Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Behind the Books: Creative Nonfiction Doesn’t Always Tell a Story

In recent years, we’ve heard a lot about narrative nonfiction—books that uses scene building, dialog, and other elements borrowed from fiction to tell true stories. But narrative texts are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creative nonfiction for young readers.

Here are some examples:
Lyrical nonfiction employs such language devices as alliteration, rhythm, and repetition to infuse prose with combinations of sounds and syllables that are especially pleasing to the ear.

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre (illus by Steve Jenkins)

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman (illus by Beth Krommes)

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass (illus by E.B. Lewis)

Step Out Gently by Helen Frost (photos by Rick Lieder)

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart (illus. Constance R. Bergum)

Humorous nonfiction makes expert use of sentence structure, unexpected word choices, and puns to craft a voice that has an unmistakably sassy, silly, whimsical, or even irreverent tone.

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving and Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson (illus by Matt Faulkner)

The Truth About Poop and See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House by Susan E. Goodman (illus. by Elwood H. Smith)

Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs by Kathleen Kudlinski (illus. by S.D. Schindler)

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley (illus. by Edwin Fotheringham)

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos (illus. by Stephanie Jorisch)

Some creative nonfiction for children is noteworthy for its structure, art, and design rather than its exceptional storytelling or spot-on voice.

What Would You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Never Smile at a Monkey by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page 

Move! by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed and Revealed by David Schwartz, Yael Schy, and Dwight Kuhn

Redwoods and Coral Reefs by Jason Chin

If you’re interested in crafting your own creative nonfiction title, read and study a wide variety of  books, including the ones mentioned above. Think deeply and innovatively about your own topic.

Would it work well as a narrative?

Would it benefit from a strong, distinctive voice?

What kind of layout or style of illustration would really bring the topic to life for young readers?

When it comes to today’s nonfiction for kids, the creative possibilities are endless.


  1. Some of my personal favorites and a few new ones for me to check out. Thanks!

  2. These are wonderful tips, Melissa. I think with creative nonfiction, we have to be especially careful with historical material to ensure true historical accuracy. I thought I'd add one more to your list: Karen C. Fox's "Older Than the Stars" uses the classic nursery rhyme, "This is the House That Jack Built" to show how everything originated with the Big Bang.

  3. Nice breakdown and spot-on examples, Melissa. Thanks for pulling this all together!

  4. Great post, Melissa. Thanks for putting nonfiction into perspective.