Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Behind the Books: Two Kinds of Expository Nonfiction

This week’s topic is one of my favorites—expository nonfiction. As far as I’m concerned, this is a golden moment for expository nonfiction because, in recent years, it’s gone through an exciting transformation.

Once upon a time, it was boring and stodgy and matter-of-fact, but today’s nonfiction books MUST delight as well as inform young readers, and nonfiction authors have risen to the challenge. The books they’re creating feature engaging text, often with a strong voice, as well as dynamic art and design.

Just as there are two distinct kinds of narrative nonfiction, there are two types of expository nonfiction. Facts-plus books focus on facts as well as overarching ideas. In other words, they present facts and explain them.

Fast-fact books focus on sharing cool facts. Period. They inform, and that’s all. These are the concise, fact-filled books that groups of boys love to read together and discuss.

Some people don’t have a very high opinion of fast-fact books, and to be sure, they don’t build reading stamina or critical thinking skills, but they do motivate many reluctant readers to pick up a book, and IMHO that alone makes them worthwhile.

Why do students need to be exposed to a diverse array of expository texts? Because it’s the style of nonfiction they’ll be asked to write most frequently throughout their school careers and in their future jobs. Whether they’re working on a report, a thesis, a business proposal, or even a company newsletter, they’ll need to know how to summarize information and synthesize ideas in a way that is clear, logical, and interesting to their readers. Today’s expository children’s literature makes ideal mentor texts for modeling these skills.

Here are some great books in each expository nonfiction category:

Facts Plus
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge

Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee

Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

Fast Facts
Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart

Eyewitness Books
Guinness Book of World Records

Time for Kids Big Book of Why


  1. Melissa, thanks so much for this post! I have three sons who, fortunately, all love to read. While my younger two do revel in fiction stories, my oldest has always been drawn to these expository books you describe. He will spend hours poring through these fact filled books and I am so grateful. He does read some fiction, but these books will always be welcome in our house!

  2. Nicely said - This was clear and easy to use with kids to help them understand the two types of expository writing. Thanks

  3. Some children really seem to prefer expository writing--fast facts and facts plus. And I agree, Debra, that's great!

  4. Glad it worked well for you, Joanne.