For many years, children's nonfiction authors who write on topics where "nothing is made up," have been in the shadows. First, our books are not cataloged and shelved by our names but by the topics we write about. Thus, our books are scattered throughout the Dewey Decimal System. Second, the spaces on the nonfiction library shelves were traditionally filled by the yard with survey books-- collections of facts and information that had no particular conceptual architecture, thus there was often no narrative to make sense of the information. Editors were trained to make these works as impersonal as possible, as if the material in the book had never interacted with a human mind. Journalists had style sheets that told them never, never use the perpendicular pronoun "I". If they had to impose themselves in a story as eyewitnesses they were to speak of themselves in the third personal as in"this reporter" or use the "editorial we." Mark Twain disdained this idea. He said, " Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial 'we.'" My guess is that the thinking behind this stilted styling was that a work had less authority if it came from the mind of a person and had more authority if it seemed to come from God.
Slowly, we are coming to understand that an author's point of view is part of the truth of nonfiction. We don't do invented dialog without a disclaimer that lets the reader know that the author is imagining what happened. But if that doesn't happen, we categorize such a book as "historical fiction." But often, in history, there are primary source documents where we know what a person actually said. Currently, the best nonfiction authors write with point of view that has solid premises decorated with facts. These books are not supposed to be read the same way one reads a novel. They are often meant to be digested in small bites, so pithy are their concepts the reader can only grasp the big ideas by thinking about them and giving them time to sink in. We write for the uninitiated so that they acquire the background knowledge that they will need later in their education.
Recently, there was a segment on CBS This Morning on the "Golden Age" of Documentary Film Making. I immediately saw the parallel to what is happening in my genre. We are using techniques of fiction writing-- riveting narratives, foreshadowing, atmospherics, to bring to life our stories of the real world. We connect our big ideas to everyday knowledge we assume children already have. In science, I try and make them think extraordinary things about air, water, energy--the most common and almost forgotten aspects of our shared environment. Each author has a distinctive voice that makes material accessible. Even if the concepts are difficult, we know how to speak "child" so that leveled reading is not necessary.
It is not as important for our readers to know the facts as it is for them to see how the facts relate to the big ideas that make meaning of our world and to help them create their individual conceptual frameworks to further understand how the world works.