What's in a Name: National Non-Fiction Day

By Lancaster, Adam | School Librarian, Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

What's in a Name: National Non-Fiction Day


Lancaster, Adam, School Librarian


Over the years there have been many famous siblings: Cain & Abel, Anne & Emily, Alec & Stephen and more recently 'Jedward'.

The one thing all these siblings have had in common is that there is always one that is more famous than the other. Poor Abel forever remembered as Cain's murder victim, lowly Anne forever in Emily's Wuthering shadow and Stephen, never quite managing to head the Baldwin acting clan. As for 'Jedward', well I'm not too sure which is which but I'm sure one's hair isn't quite as tall as the others.

In the long history of sibling rivalries and poor relations one features more unjustly than the other. Two brothers of literature, one forever in the other's shadow, always fighting for attention and recognition. For one the slice of cake has always been bigger, the Christmas presents more expensive and the birthday party better attended.

Some of you may at this moment be caught in painful childhood memories. Many of you may have paid fortunes in counselling trying to get over this fact but spare a thought for the eternal struggle that Non Fiction faces over its better known sibling Fiction. Non Fiction is not only unable to seek counselling for the way it is treated but in a world where names are so important it has to put up with being something that is not something else. Having lived with no real identity we only know it by the fact that it is not fiction. That it is not made up.

Hang on a minute...You mean Non Fiction, which is all about reality, truth and knowledge, is known because it is not made up. Surely this has to be the wrong way round. Surely we should be saying anything that is made up is not real. That fiction books really should be called 'non non-fiction', but then I suppose that really is quite silly.

It does though raise the question about our feelings on Fiction and Non Fiction books. By giving them those titles, by naming them in those ways we are immediately putting one above the other. We are giving our preferences to fiction and saying 'well there is that other type of book, but it's not quite fiction though is it?' By giving something a negative to start off with it's no wonder Non Fiction books have felt hard done by over the years.

Remembering back to when I was at school I must admit Non Fiction books weren't the inspiring, creative books that we see today. In fact they were downright dowdy. A quick trip down the photo library for some American kids in bent over poses to illustrate the indigestion system and some truncated explanation cut and pasted from a 1950's medical journal by Prof Heinmann Scherlicker was about all publishers seemed to stretch to. Maybe it was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy that Non Fiction was suffering so much from a lack of identity that it also suffered a lack of funding, drive and understanding.

In recent times though there seems to have been a revolution. A factual revolution. A revolution to finally give Non Fiction its true identity. The peasants are revolting, so says history, and as Jefferson remarked 'every generation needs a revolution. even The Beatles were fond of a revolution, or Nine. In my opinion it's been a long overdue revolution, but nevertheless things are changing. When you walk into a book shop or library the Non Fiction shelves are no longer filled with dust coloured door stops. Instead they are inviting, colourful, and fun. The booksellers are now proud to display them. To enter them into their top 10's. To promote them. There are some amazing authors and illustrators of Non Fiction. Authors and illustrators that write and create books and pieces of artwork just as awe-inspiring as those we crow over in fiction book awards.

Non Fiction is beginning to be understood a little more. Its importance is being seen as not just a tool for learning but as a vehicle for enjoyment. When we talk about reading for pleasure we immediately seek the fiction books on the shelves, the authors that delight many a child and adult alike, and quite rightly do we do this. …

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