Friday, March 30, 2012

So Real It Must Be Fake


Sometimes the truth seems too good to be true. I’ve been thinking about this lately in my role as a former editor and current writer and reader of children’s nonfiction.

During my ten years at Carolrhoda Books, I edited many biographies of famous people. All of us editors were careful to make sure that facts—and quotations in particular—were thoroughly documented. We were well aware that readers look at nonfiction as being “true.” When it’s true, you can’t include made-up stuff.

One reviewer was sure I'd made up the dialogue from William Penn's famous courtroom trial--but I got it from contemporary sources who were present at the court!
In my years as a writer of children’s nonfiction, I’ve worked hard to maintain that same standard. If you see words in quotations in one of my biographies, they’re from a published source—and that source is listed in the bibliography.

Sometimes, it’s hard to write lively prose and maintain that standard of “true.” But there are rare moments when your research uncovers great, great sources of lively, immediate, and wonderful words.

Yup. It says it's a true story, right on the cover of Mary Losure's new book. And it really is!

My friend and fellow St. Paulite, Mary Losure, lucked into a treasure trove of great primary source materials for her first book for children. The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World has the words “a true story” printed on the cover, just below the title. It’s got a good bibliography of sources. It’s written by a journalist (folks known for getting down to the facts). And yet, at least one reviewer points to “imagined dialogue,” and the book is being classified in some places as “historical fiction” and “realistic fiction.” 

It’s none of the above. The Fairy Ring is a compelling read with a  strong storyline. In other words, it’s good, plain, well-researched nonfiction.

A story so real, you might think it’s fake…until you read the bibliography, of course.

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