Monday, December 9, 2019

Writing Expository Nonfiction that Sings, Part 11

Since the beginning of the school year, each Monday, I’ve been posting  about the importance of understanding the key elements of finely-crafted expository nonfiction and helping students identify those features as they read and include them as they write.

For the first few weeks, I focused on the pre-writing process. Then, I turned my attention to text characteristics and discussed text format, text scaffolding, and text density, text structure, voice, language devices. You can scroll down to read those posts.

Today, I’m going to conclude this series by talking about point of view.

Traditionally, nonfiction for children was written with third-person narration, but in recent years, people have begun experimenting. Today second-person narration is becoming increasingly popular in expository nonfiction.

As you read the following excerpt from Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, notice how addressing readers with “you” makes the information relevant to their lives and their world:

"Right now there are more microbes living on your skin than there are people on Earth, and there are ten or even a hundred times as many as that in your stomach."

Now take a look at a few lines from Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine:
"Can you imagine how you’d look if we added some bones to your spine?
What if your vertebrae didn’t stop at your rear end?

What if they kept going? YOU’D HAVE A TAIL!

Tails are made of vertebrae. Lots of animals have tails. They wag on happy dogs and sweep side to side to help alligators swim through the water."

According to Levine, as she crafted her manuscript, she looked for ways to “make learning interactive, relevant, and fun.” She thought about how “children enjoy being addressed directly and being active participants in responding to questions that make them think, especially about silly possibilities.”

When you think of nonfiction with a first-person point of view, personal narratives like Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson or Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka or The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert probably come to mind. But authors are also trying some innovative ways of utilizing first person narration.

One of my favorite examples is Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth. It’s an expository autobiographical meditation in which Roth explores her own creative process by comparing her artistic technique to the way a male bowerbird constructs a beautiful, extravagant nest to attract a mate. The book’s structure and format is absolutely brilliant, and the artwork is stunning.

To help students gain a better understand of how authors use point of view, read aloud and discuss portions of Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons, Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me, and Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson. Then organize students into small groups and give each team a packet of sticky notes and three to five expository nonfiction books with various points of view. Possibilities include:

Birds of Every Color by Sneed B. Collard III

Earth by the Numbers by Steve Jenkins

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman

If You Hopped Like a Frog by David Schwartz


If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian

Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt LaMothe

Trees: A Rooted History by Piotr Socha and Wojciech Grajkowski

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell
Then invite students to classify the books by point of view and label each one with a sticky note.

When the teams complete this task, encourage each group to rotate to a different table, leaving their books behind. Students should review the books at their new table and discuss how the previous group classified the books. If they disagree with the previous group, they should add a second sticky note explaining their rationale.

Repeat this process until each group has reviewed all the books. Then have a brief class discussion about books that have multiple sticky notes on them.

1 comment:

  1. So interesting. I’m going to read the books and bring sticky notes to my book discussion group. It will give us options as we construct our NF exposition books

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