Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Behind the Books: What Are Inquiry Books, Interpretation Books, Disciplinary Thinking Books, and Action Books?

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’ve been looking at a great new nonfiction classification system developed by a group of educators and children’s book enthusiasts who call themselves the Uncommon Corp.

The group’s system consist of seven categories, and today I’m going to look at four that may take a bit of time and thinking to digest. For the last few years, most of us have lumped all kinds of non-expository nonfiction books into the narrative nonfiction category, even though they may not have truly fit.

Narrative nonfiction tells a story. It has a narrative arc that employs alternating bits of scene and summary to present a topic. If a book doesn’t do that, it isn’t narrative nonfiction, but it may not be expository or data either.

The Uncommon Corp has teased apart everything we’ve tried to heap in the narrative nonfiction pile and found four groups that they think (and I agree) should be considered on their own terms.

How did nonfiction offerings become so diverse in such a short time?  Because authors have been experimenting. The excitement of narrative nonfiction made authors giddy, and they began to play. They began to think about structure as adaptable, depending on the facts available and the story they wanted to tell.

Why has this tinkering been embraced by publishers? There are two important reasons.
-- By the mid-2000s, straightforward, kid-friendly information was widely available for free on the Internet. That made books written in a straightforward way less marketable.
--The No Child Left Behind Act 2001 caused schools to change how they spent money. Many school librarian positions were cut, and book budgets were slashed.

Suddenly, the demand for nonfiction books decreased, and publishers had to find new ways to make their books stand out. In other words, competition fueled innovation.

As authors searched for ways to make their writing as engaging as possible, four new kinds of books emerged, and now they finally have names.

Books in the Disciplinary Thinking (Experts at Work) category reveal how scientists and historians ask questions, evaluate evidence, and form theories.

In Inquiry (Ask and Answer) Books, the author begins with a question and then takes readers along on the journey to find answers.

To write Interpretation (Point of View) Books, authors research a topic widely, find their own meaning in the information, and present the content from that point of view. As I said in a previous post, I think we’ll see more of these books in the future because this type of presentation directly supports Common Core.

Action Books invite kids do more than sit in a chair and read. Some include activities or experiments, and some are a call to action. They encourage kids to go out and do something that will make a difference in the world.

So that’s it. My four-part explanation of how nonfiction for kids has evolved over the last couple of decades and why I think this new classification system perfectly encapsulates the current state of the genre and all it has to offer.

What do you think of the New Nonfiction Taxonomy?

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