Right now, the children’s literature community is enamored with narrative nonfiction—books that tell true stories. It receives more starred reviews and wins far more awards than expository nonfiction.
That's because most of the people who choose jobs related to children’s literature—editors, book reviewers, librarians, literacy educators, awards committee members—value and connect strongly with stories and storytelling. And it’s natural for them to assume that young readers feel the same way, especially when we hear things like “humans are hardwired to love story.”
But today, I’m going to disrupt your thinking.
For years, I’ve been questioning the idea that everyone loves stories. Based on my own experience as a reader and conversations I’ve had with children and educators, what I see is that some children are, indeed, naturally drawn to narratives. But others are more excited about ideas and information and would rather read expository nonfiction. Still others enjoy both expository and narrative texts.
My observations have led me to hypothesize that there’s what I call a narrative-analytical thinking continuum. The general population spans the continuum, but the children’s literature community is clumped at the narrative end.
I’m concerned that young analytical thinkers are currently being underserved because gatekeepers don’t appreciate the kind of books that these children enjoy. Simply put, what the children’s literature community calls broccoli, many kids call chocolate cake.
By last spring, I felt so strongly about this issue that I decided to take a sabbatical from writing and conduct a study of elementary students’ reading preferences. Because I had no idea how to structure or conduct a study, I dove into the academic literature. And that’s when my mind was blown.
The research already exists, and it’s powerful. Why don’t more people know about it?
Here are two examples:
I encourage you to get the full articles and read them. I’ll be sharing more research next week.