Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nonfiction Family Tree 3.0

Being an analytical, left-brain-thinking sort of person, I started yearning for a model to better understand relationships between different kinds of nonfiction and their characteristics last summer. So I decided to start piecing one together, and before I knew it, a structure had emerged—a family tree.

I first blogged about my ideas here in September. I fully acknowledged that it was a work in progress and imagined that I’d develop a different view of things over time.

But so many people responded with helpful insights, that I revealed a modified family tree in thispost in November. And the feedback kept on coming. So now I’m putting fort yet another version. Let’s call it Nonfiction Family Tree 3.0.

How is this version different from its predecessors? Well, for starters, I’ve adopted some new terminology. And to me, it’s an important change.

I’m calling what we often think of traditional nonfiction writing “direct nonfiction.” It’s straightforward and full of facts. Done badly, it can be dry and boring. But done well, it helps us understand the world and its possibilities and our place in it. I’m coming to think of it as nonfiction for left-brain thinkers (though I acknowledge that’s an oversimplification).

In the opposite corner, we have narrative nonfiction. My personal feeling is that, in general, it appeals more strongly to right-brain thinkers. This includes most librarians and elementary teachers and kidlit advocates, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s one reason it is the current darling of awards committees.

I see many people in the kidlit community saying things like, “narrative nonfiction is wonderful because kids respond to story. They want to feel an emotional connection to a central figure in a narrative.”

What I say in response is that SOME kids respond to story. They want to feel an emotional connection to a central figure in a narrative. Other kids . . .well, not so much. In any case, it’s low on their list of priorities.

I have still included March Aronson and Jonathan Hunt’s notion of “gateway nonfiction” on my tree, but I’m feeling less confident about how it fits into the scheme of things.

I have to admit that after reading Steve Sheinkin’s wonderful, awesome, amazing BOMB, I toyed with the idea of adding a category called “nonfiction thriller,” but I wasn’t sure about creating a limb on the tree for just one book. IMHO, Sheinkin’s masterpiece is a game changer—something to attract those kids who will grow up to love Michael Crichton or Tom Clancy.
I continue to include open branches and twigs because I expect to make additional changes in the future as nonficiton for kids continues to evolve.

So what do you think of this new version? What else should we be thinking about?

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