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In the not too distant past, children’s book publishers produced just one kind of nonfiction—survey books that provide a general introduction to a broad topic, such as gorillas or galaxies or weather. These titles, which are often published in large series, emphasize balance and breadth of coverage. They have an expository writing style that explains, describes, or informs, and they feature concise, straightforward language.
Because covering a huge amount of information in a limited number of words constrains a nonfiction writer’s ability to craft rich text, these traditional nonfiction titles may seem less engaging than the other kinds of nonfiction books that have become increasingly popular in recent years.
Some young readers gravitate toward narrative nonfiction because it reads like a story. This writing style is ideal for biographies and books about historical events because it has a chronological sequence structure. Narrative nonfiction also works well for animal life stories and books that describe journeys of discovery or natural processes.
Other children prefer expository literature, which takes an in-depth look at a specific idea, such as a STEM concept. Because the topic is tightly focused, writers can be more creative and innovative. They can select a format and text structure that reflects their passion for and unique approach to the content, and they can experiment with voice and language devices.
And yet, many curious kids are hungry for books that provide broad overviews of their favorite STEM subjects. In an effort to create titles that satisfy young readers and seem more fun than traditional survey titles, some authors have begun employing techniques that blur the line between fiction and nonfiction. The result is informational fiction survey books.
For example, the picture book I, Fly: The Buzz about Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos features a talking fly who tells a classroom of students all about flies.
In the picture book Sun: One in a Billion by Stacey McAnulty, a sun character (with eyes, a nose and mouth, and arms), talks directly to readers, sharing a plethora of fascinating facts about how we Earthlings depend on the sun.
Truth About Bears: Seriously Funny Facts About Your Favorite Animals by Maxwell Eaton III combines a simple, straightforward main text with information about bears as well as dialog bubbles in which talking bears add humor. Many pages of this picture book also include factoid boxes with even more information.
Beavers: The Superpower Field Guide by Rachel Poliquin, which is 96 pages and intended for a middle grade audience, is narrated by a girl who presents information to readers in an enthusiastic, conversational voice.
Some adults worry that young children may be confused by this new way of presenting true information. They wonder:
- Will kids mistakenly believe that an animal or inanimate object can talk and/or experience the world in the same way as humans do?
- If children recognize that the first-person narrators are made up, will they realize that the ideas and information are factual?
While understanding how kids at various age levels respond to these books may take time, the growing interest in informational fiction survey books suggests that we’re likely to see more of them in the future.
Edited by Bill Sullivan, PhD, Indiana University School of Medicine.
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