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Do picture books get a free pass?

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My publisher wants me to change something in a historical nonfiction picture book. They've got good reasons and it would definitely simplify things. Still, I'm hesitant to go beyond what I've already done (simplified some things, exaggerated others) to actually put a person where he wasn't, doing things he didn't do.

On the other hand, I've seen some large liberties taken in historical PBs that appear to be nonfiction. For instance, when I got to the end of AMELIA AND ELEANOR GO FOR A RIDE I was surprised to find out that the basic story never happened--that the one time Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart flew together in a plane, other people were present and Amelia wasn't even the pilot. And with THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA, the author pretty much made up everything Roosevelt and Muir did and said, beyond the fact that they went camping in Yosemite.

I'm starting to think that parents, teachers, librarians, and reviewers don't look very closely at whether historical picture books are fiction or nonfiction. But what do you all think?
#1 - May 19, 2012, 07:34 AM
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Interesting question.  I think it's one thing to write HF that deviate from fact for MG and above readers, because that wonderful thing, the Author's Note, is there to explain where the author messed with historical fact in the course of story-telling.  But PB readers aren't exactly in a position to read or understand Author's Notes, are they, even if a teacher or parent explains the story is more fiction with historical characters than historical fiction.  And yet, books like this can inspire an interest in history, so that later on those PB readers go on to better things...

I think I need to think about this more.
#2 - May 19, 2012, 07:58 AM
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Well . . . I'm fine with historical fiction picture books . . . I've published a couple of those myself. What worries me is those that appear to be nonfiction, but take liberties with the facts.
#3 - May 19, 2012, 10:02 AM
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Hmmm. I'm a big fan of author notes and I'd read them to my kids when they were little. I think it's okay to deviate from the truth if you explain it. But only deviate if there is a good reason for it. I find it especially annoying to read books that have made up stuff when the truth is just as exciting, if not more.

Stephanie, I have one creative NF PB (animal life) and it's come close to being sold a couple of times. I guess it might be a mite too creative. LOL ...

Vijaya
#4 - May 19, 2012, 10:28 AM
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Librarians, or at least many librarians, do think about historical accuracy, or fiction being presented as fact. As long as there is a clear author's note/works cited page, it's okay being shelved in non-fiction unless it's mostly made-up. But I know my library will either put stuff in fiction or not purchase it if it seems to straddle the line too much (especially if it is made-up stuff masquerading as fact, or the author is fuzzy about what's true and what's not).
#5 - May 19, 2012, 10:28 AM
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As Amanda said, librarians will definitely examine your picture book to see if it's truly non-fiction. For instance, Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride is considered fiction in my library system. An 'inspired by' book is usually considered fiction. Most cataloging nowadays is done by the Library of Congress, not the local library. Do include an Author's Note and a bibliography to make your book more authoritative for reviewers/buyers, and for all your readers who want to know more. Good luck, Mara.
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#6 - May 19, 2012, 11:26 AM
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I'm surprised.  All my (nonfiction) editors have insisted on complete accuracy, although I think I once paraphrased one hisitorical character.  In ABE LINCOLN LOVED ANIMALS, I shortened one quote and added the word "President" in front of Buchanan's name in another quote, so kids would know who he was.  Everything else was checked and double checked and even given to a couple of Lincoln scholars to read and verify.  Fictionalizing nonfiction would make me very uneasy. 

When I use the phrase "creative nonfiction" it refers to fictional stories that include nonfiction info. as an aside.  My books TURN OF THE CENTURY and also IT'S BACK TO SCHOOL WE GO! are both in that format.  They've both sold very well, but many editors don't like creative nonfiction because bookstores (and libraries) don't know where to shelve it. 

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#7 - May 19, 2012, 01:01 PM
« Last Edit: May 19, 2012, 01:56 PM by Betsy »
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As a teacher this really surprises me. I use picture books to read to my students when I'm discussing an event in history. If it's not completely accurate, would it even be non-fiction? Or maybe put a footnote in the book or an author's note?
#8 - May 20, 2012, 04:45 PM
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