Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Behind the Books: What Is the Heck Is Informational Fiction?


It’s a new term that some people are using to describe books that share a significant amount of true information, but aren’t 100 percent accurate.

These books include historical fiction, like the Dear America series or Brad Meltzer's Ordinary People Change the World series or the many picture book biographies with some made-up dialog or events presented out of chronological order to improve storytelling.

They also include science-themed books, like The Magic School Bus series or Redwoods by Jason Chin. These books are full or facts and explore science concepts, but they contain made-up characters, fantastical art, or other embellishments.

In some cases, taking creative liberties with true, documentable facts may be an effective way to share ideas and information with young readers, but authors and publishers need to be upfront with children. It’s important to let them know what’s real and what’s not.

19 comments:

  1. Melissa,
    An extra page or two in the back of the book emphasizing "true, documentable facts" would be a great asset to these books!

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  2. One thing to consider, Fran, is that many of these books are picture books. With only 32 pages in all, real estate is at a premium. It can be hard to pack in all the info kids need in the main text AND have significant backmatter. Usually, a brief author's note is all that's possible.

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  3. Note that "Informational" is the definition of what's considered eligible for the Sibert Award.

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  4. Yes, and if you look a the Sibert definition in the guidelines, you'll see that it's the "librarian definition" of informational book: http://celebratescience.blogspot.com/2016/09/behind-books-what-heck-is-informational.html

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    1. Agreed said the school librarian of 1 5 years, that is our term.

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  5. I do like the term "informational fiction," because it seems to get the gist across: it's fiction, so at least SOME part of it is made up. But it's also full of information. Of course, there will still be a broad range of books, from 90% fact with 10% fiction to, perhaps, the opposite. Thought I'd think a book would need to be fairly heavy on the informational side (50%?) to qualify for this definition. Thanks, Melissa!

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  6. Yes, there will be a broad range, and author's notes may help clarify where it falls on the continuum, but at least it lets kids know some of it is made up--not 100 percent documentable.

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  7. Interesting. Would you consider this a genre or a category which includes several genres? There certainly are many lines crisscrossing in this area... thank you for sharing and clarifying!

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    1. The term "genre" seems to have so many meanings that I'm not sure it's useful at all. I see "informational fiction" as a term that educators are using and the Library of Congress might begin to use as a way of differentiating pure nonfiction--books that are 100 percent documentable--from books that contain some true information as well as some made up parts, such as invented dialog or scenes presented out of chronological order to enhance the story arc.

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  8. Melissa - After reading your article of Sept 13 in which you show that changing definitions of informational text, I can see the confusion! When I picture “informational text,” it’s generally in the form of a DK-type book or reference. In this post, I like the term you use, “informational fiction,” for books like The Magic School Bus, in which the main purpose is to communicate facts but do so with a narrative character or device. When teachers use such books in the classroom, a great activity would be for kids to try to separate the verifiable facts from the fictional narrative thread. But I do have one bone to pick: while the Brad Meltzer biographical series, Ordinary People, may be fall in the category of “informational fiction” because through first-person point of view, the goal of these books is to communicate facts about a person’s life, the Dear America series is clearly historical fiction and does not fit your definition. Thanks for giving us lots to think about!

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  9. Hi Alexis,

    As I said back on Sept. 13, because the term "informational text/book" is used in different ways by different groups (librarians, literacy educators, Common core), I think it has become a useless term. I don't use it at all. I prefer to just use "nonfiction," which I consider to be books that are completely true and documentable.

    This is why I'm embracing the term "informational fiction." I should say however, tha the people using this term don't consider it to have a direct relationship to the term "informational text/book". In other words, one is not a subcategory of the other.

    The way I've heard the term "informational fiction" used is to identify books that include historical fiction (like Dear America) and science-y fiction (like the Magic School bus) and biographies that take liberties, such as made up dialog (like Brad Meltzer books and some other PB bios) or scenes presented out of chronological order (like Tricky Vic) to enhance the storytelling.

    Will this term grow in popularity? Maybe. Maybe not. But I do think we will see more and more discussion of this topic as educators, publishers, and writers wrestle with the best ways to tell stories and the best way to distinguish books that are completely true from books that are embellished for the sake of storytelling. It's an interesting time, that's for sure.

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  10. Melissa - I appreciate the careful thought you've given to these definitions. Here's my main hope: that students learn how to tell the difference between a verifiable fact and that which has been invented - especially in a world where half-truths and fictions are taken as full-blown facts, and acted upon as such.

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  11. I totally agree, Alexis. I guess the question for us as writers and for publishers and educators, as well, is how can we best help them learn to develop that important skill?

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  12. Melissa - Perhaps first step should be making folks (including educators, publishers, and book reviewers) aware of the issue through articles, blog posts, workshops and conference sessions, and then giving folks opportunities to try their hand at analyzing/classifying books themselves according to specific criteria.

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  13. That's exactly what I'm trying to do. And I do think these efforts by me and plenty of others are starting to get some attention.

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  14. You’re right, Melissa! This is a perfect topic for an article in the SCBWI Bulletin, especially in light of the confusion of authors and agents in a discussion at the SCBWI conference last summer. I also hope that you propose this as a session for next summer’s conference. By the way -- you say "plenty of others" are getting attention about this issue. Can you point us to where these discussions are happening? -- ALEXIS

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  15. Yes, I have written an article for the SCBWI Bulletin. It will be published soon.

    Some good places for discussion of nonfiction books, nonfiction craft, and using nonfiction in the classroom include the Wow Nonfiction and NF 4 NF Facebook groups and conferences, the NFforKids yahoo group, the Kidlit Frenzy and Nonfiction Detectives blogs, and of course, national conferences like NCTE, ALA, and ILA.

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  16. I've just been reading JEFFERSON'S SONS aloud with my kids, and it is a really interesting example of this type of book. There is a lot of real history and biographical information in it, for sure, but of course the dialogue and all the emotion ascribed to Sally Hemings and all of her and Jefferson's kids is completely projective. Nevertheless for me -- and probably for my kids -- I will think back on Jefferson and Sally and those kids and their world and images from this book will come to mind and be blurred, hard, with "fact" -- in that fuzzy way that our memories often DO blur "real" with "imagined/fictional"...

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  17. Thank you Melissa for sharing the groups for good discussion of non-fiction books. I will visit them.

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