Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Narrative NF for kids

What would be the response if you received a query for a nonfiction novel?

Burning curiosity aside, at the serious end of the question I'm ignorant about the scope of the descriptor 'narrative non-fiction'. It seems to be reserved for historical persons and events, told as a story, with as much factual accuracy as possible of course, but with invented supporting characters, conversations, and so on. what about the other way round? If a book (thinking particularly aimed for children) is basically for the purpose of imparting factual knowledge (say; science, how government works, hobbies or crafts) but is presented in story format via fictional persons and events, what is it considered to be? At what point comes the distinction between fiction and non-fiction?

Many thanks for the blog, and thoughts to everyone in some kind of lockdown.

There is no one answer.
Non-fiction novel is now usually called narrative non-fiction, and the first book I think of is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, a book so chilling I remember how I felt reading it all these years later.

An adult biography that inserted fictional characters is generally going to hit some bumps in the road. Dutch by Edmund Morris is the best example.
To this day, biographers hiss when that book is mentioned.

Those are adult books, and you're asking about kids books.
The lattitude for kids books is often much wider.
A lot of it depends on the editor and publisher.
Some editors want the facts and only the facts.

Other editors have a looser approach.

If the goal of your book is to teach kids about science or government, or hobbies and crafts, you'll generally find yourself with the non-fiction label even if you include fictional people.

If the goal of your book is to tell a story, you're on the fiction aisle.

One of the best ways to get a sense of this is go sit in the library (when it opens) and read shelf after shelf of non-fiction.

Keep notes on what books (and publishers) had non-fiction with fictional elements, and how the fictional elements were used.

I can't wait till the libraries open up again, but I'm willing to wait till it's safe for librarians, as I'm sure you are too.


S.D.King said...

I wrote a MG speculative fiction novel that flashed back to Rasputin and Princess Anastasia - an old curse released by a present day middle school kid. I had the good forture to be seated next to the remarkable and gracious Candace Fleming at a SCBWI conference.
When she asked me about my book, I could tell she was biting her tongue and smiling. I think that when you have just written an exhaustive non-fiction called "The Family Romanov" it is difficult to see an upstart nobody mess around with the facts of Rasputin.
She was, however, kind and encouraging - and above all - very gracious.
BTW - still no agent. My critique partner is an agented YA author who claims I wrote a great book but epically cruddy queries.

nightsmusic said...

My fear would be, if the goal was to teach something, that kids get enough text books and why bother with yet another one. If you're telling a story and include facts, well, we all do that to one extent or another unless we're writing fantasy in which we build a new world. How many facts you include in that fictional story can either make the story great or overwhelm it. And though I don't write kid anything, I would think most would be more inclined to read the story with facts mixed in, for the most part.

I know, doesn't help at all...

Luralee said...

The Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole is a great example of this! I wish they were around when I was a kid. Not textbooky at all yet super informative.

John Davis Frain said...

Our local library is about to open up for curbside service next week. Not sure exactly what that means (and maybe they haven't decided yet either) because they say they'll tell us the details June 1.

I'll definitely wait until it's safe for librarians. I have plenty to work on (read: outline and eventually begin writing the Next Big Thing).

Sorry, I've nothing to add on the kid nonfiction front. But good luck, OP.

John Davis Frain said...

BTW, to follow up from yesterday ... I'm curious about a couple things.

Who is AKW, the person of interest in the Jeopardy mystery.

And, since they named Hank the closest -- did AKW get fired for drinking on the job or were they a fire-eater in a circus?

One of those would be great for a kid's nonfiction, one of them ... not so much. <<---Post author's lame attempt to tie into today's topic!

BJ Muntain said...

Something I would do (but I research everything), is go online. I'd say 99% of libraries in North America are online right now. You may not be able to borrow online (or you may), but you have all their records there. Find your local library online.

Do a search for Children's Nonfiction, and you can at least find the titles and where in the library to search for them when you're able to go back. You could even take the interesting titles to Amazon to get a feel for them, and you may even be able to 'see inside' for the acknowledgements, where you're most likely to find agent and editor. Once the library opens, go in and borrow the books (or borrow online earlier, if available), to read them.

Just saying you don't have to be stalled right now. There's always research that can be done ahead of doing the research. :)

AJ Blythe said...

Wait, what? Hank's Wait... you were let go as a fire breather from Cirque de Soleil for drinking on the job? is the closest to correct!

Now I really want to know more...

MA Hudson said...

Libraries in Sydney are opening up next week. We can book a 30 minute slot for browsing and borrowing only, and the first hour is open to vulnerable people only.

Claire Bobrow said...

OP: I'm not sure if this will be helpful, but consider checking out what kidlit super-author Shannon Messner has to say on the subject. She's really been making the virtual rounds the last few weeks and has some great content out there about kidlit non-fiction and its many different flavors.

She writes PB, MG, and I think YA? At least one of her webinars is on the SCBWI website under digital content. She's done others with The Writing Barn and with author Julie Hedlund, which may still be available.

Good luck!