Reading Response: Nonfiction for Young Adults

In reading a chapter for Literature for Young Adults on nonfiction, I realized that I didn’t often seek out nonfiction. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t read nonfiction. Actually, I read it all the time. I’d guess that anyone under the age of 30 reads tons of it online every day. We read tutorials on e-how, consult forums to troubleshoot our computers when something goes awry, and explore mini-essays on art and politics that masquerade as blog posts. While this chapter seemed to focus on how students and teachers need to read more nonfiction, I think it missed the fact that it already happens. The only difference is that we don’t go to books for our nonfiction needs as often anymore.

I don’t really know if this is a good or a bad thing. On the one hand, materials that are published physically often go through a more strenuous process of editing. This ensures that the information is correct and offers a kind of quality control. But on the other hand, online nonfiction works offer a lot that their printed counter parts do not. As the chapter mentions, nonfiction books can quickly become outdated–information posted online is frequently added to and updated. Furthermore, using the internet to “publish” nonfiction is a way that empowers everyone. It sends a message that anyone who accesses information and has the discipline to write about it (either giving facts, narrative, or opinion) can do so, and reach an audience.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t consult books for our nonfiction needs, but I do believe that we need to recognize other sources as legitimate and important. That being said, I want to turn this over to you: do you think that teachers should encourage nonfiction books over online nonfiction sources in the classroom? How would you get your students to think about what they read online and out in the world as nonfiction? I’m interested to see what you think, so leave a reply in the comments!

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10 thoughts on “Reading Response: Nonfiction for Young Adults

  1. Chelsea, I am really interested in your point about online non-fiction’s ability to empower authors/writers/voices who might not otherwise be read/heard. I am fascinated with the blog medium as a whole because it encourages diverse opinions and varied dialogue. I also agree with the notion that some nonfiction books can become outdated quickly, whereas texts published online can be updated with more regularity. In a way, I think that we, as future teachers, should start by striving to validate the non-fiction reading that students are already doing–whether that reading is in the form of major media articles, Buzzfeed articles, celebrity gossip, or Wikipedia pages. I think we can encourage students to use these more popular non-fiction sites to spark their interest, but also teach students how to use more specialized databases and published texts to research more peer-reviewed information. Either way, in discussing non-fiction, I think critical evaluations of authorial bias, general issues of viewpoint, and socially privileged voices are essential.

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    1. You actually went a little deeper into this idea than I originally did. I think you really hit the nail on the head in saying that we can use online nonfiction sources to emphasize the importance of bias and multiple perspectives in the dissemination of information. You used the word “dialogue” too, which gets at the idea that we want our students to see literature as intertextual. It’s a lot easier to see that online (where one can retweet or comment on a blog post) but we can then show them that it applies to printed text too.

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  2. I think teachers should; if only to teach the kids the skills to refer to a book (as in, it is a lot easier to type something into Google rather than search an index) and often the footnotes lead onto something else.
    Also I’ve noticed that when you Google something, the most popular/commented on posts come up first. It’s important that kids look at multiple points of view and not just the popular one; that they learn to research & draw their own conclusions.

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    1. You bring up a good point! My generation is one that barely remembers library catalogue cards and relies more on Encylopedia Brittanica Online than actual print sources. To look for sources in indexes and bibliographies in the backs of books is a good way to teach students ways to dig deeper. Sometimes I think the internet makes it almost too easy to get information, but a lot of the most valuable sources I’ve used for research and policy proposals have been print sources I found through a lot of digging.

      Your mention of Google’s algorithms is another piece that’s good to keep in mind. I think there are ways to get around that, especially if your school has a lot of online subscriptions to journals and othersuch things. Or if you use wikipedia to start, you can go to the references at the bottom and go on a merry chase to find the primary sources of the info you’re looking for.

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  3. I agree that there is so much to be offered by nonfiction sources like Buzzfeed, reddit, and blogs. I always try to think of ways in which we can look at what our students are already doing and enjoying, validate it, and then expand on it. For example, I think explaining to students that Buzzfeed is in fact a commendable source of non-fiction and then introducing activities that discuss it as it relates to literary form, mixed media, word choice and grammar when you have only a little bit of space etc.

    On the other hand, though, it is crucial that we remember the pitfalls of online non-fiction and adapt to them. Like you mention, information published online, while updated more frequently, is more prone to error. It would be very important to teach our students to work on their own to validate what they read, and to approach the internet with caution. I have often come across two sources on the same event/idea/etc. that make exactly opposite claims/arguments or have contradictory facts. It will be our responsibility as educators to ensure that our students understand this inevitability of the internet and how to work around it.

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    1. I love your idea about using Buzzfeed as an example of nonfiction. I think that would be a great way to introduce the genre to students, especially in a creative writing class (but also in a normal ELA class). I might have to use that someday. But of course, I’ll give the credit to you. It’ll be a good opportunity to show my students that it’s important to cite your sources–that is one of the pitfalls of online nonfiction after all.

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  4. I agree–I find myself reading complete articles on wikipedia for hours in my spare time (or when I’m supposed to be reading for my classes). However, I think that reading online and reading a printed non-fiction text are still different. We spoke in class about an example of Capote’s “In Cold Blood” as an example of new journalism, a form of non-fiction. However, this book romanticized the real events which calls into question just how “true” the text is and, furthermore, just how “true” any non-fiction texts are. I think someone can even argue that perhaps non-fiction novels do not exist.

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  5. Chelsea, you bring up a good point. Today in class, I mentioned that when I think of the term “nonfiction,” a textbook immediately comes to mind. And this notion still holds true — despite my knowledge otherwise. Something that needs to be incorporated into the classroom is a discussion concerning the definition of nonfiction, in addition to nonfiction reading along the lines of what you mention—such as blog posts and online articles. But, I don’t think that this should solely be the English teacher’s responsibility. Nonfiction should be read and discussed in all academic areas. That being said, I think that there should be at least one nonfiction book covered in each English classroom per grade, and supplemented with a variety of other nonfiction texts throughout the rest of the year. This should also include nonfiction that can be applied to practical applications, which prepare students for real life situations, such as instruction manuals.

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  6. I agree with you, Sam, in that I think that nonfiction should be read and discussed in all academic areas. However, I think that the English classroom holds an especially important space for discussion of what nonfiction is. As Leala pointed out, there are different forms of nonfiction that could be discussed in a classroom that could work in different ways. For example, reading In Cold Blood serves a completely different purpose than reading an article written about the murders depicted in that novel. The English classroom can, and should, be the area of discussion of these different forms and what purposes each of them possess.

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