In a recent article, Washington Post columnist Jay Matthews points out there’s a battle brewing over the use of fiction or nonfiction in the Common Core standards. He calls it the fiction vs. nonfiction smackdown .
Why a smackdown? The literature of both fact and fiction can engage and educate.
Last spring, I introduced a group of parents and teachers to When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson written by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic). I had a hard time convincing the staff that this title would be very useful to support the Common Core standards. It looked like fiction, and perhaps worse, its picture book format belied the book’s depth.
When Marian Sang is a well-researched, highly readable glimpse at the life of the woman who made history by singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. The illustrations by Brian Selznick also have been thoroughly researched.
All writers — those who write nonfiction as well as fiction — have a style of writing and a point of view. It’s seen in what is included as well as in what is not included. Word choice indicates a writer’s perspective as well. Ryan uses lyrical words and gospel lyrics that suggest the depth of emotions and to contextualize the times in which Marian Anderson lived. Additional references (a timeline, author’s notes, and discography) encourage readers to learn more.
Illustrators, too, have both a style and point of view. The way they present a subject, any subject, often shows how they feel about it. Selznick’s illustrations use sepia tones and color, portraiture and perspective, to create a respectful, authentic and effective depiction that parallels and expands the text. Are they less accurate because they aren’t photographs? Absolutely not.
Rather than pit fictional texts against nonfiction, let’s help children of all ages see and understand where fact and fiction intersect, how to identify point of view, opinion, attitude, in both words and image.