STRATHAM — A local woman is one of two educators leading a coalition asking the New York Times to add a children’s nonfiction bestseller list.
Mary Ann Cappiello, who is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University, and Xenia Hadjioannou, associate professor of language and literacy education at the Harrisburg campus of Penn State University, are spearheading the initiative.
“Now is the time for change,” said Cappiello, who lives in Stratham. “Nonfiction for children has never been more vibrant or vital. Children need ready access to these high-interest, developmentally appropriate, well-researched, and well-written texts.”
The New York Times already has existing lists that focus on juvenile fiction.
The two went public with their campaign on Valentine’s Day with a letter to the editorial page at the New York Times that was also posted on over 20 children’s literature blogs, including The Classroom Bookshelf, Cynsations, A Fuse #8 Production, and Nonfiction Fest.
Their letter argues that the omission of nonfiction for young readers makes it difficult for readers and their teachers and caregivers to find the titles they need. It also discourages publishers and booksellers from offering nonfiction titles the market wants.
Adding the lists to the New York Times bestseller collection would also broaden the appeal of nonfiction among young readers, bolstering their knowledge, critical thinking abilities, and respect for factual discourse, they say.
“If the New York Times wants to meet readers’ interests with its bestseller lists and also nurture future readers of adult nonfiction, then highlighting juvenile nonfiction bestsellers is necessary,” added Hadjioannou. “Young readers are hungry for it.”
They point to changes in this market as indicative of that hunger. Sales of nonfiction books for young readers rose 23.1 percent in 2020, more than twice that of juvenile fiction. Due to the 2020 pandemic, lockdowns and hybrid remote classrooms, there was a dramatic 38.3 percent increase for young adult nonfiction titles.
The trend continued in 2021, when sales across the board for several juvenile nonfiction categories rose, including a 23 percent jump for autobiography/biography and 9 percent for science/nature books. Religion, health, and social topics saw similar spikes.
They hope the New York Times will add three nonfiction bestseller lists for young people: one for picture books, one for middle-grade literature, and one for young adult literature.
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“Today’s nonfiction authors and illustrators are depicting marginalized and minority communities throughout history and in our current moment. They are sharing scientific phenomena and cutting-edge discoveries. They are bearing witness to how art forms shift and transform, and illuminating historical documents and artifacts long ignored,” they wrote in the letter. “Some of these book creators are themselves scientists or historians, journalists or jurists, athletes or artists, models of active learning and agency for young people passionate about specific topics and subject areas. Today’s nonfiction continues to push boundaries in form and function. These innovative titles engage, inform, and inspire readers from birth to high school.”