Nonfiction books for children—from biographies and historical accounts of communities and events to works on science and social justice—have traditionally been most highly valued by educators and parents for their factual accuracy. This approach, however, misses an opportunity for young readers to participate in the generation and testing of information.
In A Literature of Questions, Joe Sutliff Sanders offers an innovative theoretical approach to children’s nonfiction that goes beyond an assessment of a work’s veracity to develop a book’s equivocation as a basis for interpretation. Addressing how such works are either vulnerable or resistant to critical engagement, Sanders pays special attention to the attributes that nonfiction shares with other forms of literature, including voice and character, and those that play a special role in the genre, such as peritexts and photography.
The first book-length work to theorize children’s nonfiction as nonfiction from a literary perspective, A Literature of Questions carefully explains how the genre speaks in unique ways to its young readers and how it invites them to the project of understanding. At the same time, it clearly lays out a series of techniques for analysis, which it then applies and nuances through extensive close readings and case studies of books published over the past half century, including recent award-winning books such as Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts: Thirteen Women Who Dared to Dream and We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson. By looking at a text’s willingness or reluctance to let children interrogate its information and ideological context, Sanders reveals how nonfiction can make young readers part of the project of learning rather than passive recipients of information.