and fiction. Because I grew up in a family than never allowed the truth to get in the way of a good story, I myself from age three on wanted to know what was true and what was invented—both in my books and in life. I think many young readers, particularly the picture book set, have the same need."

First -- let me point out how Silvey explains states her bias, explains it, and then proceeds.

Second -- I have to say, I agree with much of what Silvey says.

Except that, for me at least, I don't mind the blending of fact and fiction (because, hello, we are talking fiction books!) as long as it's pointed out in end notes to the book. Otherwise, you get to the end and wonder -- what was real? Oh, you can assume perhaps that the child/teen lead character was invented. Figure out that some of the emotions and dialogue are guesses and conjecture. But if a time period is compressed? Figures that never knew each other meet?

Basically -- if a reader was to take a test (or be having a discussion with people they respected) and used their knowledge remembered from the book to answer the test (or engage in intelligent discussion) and it would turn out they were wrong? Because the book mixed fact and fiction? The reader should be told in an endnote.

Of course some things don't need to be explained! "Endnote: this book supposes that King Richard III was a warlock who time traveled to 1925. That is fiction" isn't needed. But to change King Richard's birthyear from 1452 to 1460 and his mother from Cecily Neville to Margaret of Anjou? That should be told.


Who triumphed? The Storm in the Barn, and Silvey nicely acknowledges both Matt Phelan and his team in reaching that decision.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Anonymous said...

What did you think of Silvey's objection to the erudite nature of the Sweethearts poems? I haven't read the book, but I was dismayed to read that.

Liz B said...

Anon, I haven't read the book either. Could the poems theoretically be too erudite? Yes. But I think we need to both respect the readers and not assume "oh they are just kids they won't know that"(in regards to the references made). Plus, this looks like it's a picture book for older readers, so yes, the reader will have that knowledge. IIRC, Nelson's other books had peotry that meant more when you checked out the references (timeline etc) and it just added strength to the poems. Why have everything spelled out?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's what I think as well. I was a little taken aback by the confidence of Silvey's assertion that if a kid won't get all the allusions it's bad thing. I certainly wouldn't agree.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I should have signed. 6:07 and 1:44 are both me.


Unknown said...

As a librarian, the mix of fact and fiction in "nonfiction" books is a new trend that is my current frustration. There are books that are being billed as nonfiction, both picture book nonfiction and books for older kids, but have either a fictional narrator or character or made up dialogue- to my mind that's historical fiction not nonfiction. The mixing of fact and fiction is fine in historical fiction but doesn't belong in regular nonfiction. Aargh!

Pardon my rant!