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K-State Today

July 5, 2016

English professor presents invited talk about children's nonfiction at China-US Children's Literature Symposium

Submitted by Sarah Hancock

Joe Sutliff Sanders, associate professor of English, delivered an invited talk at the China-US Children's Literature Symposium in May at the Ocean University of China in Qingdao. "'How Historians Actually Work': Theorizing Children's Nonfiction" explored the idea that librarians, teachers and literary scholars tend to invoke authoritative factuality as the characteristic that defines the value of nonfiction. Sanders argued against that model and explored questions of how children are invited into the process of inquiry rather than asked to absorb information passively.

Sanders' presentation helped him gain valuable feedback and build excitement as he finishes his larger project, a book in which he offers a new theory of children's nonfiction. He examines how nonfiction routinely invites critical engagement, highlights the production of knowledge, and empowers children to ask questions themselves.

Sanders notes that similar theories have been applied to other disciplines, such as history and science, and he advances a theory that unifies these perspectives and provides avenues for inquiry in children's nonfiction and the scholarly conversation around the genre. The book, "Humble Truths: Children's Nonfiction and Critical Engagement," is scheduled to be on shelves by the end of next year and will be of interest to writers of nonfiction, librarians, literature scholars and K-12 language arts teachers.

"The invitation to share his research reflects the international impact of Dr. Sanders' work and its contribution to the department's excellence in scholarship, especially in the field of children's literature," said Karin Westman, head of English. "We value the support offered by the Office of Research, so that our faculty can travel widely to share their ground-breaking research and creative activity."

The Ocean University of China sponsored Sanders' visit by providing room and board as well as local cultural excursions. Sanders' travel also was supported by the English department and by a Faculty Development Award from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs in fall 2015.