The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple is an educational fiction mystery series with Teachable Moments, Grade Level Vocabulary, and Age-Appropriate Topics as the reader matures and progresses through the books.
An attentive reader of novels may prefer fictional stories from a wide range of sub-genres: romance, adventure, historical, fantasy. Although that reader may casually learn age-appropriate lessons from fictional characters placed in pretend-life situations, educational fiction actually aims at learning as a goal. Unlike Seinfeld which was undeniable fun but reveled in the fact that its story was about “nothing,” educational fiction is, on the other hand, about “something,” something “real” that can be fun or serious.
Perhaps more akin to historical fiction, educational fiction explores an imaginary narrative that looks through a particular glass and wrestles with particular dilemmas. Depending on the target audience, educational fiction offers age-appropriate books that explore a wide range of topics. It tackles these topics by guiding a reader through a cleverly designed plot that requires its characters to be curious, to seek answers to questions, and even to follow a mystery to its logical solution. Without forcing connections, its storyline manages a difficult issue by critique, not criticism. Such restraint lets characters freely comment from their own perspectives and lets readers experience their own epiphanies-cum-teachable-moments.
In his article “Education[al] Fiction–A Field Waiting to Be Explored,” George Korankye noted that Geoffrey Chaucer and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle both composed stories around an early understanding of medical science. Whether or not these men unwittingly invented the genre, readers have benefited from such ingenious grace of such literature. Other primary exponents grasped the concept of making a point with a story. Aesop used his fables for teachable moments by ending each tale with a moral. Jesus taught by parable, an instructive story that restricts itself to a single point. The shorter a narrative, the fewer the points can be made: the longer a story, the more items it can investigate and manifest to the reader. That describes the purpose and effect of educational fiction (now tagged “edufic” by some).
Others consciously set rich teachable moments into their educational fiction. Recently, I stumbled on a Grade 2-5 series called The Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man. Kumar Hathy has designed an age-appropriate story laced with common core standards for teachers to emphasize while in the story’s text.
Korankye sees this genre as a future “interdisciplinary” teaching tool that can “embrace a wide range of subjects and themes.” He reported on Gundermann and Mortell’s study that saw the future of educational fiction as a vehicle to change opinions of real people and/or issues when negatively portrayed. Though I liked the gist of Korankye’s ideas, I have reservations of “edufic” becoming the narrative form of docudrama because promoting awareness of a topic can easily turn into indoctrination.
I can honor Korankye’s idea of having a Bibliography only to an extent. In my own educational fiction series of The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple, I have Appendices of Clichés/Idioms, Lookup Suggestions, and Vocabulary mentioned in the story but meant only to give the reader a beginning place to do research on his own. To me, educational fiction is to stimulate further reading rather than to count on every fact as if it came from official documentation.
I disagree with Korankye’s suggestion that educational fiction should make “all its references… verifiable, and all its assumptions plausible in the light of current thought.” That not only could burden an author and restrict his insights, but also such an arbitrary requirement on content could distract the reader and kill the plot, making it subservient to an extraneous fact. For instance, I wrote a fictional play about an historical character living in Roman times. Digesting diverse opinions, I had to mash these together creatively to make possible any cohesive and authentic tone. My ethical stance is not to be slavish to facts but to give readers the flavor in a fictional piece. They can research any facts perceived as mistakes and be smarter for their effort.