“A nonfiction writer is a storyteller who has sworn an oath to tell the truth.” A great quote from Newbery Award winning children’s nonfiction author Russell Freedman. 

Of course nonfiction has a very special place in literature and school libraries. It’s the bedrock of publishing.

Last week’s post held up an effective example, the biographical picture book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton and Don Tate (Eerdmans Publishing.) Another Eerdmans title, The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet and the 2014 Caldecott Medal winning Locomotive, written and illustrated by Brian Floca (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), which tells the story of America’s early railroads, are other examples. Floca’s Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, Lightship and The Racecar Alphabet and Verla Kay’s nonfiction ‘history poems’ like Gold Fever, Covered Wagons and Iron Horses demonstrate how truthful storytelling can be as lyrical or exciting as the best loved fables, nursery rhymes, fairy and folk tales.

Editor and author Lionel Bender, a London, England based book packager feels that rapid changes happening in publishing bode well for creators of children’s nonfiction. For the third year in a row he’s spearheading, with award winning author Sally Isaacs The 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference. This year it’s set for June 12 – 14 at Manhattan College in New York City.

Bender describes it as “a unique conference that provides opportunities to find work, build business connections and use one’s skills and creativity to create great nonfiction products for children.”

I talked with him about this in a noisy Marriott Courtyard Hotel lobby during last month’s Texas Library Association (TLA) Conference in Austin.

Nonfiction is more popular than ever before, Bender says, with several major children’s book awards choosing nonfiction winners and an increasing number of nonfiction-only awards popping up. Educational ‘standards’ like Common Core, Next Generation Science and 3C have put an emphasis on nonfiction “like never before,” while at higher grade levels children are expected to read more nonfiction than fiction, he says.

The conference will showcase what’s new in nonfiction publishing — be it produced on paper or for devices, by one of the ‘big five’ or an indie press.

Some 25 planned workshops will explore how publishers, authors and illustrators can better market their wares with new platforms in digital technology and social media. Other workshop topics include self publishing, crowd-funding for projects and how educators use trade books to foster literacy and promote avid, lifelong readers.

Bender apprenticed for many years as a book packager under Peter Kindersley of Dorling Kindersley (DK) Publishing  — the multinational publisher of illustrated reference manuals, (now owned by Penguin Random House) before co-founding Bender Richardson White, which produces children’s illustrated nonfiction and educational materials for publishers in North America and the UK.

His London-based company has produced books for National Geographic Kids, Time Life for Kids, Boyds Mills Press, Capstone, Crabtree, Picture Window Books, Chelsea House, and many more.

A big theme for the conference this year: How an increasing number of nonfiction publishers are working with packagers and digital developers to source content, develop digital products and reach new markets. So writers, illustrators, photographers, designers, editors, book packagers and agents should feel right at home with the publishers and educators.

“There will be opportunities, rarely possible at other publishing events, for all attendees to meet, organize their own discussion groups, establish working relationships, find work, get published even set up their own businesses,” Bender says.

The three days feature 25 workshops with an impressive faculty of 38 experts and creators, among them:

Amanda Barbara, CEO and co-founder of Pubslush,  a pre-publication platform that offers crowd-funding and pre-order options to authors and publishers.

Betsy Bird, Youth Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. In this capacity, Ms. Bird purchases most of the children’s nonfiction materials for the boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx. Her children’s literature blog, A Fuse #8 Production (http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production) is hosted by School Library Journal. She’s the co-author, with Julie Danielson and the late Peter D. Sieruta of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature (Candlewick, 2014).

Ted Levine is President and CEO of KIDS DISCOVER, an award-winning publisher of high-interest nonfiction material for children ages 6-14. Under Ted’s direction, KIDS DISCOVER has developed over 25 iPad apps, each one focusing on a single subject in the natural and social sciences.

Roxi Munro, an author/Illustrator of 35+ children’s books, including Market Maze, Busy Builders (Cook Prize STEM Honor); EcoMazes (SLJ Star, Smithsonian: Best Science Books for Children) will speak on transitioning from print books to apps, nonfiction and concept books, gamification, and crossmedia.

See the full faculty line-up.

Bender characterizes the 21st Century Nonfiction Conference as the only conference “devoted specifically to children’s nonfiction, offering publishers opportunities to share experiences with one another and authors and illustrators, librarians and teachers, creative houses and digital developers.”

He describes it as a forum “to connect, exchange ideas and establish new business models and ways of delivering nonfiction that excites and educates a young audience.”

Read more about the conference and register here.

Meet the organizers:

Lionel Bender Editor, author, and creator of more than 1200 children’s illustrated information books for the international coedition market. Co-founder of the book packager Bender Richardson White, which produces children’s illustrated nonfiction and educational materials for publishers in North America and the UK. His company has produced books for National Geographic Kids, Time Life for Kids, Boyds Mills Press, Capstone, Crabtree, Picture Window Books, Chelsea House, and many more. Lionel is also a partner of MJL Digital Publishing, which creates downloadable self-guided walks and digital stories for smart devices using QR-code technology. He is a regular speaker at regional SCBWI conferences and a visitor to international book fairs and conferences for 20+ years. On Highlights Foundation Faculty for Nonfiction. www.brw.co.uk, www.walkingthepast.co.uk, www.ibeaken.co.uk

Sally Isaacs Award-winning author of 50 illustrated school-and-library and trade children’s nonfiction books including two prestigious series: America in the Time of… (Heinemann Library/Capstone) and All About America (Kingfisher). Her latest work is National Geographic Kids Ultimate Globetrotting World Atlas. With a strong background in educational publishing (she served as Editorial Director of Reader’s Digest Educational Division), Isaacs created a freelance career that has covered many fields. She has worked on textbooks and workbooks for major publishers, consumer products for Highlights for Children, assessment materials for ETS, and website content for Huntington Learning Center.