Wednesday, March 11, 2020

5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Traditional Nonfiction

Back in 2017, I proposed a five-category system for classifying children’s nonfiction on my blog, and the response was incredible.

Teachers loved it. So did librarians and children’s book authors and editors. People praised the clarity it brought to the range of children’s nonfiction available today. In May 2018, School Library Journal published an article about the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction. Again, the response was incredibly positive. I’ve spoken about the system at a number of conferences, and later this year, 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing with Children’s Books, co-written by literacy educator Marlene Correia, will hit bookshelves.

Because so many people want information now, for text next five weeks, I’ll be discussing each of the categories and providing an updated list of exemplar books. Today, we’ll start off with traditional nonfiction.

Not long ago, there was just one kind of nonfiction for children—traditional survey (all-about) books that provide a general overview of a topic. They feature a description text structure, an expository writing style, and concise, straightforward language. Thanks to the invention of desktop publishing software, these books, which are often published in large series, are now more visually appealing than they were in the past. 

Traditional nonfiction is ideal for the early stages of the research process, when students are “reading around” a topic to find a focus for their report or project. The straightforward, age-appropriate explanations make the information easy to digest, which is helpful to students who are just beginning to learn how to synthesize and summarize information as they take notes. 

The other benefit of these books is that they provide age-appropriate information on almost any topic you can think of. Why is this so important? Because the best way—sometimes the only way—to turn an info-kid into a reader is by handing them a book on the exact topic they find fascinating. 

A child who’s passionate about monster trucks may toss aside a finely-crafted book about the history of automobiles, but if you give that child a traditional nonfiction title all about monster trucks, they’ll devour it and ask for more. When teachers and librarians understand and respect all 5 Kinds of Nonfiction, they’re better equipped to help a broad range of children find true texts they’ll love.

Here are some examples of traditional nonfiction:

About Birds by Cathryn Sills

Behind the Scenes Gymnastics by Blythe Lawrence

Galaxies, Galaxies! by Gail Gibbons

Weather by Seymour Simon

Golden Retrievers by Sarah Frank

Monster Trucks by Matt Doeden

Mountain Gorillas: Powerful Forest Animals by Rebecca Hirsch

The Supreme Court by Christine Taylor Butler

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