Just to recap . . . According to my current way of thinking, there are four nonfiction categories—survey, specialized, concept, and biography/autobiography. And there are three nonfiction writing styles—narrative, expository, persuasive.
So here’s a question: How are these nonfiction types and writing styles related to and/or influenced by one another?
Here are my thoughts, and I fully admit that they are still evolving.
When creating The Guinness Book of World’s Records or The Time for Kids Big Book of Why, the goal was to share snippets of information that kids would devour. These books cover a lot of ground and are meant to appeal to a wide swath of upper-elementary kids, including reluctant readers. So the publishers developed survey books with a fast-fact expository style.
I think it’s safe to say that all survey books have an expository style. At least I can’t think of any that don’t. Can you?
When I was writing Feathers: Not Just for Flying, my goal was to describe the surprising ways some birds use their feathers and to explain how their unusual feather-related behaviors help them survive in their habitats. My topic was focused, but I’d be sharing information about many different birds. The best choice was a specialized book with a facts-plus expository writing style.
Do specialized books always have an expository style? No way. My book A Place for Butterflies is a specialized book with a persuasive style, and Chasing Cheetahs by Sy Montgomery is a specialized book with a narrative style.
Remember the ten specialized books I shared back on October 15? Here they are sorted by writing style:
My First Day by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
Pure Grit by Mary Cronk Farrell
Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead by Rebecca L. Johnson
Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa's Fastest Cats by Sy Montgomery
Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey by Loree Griffin Burns
Plastics Ahoy! by Patricia Newman
Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer
Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah Campbell
Energy Island by Allan Drummond
Frog Song by Brenda G. Zuiberson
When I was writing the three companion books When Rain Falls, Under the Snow, and Beneath the Sun, I had a dual purpose in mind. (1) I wanted readers to understand an abstract concept—that an animal’s body features and behaviors help it survive in its environment. (2) I wanted the books to work as bedtime stories.
To achieve my first goal, a concept book was the obvious choice. Many (most?) concept books have an expository style, but for my books to work well at bedtime, a narrative style would work better. After much trial and error, I discovered that showing the passage of time and crafting an ending that linked strongly back to the beginning created a satisfying circle, making the books read like stories.
Remember the ten concept books I shared back on October 15? Here they are sorted by writing style. Interestingly, both of the Concept, Narrative books below feature circle stories, just like my three books. I think this is a reliable pattern.
An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston Hutts
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine
Just a Second by Steve Jenkins
Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animals’ Lives by Lola Schaefer
Move by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell
Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy
Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman
Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman
Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre
Last but not least is the biography/autobiography category.
Because these books are the story of a person’s life, they are generally written with a narrative style. Creating scenes helps readers feel like they know the main character and understand his/her actions. But some biographies/autobiographies are also meant to persuade readers. These books have a combination narrative-persuasive style. Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone is a perfect example.