Non-Fiction: Who’s Borrowing? Who’s Buying?

Alison Morris -- October 11th, 2007

Okay, booksellers AND librarians — weigh in on this discussion, would you? I’ve been having an interesting e-mail conversation this week with Elizabeth Vaccaro, the Media Specialist at Hillside Elementary School in Needham, Mass. Here’s the pared-down progress of our exchange so far:

Elizabeth: I wish I had been able to hear Steve Jenkins [when he visited Wellesley Bookstore on Sept. 29th]. He’s one of the best authors for those many children who only want non-fiction.

Me: What books do your devoted non-fiction readers seem the most drawn to? Any types of books or subjects in particular? I’m forever trying to get our non-fiction sales to pick up a bit but find that most browsers (apart from teachers and librarians) just skip the non-fiction section entirely, which is sad.

Elizabeth: How interesting because non-fiction is my biggest area of circulation. I have a hard time getting children to choose fiction, and I even have to legislate "at least one from the fiction side." This is particularly true among second grade boys and less able readers of all grades. Jon Scieszka writes about how boys read, and while the boys I’ve asked disagree with some of his points (some really like to lose themselves in books, for example), I see a lot of boys prefer the perusing, fact-finding type of reading.

Pet books of all types are the most popular. Sports books, especially of favorite teams, animal books. The kids like photographs and enough text to tell them something, not just one or two lines of information. (They consider those baby books here.)

Maybe they are popular at school because they aren’t allowed to buy these types of books?

I was particularly intrigued by Elizabeth’s final question, so when Lisa Rogers of Hardy Elementary School in Wellesley stopped by the store yesterday afternoon I asked for her observations. Are the students at her school flocking to the library’s non-fiction section? NO, was Lisa’s emphatic answer. It seems the Hardy students, like most of our store’s young customers, are moths to the fiction flame.

Hmmm… Is this a Needham/Wellesley dividing line? Does our store need to move one town over to talk more families into owning biographies and nature books? I suspect the answer’s not anywhere near that simple, but I’d love to hear some others weigh in with their experiences.

What’s hotter with the young browsers in your store or library, fiction or non-fiction? And have you got any theories as to WHY? If so, Elizabeth, Lisa, and I would love to hear them!

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