Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Behind the Books: Thinking About Nonfiction Structure, Part 1

I’ve blogged about structure many times. About 5 years ago, I tried to come up with my own categories. I was constantly revising my ideas.

Then Common Core came along and presented educators with six distinct groupings—description, sequence/order, compare & contrast, question & answer, cause & effect, and problem & solution. I’ve tried again and again to sort existing books into these categories with mixed success.

In the end, what I’ve realized is that while these categories may reflect the structures (at least some) educators think students should learn to write, they aren’t necessarily in line with the nonfiction children’s books being published.

For example, right now narrative nonfiction is king in the kidlit world. It wins most of the awards, so editors are eager to publish more. Who can blame them? They work for companies with owners or stockholders who want to make money, and for the most part, award-winning books sell more copies.

So we have lots and lots and lots of narrative nonfiction. In fact, narrative nonfiction is so plentiful and diverse that I divide it into five subcategories. And yet all narrative nonfiction is just one subgroup within CCSS’s “sequence” category.

Think about it. All narrative nonfiction has a sequence structure. The books present information as a sequence of events. There are also some expository books written with a sequence structure, so I think it’s safe to say that something like two-thirds of all nonfiction trade books have this one structure.

Sequence Books

Chronological narrative

Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

Buried Alive by Elaine Scott

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley

Marvelous Mattie by Emily Arnold McCully

Noah Webster & His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

Pop: The Invention of Bubble Gum by Megan McCarthy

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley


Episodic narrative

Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Brave Girl by Michelle Markel

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

Braided narrative
Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

We’ve Got a Job by Cynthia Levinson

Circle narrative
Coral Reef by Jason Chin

A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison

Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman

Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley

Redwoods by Jason Chin

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart

When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre

Journey narrative
If Stones Could Speak by Marc Aronson

Lost Treasure of the Inca by Peter Lourie

Quest for the Tree Kangaroo by Sy Montgomery

Saving the Ghost of the Mountain by Sy Montgomery

Bugged: How Insects Changes the World by Sarah Albee

Dessert Designers: Creations You Can Make and Eat by Dana Meachen Rau 

Get Outside by Jane Drake and Ann Love

Here Is the Tropical Rain Forest by Madeleine Dunphy

The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes by Doug Stillinger

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

Older Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox

Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes by Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos

I’m going to talk more about the other five CCSS-structure categories and provide sample titles in January. Happy Holidays!

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