Wednesday, September 18, 2019

We Need Diverse Nonfiction


In December 2017, I proposed a system for classifying children’s nonfiction that many writers and educators seem to find useful.* The 5 Kinds of Nonfiction divides the wide world of nonfiction into 5 distinct categories—active, browseable, traditional, expository literature, and narrative. Here are the main characteristics of each category: 
Click to enlarge

At nErDcampMI in July 2018, I did a presentation about the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction, and afterward, Terry Thompson, an editor at Stenhouse Publishing, invited me to write a book about it. I’m happy to announce that 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Informational Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books, co-authored with Marlene Correia—a professor of literacy education, is scheduled for publication in Fall 2020.

Initially, Marlene and I planned to feature a rich assortment of diverse books and diverse authors, especially BIPOC authors. But as we began searching for titles, we quickly realized just how difficult that would be. 

Even though there has been an encouraging uptick in diverse fiction in recent years, nonfiction has lagged behind. In some cases, far, far, far behind. In fact, we couldn’t find any active or browseable books written by BIPOC authors. 

That’s right, zero. Zilch. Nada.

We identified only three BIPOC authors who write traditional nonfiction, and only four who have written expository literature. These are heartbreaking statistics.

The slightly better news is that we identified about twenty BIPOC authors who have written narrative nonfiction (mostly picture book biographies). But even this isn’t enough. We need diverse nonfiction!

Because publishing houses are businesses, and businesses want to make money, one of the best ways to ensure that more books by BIPOC authors are published in the future is to buy (and ask our local libraries to buy) the few books that are currently available. 

And so, today, I’m highlighting the seven BIPOC authors of traditional nonfiction and expository literature that we were able to identify. If you know of others, please leave their names in the comments, so people can make a point of buying their books too.

Expository Literature
Silvia Lopez is the author of an innovative new book called Handimals: Animals in Art and Nature, which features amazing images of art created by body make-up artist Guido Daniele.


Baptiste Paul is the co-author with his wife, Miranda Paul, of Adventures to School: Real-Life Journeys of Students from Around the World, which describes some of the surprising ways children in different countries travel to school.


Anita Sanchez has written two fun, informative expository nonfiction titles for a middle-grade audience: Rotten! Vultures, Beetles, and Slime: Nature’s Decomposers and Itch! Everything You Didn’t Want to Know about What Makes You Scratch.


Traci Sorell makes skillful use of figurative language in her lyrical debut title, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, which received the Sibert Medal Honor Award, the Orbis Pictus Honor Award, and the Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award.


Traditional Nonfiction
Christine Taylor Butler has written dozens of wonderful expository nonfiction titles for elementary readers on topics ranging from amphibians and the moon to the Missouri River and the supreme court. (For any editors reading this, Christine would be the perfect choice for trade and mass market leveled reader series.)


Virginia Loh-Hagan specializes in writing high-interest expository nonfiction for middle-grade readers as well as professional books for educators. She is also a popular, high-energy professional development speaker.


Andrea Wang has written a half-dozen traditional nonfiction titles for the school and library market. More recently, she seems to have switched her focus to fiction and narrative nonfiction.

And finally, I’ll end this post with the names of some BIPOC authors who have written narrative nonfiction. Thanks to
Alyson Beecher for her help in compiling this list, which we acknowledge is probably not complete. If you can think of additional names, please leave them in the comments.

Troy Andrews, Tonya Bolden, Joseph Bruchac, Jason Chin, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Anika Denise, Alice Faye Duncan, Margarita Engel, Kadir Nelson, S.D. Nelson, Teresa Robeson, Gwendolyn Hooks, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Ray Anthony Shepard, Javaka Steptoe, Don Tate, Duncan Tonatiuh, Patricia Valdez, Carole Boston Weatherford, Paula Yoo.

*Initially, I was using a family tree as a visual model for the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system, but as I thought more about it, I realized that analogy didn’t quite work.

31 comments:

  1. Melissa, thank you for this post and for calling attention to such an important issue. We very much need more BIPOC nonfiction writers!

    Names to add to your list: Vaudna Micheaux Nelson has written a number of award-winning narrative nonfiction picture books. Mélina Mangal wrote THE VAST WONDER OF THE WORLD.

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    1. Thank you for these suggestions, Carol. I knew there must be some wonderful authors I was forgetting.

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  2. Great post, Melissa!
    Here's one for your list: Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation, by Monique Gray Smith, Orca Book Publishers.
    I'm not sure if it would be Expository Lit or Narrative NF, but it's an excellent and important book.

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    1. Thanks, Rowena. I was not aware of Monique Gray Smith's books. I need to look her up.

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  3. Thank you for your insights into the need for more diversity in nonfiction for young readers. Perhaps we might consider the work of Charles R Smith Jr. His photography and poetry are a creative approach to nonfiction with such titles as 28 Days:Moments in Black History that Changed the World, Hoop Kings, Hoop Queens, I Am America, Brick by Brick

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  4. This is SO important! Michelle Meadows, Julie Leung, and Hasan Davis are three more BIPOC narrative NF authors. Also Kelly Starling Lyons and Rita Lorraine Hubbard have nonfiction books forthcoming. The great need to highlight and attract more BIPOC (and other diverse) authors in the nonfiction kidlit sphere is a big reason we created www.19PBbios.com. Glad this conversation is happening.

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    1. Thanks for these additional names and for highlighting some authors to be on the lookout for in the future.

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  5. Oh, and J.P. (Janice) Miller just announced her first nonfiction book deal with Hachette!

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  6. Thanks, Melissa! To add: Talented fiction authors Varian Johnson and Sherri L. Smith have both written nonfiction for the Who Was series. David Bowles's Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico, is YA and adult; Da Chen's Girl Under a Red Moon was just published by Scholastic Focus; and in October, Ashley Bryan's extraordinary WWII memoir, Infinite Hope, will be published-- a book not to be missed.

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    1. Thanks, Deborah. These are all books I haven't heard of.

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  7. I think about this a lot, and I try to mentor people of color who come to my workshops at SCBWI. As I said on Twitter, I know Highlights is trying to help with this, too. A few names to add: Nadia L. Hohn; Linda Williams Jackson; Melody Simpson (I think she's working on nf)

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    1. Thanks for these additional names. I need to look them up.

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  8. Here are a few Indigenous authors and their recent NF titles
    Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel
    The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson
    I am not a number by Jenny Kay Dupuis
    Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

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    1. Thanks for these suggestions. I'm not familiar with any of these nonfiction books.

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  9. I worked on a list a couple of years ago. Some authors have already been mentioned here, but here are a few others: Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Rani Iyer, Karen Latchana Kenney, Vita Jimenez, and Anjana Chatterjee. Also, Christina Soontornvat has a book about the Thai cave rescue in the works.

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    1. Thank you. I've heard of some of these authors, but didn't know they had written nonfiction as well as fiction.

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    2. And Tracey Baptiste! She wrote nonfiction before she did middle grade fiction. And she wrote a great post for the Brown Bookshelf on this issue: https://thebrownbookshelf.com/2017/05/22/the-hole-in-kidlit/

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    3. You're right. I think of Tracey as a fiction writers, but she has written nonfiction too. I'm glad you brought this post to my attention. I agree there is a link between what Tracey is saying and what I am saying because science books do tend to be expository, and that is where we are both seeing the biggest BIPOC gap.

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    4. Thank you, Rebecca! Melissa, I have Above and Beyond: NASA's Journey to Tomorrow (2018), which I think is meant to be browseable, and another climate crisis book forthcoming. Eloise Greenfield just published The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives. --Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

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    5. Thank you, I will take a look at Above and Beyond as well as your upcoming book.

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  10. Nancy Churnin has written 8 PB biographies. Some of them are narrative nonfiction.

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    1. Oh, I'm sorry to say that I didn't realize Nancy was a person of color.

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  11. My NF pb KOREAN CELEBRATIONS came out last month from Tuttle Publishing, about Korean holidays & traditions. Another NF pb comes out June 2020 from Harvest House, MY BREAKFAST WITH JESUS, about different breakfasts around the world.

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  12. You could consider SOCCERMANIA to be browsable/traditional. It's bilingual and written by Juan Pablo Lombana and illustrated by Zamie Casazola. It's in the revised 2019 Scholastic Diverse Books for All Readers catalog. https://shop.scholastic.com/parent-ecommerce/books/soccermania-futbolmania-9780545665162.html (There are some inside shots of it on Amazon's Look Inside feature, too.)

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    1. Thanks, Miranda. This sounds like exactly the kind of book we were looking for.

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  13. Adding here my suggestions shared on twitter for others who could be interested.
    Patricia McKissack (deceased)
    Ruby Bridges
    Lesa Cline Ransome
    Vashti Harrison

    Also I believe Andrea Pinkney has older traditional titles.

    Cheryl Hudson has a January collective biography release that looks great.

    I also have traditional NF books, including two disability-related titles from Rosen YA released last month. one on Wangari Matthai (STEM biography from Capstone in 2020) and
    one on coping with aftermath of natural disasters releasing next summer from Rosen YA.

    Lisa Crayton

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    1. For our book, we are most interested in living authors with recently published titles because nonfiction can go out of date so quickly. I agree that we should include Vashti Harrison's titles.

      I will also take a closer look at your titles.

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