We had some great discussions, and I probably learned more from those bright, engaged students than they learned from me. But the absolute highlight was getting a sneak peek into the entire curriculum, which included a lesson called “Nonfiction Taxonomy.”
Taxonomy? Hmm. Sound a whole lot like one of my pet projects—developing a nonfiction family tree, doesn’t it? So I plunged into that lesson craving insight.
It turns out that Marc and his Uncommon Corps colleagues have developed a brand new, totally amazing system for classifying children’s nonfiction. It’s basically accomplishes what I had in mind with my nonfiction family tree, but the Uncommon Corp is light years ahead of my feeble attempt to get a handle on the broad range of nonfiction currently being published for young readers.
The Uncommon Corps has come up with seven broad categories for classifying nonfiction for children and they have graciously given me permission to share it here.
Data: In more friendly terms, you might call this category Fasts Facts. It includes Eyewitness Books, The Guinness Book of World Records, and my own book Animal Grossapedia. These are the concise, fact-filled books that groups of boys love to read together and discuss.
Expository: You might call this category Facts Plus because the facts are interwoven into a content-area explanation. This is could be considered “traditional” nonfiction in some ways, but there's nothing old-fashioned about today’s expository titles. Their engaging text and rich, dynamic art and design are sure to delight as well as inform young readers.
Narrative: This is a category we’ve heard a lot (I mean A LOT) about in the last few years. It’s the current darling of awards committees. Narrative titles present facts in the form of a true story with a narrative arc.
As you learn about the next few categories, I think you’ll see that some of the books that have been lumped into the narrative category should really be thought about on their own terms, based on the author's approach to the information.
Disciplinary Thinking: These books reveal how scientists and historians go about their work, how they evaluate evidence and form theories. The structure could be narrative, but it usually isn't. This category might also be called something like Experts at Work. Scientists in the Field books are the perfect example, but there are plenty of other examples. Skull by Mark Aronson is one that immediately comes to mind.
Inquiry: This category could also be called Ask and Answer. In these books, the author raises a question or a group of related questions and then seeks the answer. Sally Walker’s Written in Bone and What Bluebirds Do by Pamela F. Kirby are great examples.
Interpretation: For these books, authors research a topic widely, find their own meaning in the information, and present the content from that point of view. Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman is the first title that leaps to mind, but I’d also put books like Those Rebels, Tom and John by Barbara Kerley in this category. I think we’ll see more of these books in the future because this type of presentation directly supports Common Core.
Action: This is category offers a separate spot for titles that invite young readers to take action. The most obvious examples include Citizen Scientists by Loree Griffin Burns and the Science Play series by Vicki Cobb.
This post is getting long, so I’m going to look more closely at each of these categories in the next few weeks. But before I go, I wanted to show you how I would place these seven categories on my brand-spanking-new nonfiction family tree.
The branching is based on commonalities I see between the various kinds of books and how they may have evolved in reaction to advances in technology and market conditions. As always, my tree is a work in progress, but I’m feeling better about it all the time.