Friday, June 25, 2010

Fiction Versus Non- fiction

Few weeks back I attended a  poetry reading session hosted by my publisher in one of Bangalore’s trendiest book shops. For a change I reached early, and it was sheer pleasure to browse through the vast collection of books  on the  shelves. A mother daughter duo were engrossed  in the  books on the next shelf. As my interest and theirs coincided : which  was to go through the latest  titles of  children’s fiction books, we stood  besides each other for a long time.

I am not a eavesdropper, nor do I like listening to other people’s conversations, but, unfortunately I heard  every single word of their argument.  The girl was about 11 years or whereabouts and the mother a harassed thirty something. The girl had selected a pile of books ( my heart swelled with pride). I just love to see children buying books (not necessarily mine, but any book) rather than frittering their pocket money on silly things.

My  bubble of happiness was  burst by the mother. “You have chosen all fiction books,” she scowled. The books were  rudely removed from her daughter’s hands and dumped back on the shelf. “I am not wasting money on fiction,” she grumbled. A small pile of non- fiction books that was  guaranteed to put a child to sleep  was dumped into the  girl’s hands. “Fiction does not teach anything,” she said. Her  words shocked me.

Where fiction is concerned, I  confess I do have a vested interest, as I am a fiction  writer. But labelling fiction as something  that just doesn’t teach is completely wrong.  Infact, I  feel  kids are definitely more  likely to learn a lot  from fiction because fiction  teaches, but  in a fun way, unlike non-fiction which is in your face teaching while  fiction is gentler and kind on a child’s mind.  

“All that non-fiction can do is answer questions. Its fiction’s business to ask them,” Richard Hughes. I completely agree with it. Fiction questions like nothing else does, and the questions make one sit  up, take notice and  ponder for a long time. The questions  are asked by characters the children have fallen in love with  and   protagonists they  have befriended. Somewhere along  the reading journey  the questions become the child’s own questions, one he or she  is eager to find the answers to.

Its extremely important that for parents  there has to be a  willingness to accept that everything does not  have to be  fed into a school curriculum or any curriculum for that matter. Stories help  children all over the world  develop in many different  ways  which are often more important than the school syllabus. Fiction helps children explore the amazing possibilities of imagination, the  finer nuances of human emotions, the  sheer joy of words and language,  fiction transports children to countries and worlds they have never been to, acquaints them with creatures they have never seen and many, many other things. And the icing on the cake is  that  it  entertains the child like nothing else does.

What do you all think, was the woman right in nudging, or, rather pushing her daughter towards non- fiction books? Do you feel that fiction just does not teach anything? I would love to get everyone’s  opinion.


  1. Rachna, I love this post! I feel exactly like you do about fiction and I love how you put it "fiction is gentler and kind on a child’s mind." Information is necessary, but it does not address the nuances of our inner being, our heart. Information is for the head, stories are for the heart.
    I hope that young girl will find her way through the barriers her mother is building around her.

    I have moved my Guardian Cats blog to Blogger. I'm just getting started, but please stop in when you have time. Cheers.

  2. Heera Nawaz ( 26, 2010 at 5:22 AM

    Rachna, this is good. Heera Nawaz.

  3. Oh that poor child! I agree with you - fiction teaches emotion, empathy, human understanding - gosh, so many things that factual books just can't do. There is a place for everything but I don't think that mother was going about it the right way. And as an aside, I also get so happy when I see children enjoying books!

  4. That is so awful that the mother did this. I learned so much from growing up and reading fiction-- reading is important and all ways should be encouraged!

  5. Rahma....I completely agree that information is for the head and stories for the heart. Visited your blog and left a comment.

    Jayne, I wish the mother had atleast allowed the girl few fiction books, and not dumped her preference on the girl.

    Terri...instead of feeling happy that her daughter was interested in reading books, the mother showed her displeasure that it was fiction books her daughter liked. I felt bad about that.

  6. That poor kid! That sounded like it was out of a fairy tale and the evil stepmother was like, "No fiction for you!" Awful.

  7. Hi Rachna,
    I agree with this paragraph! as well as Ramhas comment

    "Its extremely important that for parents there has to be a willingness to accept that everything does not have to be fed into a school curriculum or any curriculum for that matter. Stories help children all over the world develop in many different ways which are often more important than the school syllabus."