Fiction is not the only fruit

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Congratulations to Jacqueline Wilson on becoming Children's Laureate.

Children's books, particularly fiction, have never had it so good, but one genre - non-fiction - is constantly overlooked.

The genre has an identity crisis: its negative prefix is a hindrance, bookshops marginalise it, publishers rarely promote it and authors' names are largely unknown. Yet this country is a world leader in publishing quality children's non-fiction books, which are stepping-stones to the vital skills of information literacy.

For many young people, non-fiction plays at least as vital a part on their journey to becoming competent readers and writers as does fiction. Gaining information literacy at an early age is an equally important skill. It means learning to sort, discriminate and process information - abilities that have long-term value. These cannot easily be learnt through the vast resources of the internet.

As authors of children's non-fiction, we feel these books remain key learning resources, despite the ubiquity of electronic formats.

We believe that to have a nation of lifelong learners, the role of non-fiction books in raising standards of information literacy needs greater recognition. The skills gained by using non-fiction (searching, comparing, compiling and so on) are the same as those needed to equip children to find and make sense of the mass of online information and, vitally, become critical users of it.

Library cuts, poor high-street distribution, few reviews and fewer prizes keep much non-fiction out of sight, and we fear that today's young may be the first generation to abandon printed pages for web pages and their inherent problems.

For these reasons, we welcome the children's non-fiction conference Adventures in the Real World (Swansea, October 7-8) but feel more can and should be done by publishers, key organisations, awarding bodies and the media to raise the profile of these books.

John Malam and 21 other authors Winsford, Cheshire

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