Facing the facts
Children's non-fiction has always had a place on library shelves, but it could be finding a new role in children's lives. The increased availability of information through TV, the internet and magazines, often in an unprocessed mass, has offered good non-fiction publishing a chance to shine; to help children clear ways through the informational tangle and present them with relevant, well-researched texts written specially for them.
What's more, recent studies show that reading non-fiction for pleasure can help to bolster falling literacy rates among certain groups of children: a 2003 Ofsted report, for example, showed that boys did best in schools where informational reading was valued equally with fiction (Schools Where Boys Write Well, HMI 505. Download from www.ofsted.gov.uk).
So there's a renewed interest among writers and publishers in children's information books, a feeling that the genre could diversify in the way that the adult non-fiction sector has done over the past decade. To celebrate, children's non-fiction, once the Cinderella of publishing, has blown its own glass slippers and is off to the ball.
In October, the Dylan Thomas Literature Centre in Swansea will host Adventures in the Real World, Britain's first conference on children's non-fiction. Speakers include high-profile children's authors (Philip Ardah, Michael Morpurgo, Stewart Ross and Nicola Morgan), book producers and literacy specialists. The conference aims to bring together people who create books, and professional users (teachers, librarians and academics), to explore the potential of children's non-fiction.
Delegates will collaborate to plan a travelling exhibition that will take the best in children's information books all over the country in 2006.
Children's non-fiction could be on a journey that will change its identity and its readership, and take it far, far away from the reference shelves.