Friday, May 4, 2018

In the Classroom: Gateway Nonfiction and the Nonfiction Continuum

I first heard the term “gateway nonfiction” from children’s book author and nonfiction thought leader Marc Aronson in 2012. He attributes it to librarian Jonathan Hunt, who defines it as books that can form a bridge between the browseable books that captivate elementary students and middle-grade narrative nonfiction.

Both Aronson and Hunt believe that we need to clearly identify the characteristics of such books and publish more of them. I whole-heartedly agree. I’ve been thinking about the kinds of books that could fill this critical chasm ever since.

In this 2013 SLJ article, Aronson shares some ideas about the books he thinks could constitute “gateway nonfiction.” Basically, he’s describing what many people now call active nonfiction. While I think these books could bridge the gap for some readers, more and more, I’m leaning toward titles that blend the traits of narrative nonfiction and expository literature as the best way to help the majority of upper elementary readers transition to the more sophisticated titles they need to tackle in middle school and high school.

Why do I consider these blended books prime candidates for the moniker “gateway nonfiction”? Because studies show that some students have a natural affinity for stories and storytelling (fiction and narrative nonfiction), while others have a clear preference for expository writing. And some students enjoy both writing styles equally. As a result, books that combine expository and narrative text can help info-kids learn to appreciate narrative writing. It can also help story-loving kids learn to navigate expository text. Why is that important? Because, ideally, we want all students (and adults) to feel comfortable reading a wide range of texts.

I wrote a little bit about blended nonfiction titles in last week’s post, which introduced what I call the Nonfiction Continuum. You may want to scroll down and read that post. Today, I’m recommending a half dozen high-interest books that integrate narrative and expository writing styles. If these titles aren’t already part of your collection, I recommend adding them.

Masters of Disguise: Amazing Animal Tricksters by Rebecca L. Johnson (Millbrook Press, 2016)

Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and their Noses) Save the World by Nancy Castaldo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

Snowy Owl Invasion: Tracking an Unusual Migration by Sandra Markle (Millbrook Press, 2017)

When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses by Rebecca L. Johnson (Millbrook Press, 2014) 

Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature’s Undead by Rebecca L. Johnson (Millbrook Press, 2012)
In addition, most books in the Let’s Read and Find Out series (published by HarperCollins) are a blend of expository and narrative text.

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