Monday, April 30, 2018

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Cathy Potter

Giant Squid: Searching for a Sea Monster by Mary M. Cerullo and Clyde F. E. Roper (Capstone Press, 2012).
Cerullo and Roper chronicle the search for the elusive giant squid in this compelling science mystery. Photographs, illustrations and sidebars full of interesting squid facts make this a high-interest title for readers all ages.
Look Up!: Bird Watching In Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick Press, 2013)
Written in a conversational tone, this unique field guide teaches children where and how to look for birds. Cate details all aspects of bird watching including sounds, shapes, colors and classifications. The ink and watercolor illustrations of cartoon birds steal the show.

Scaly, Spotted, Feathered, Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Likeby Catherine Thimmesh (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2013)
This is by far the most interesting and unique dinosaur book I have ever read. Thimmesh shares scientific theories and recent paleontology discoveries to explore the question: What did dinosaurs look like? The artistic renderings of feathered and patterned dinosaurs are amazing.

Why’d They Wear That: Fashion as the Mirror of History by Sarah Albee (National Geographic, 2015).
Albee weaves together history and science in this survey book about fashion fads from past centuries. The vivid descriptions, use of humor and interesting subject matter make this a popular title with middle grade readers.


Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature’s Undead by Rebecca Johnson (Millbrook Press, 2013)
The title of this book is just screaming to be picked up and read.  In chapters alternating between narrative and expository, Johnson describes how creatures take over the bodies and brains of other animals. Parasites, worms and fungus, oh my!

Cathy Potter (@cppotter) is a middle school librarian in Maine. She co-authors The Nonfiction Detectives blog with her friend, Louise Capizzo. Cathy served on the 2014 Sibert Medal committee and the 2018 Newbery Award committee.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Classifying Nonfiction: The Continuum Approach

Back in December, I introduced and described what I call The Nonfiction Family Tree.
I received such a great response that I discussed it again (and provided a list of sample books) in early January. Then I suggested an activity for introducing it to students later in the month. Since then, many educators have tried the activity with students and provided me with feedback. Thank you! And SLJ published this article, which brought together all my thinking on this topic. I love the groovy graphic Mark Tuchman created!

In biology, classification helps us (1) make sense of the diversity of life and (2) understand how living things are related to one another. Classifying nonfiction has similar benefits. It helps readers understand the kind of information they’re likely to find in a particular book, how that information will be presented, and how they can access it. It can also help a reader identify the kind(s) of nonfiction he/she enjoys reading the most.

While most children’s nonfiction books fit snugly in one of the five categories, some are blended titles that have characteristics of two adjacent categories.

For example, as I discussed here, many books (even fiction books) include a combination of expository and narrative text. While one writing style usually dominates, there are some books that contain roughly equal amounts of each.
Similarly, the line between expository literature and traditional nonfiction can sometimes be blurry. There are also books that have some browse-able traits and some traditional traits.

So while each of the five categories has a distinct origin story, which may be interesting to those of us who have watched the growth and evolution of nonfiction over the last couple of decades, in practice, it may be more useful to think of them as points on a continuum, with each category gradually blending into the next like the colors in a rainbow.
It seems to me that this sort of visual model more accurately represents the diversity of nonfiction available today and how the various types are related to one another. What do you think?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Urquhart School PD Handout

The Nonfiction Triumvirate: Category, Style, & Structure 

Nonfiction Categories
Traditional Nonfiction
About Fish: A Guide for Children by Catherine Sill and John Sill
Transportation! by Gail Gibbons
Water by Seymour Simon

Browse-able Nonfiction
1,000 Facts About the White House by Sarah Wassner Flynn
Eyewitness Books: Soccer by Dorling Kindersley
Guinness Book of World Records by Guinness World Records

Narrative Nonfiction
Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton and Victo Ngai
The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman

Expository Literature
A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman and Isabel Greenberg 
Look at Me! How to Attract Attention in the Animal World by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
A Beetle Is Shy by Dianna Aston Hutts and Sylvia Long  

Active Nonfiction

Minecraft: Guide to Exploration by Mojang Ab and the Official Minecraft Team

Stitch Camp: 18 Crafty Projects for Kids & Tweens by Nicole Blum and Catherine Newman

Try This Extreme: 50 Fun & Safe Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You by  Karen Romano Young


Nonfiction Subcategories
Life Story
The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
El Deafo by Cece Bell
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatium
The Right Word by Jen Bryant
Survey Book
Eyewitness Books
The Horrible, Miserable Middle Ages by Kathy Allen
Lightning by Seymour Simon
National Geographic Readers
Spiders by Nic Bishop
Specialized Nonfiction
Chasing Cheetahs by Sy Montgomery
Handle with Care by Loree Griffin Burns
Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart
Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Tom Yezerski 
Sniffer Dogs by Nancy Castaldo
The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin
Concept Book
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins
Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart
Just a Second by Steve Jenkins
Lifetime by Lola Schaefer
Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell
No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart
Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy
A Star in My Orange by Dana Meachen Rau
Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre
Writing Styles
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
Eyewitness Books
Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins
Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart
Guinness Book of World Records
Time for Kids Big Book of Why
Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
Buried Alive by Elaine Scott
The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley
Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre
When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

Common Text Structures

A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano
The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins
Creep and Flutter by Jim Arnosky
Frogs by Nic Bishop
Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

Chronological narrative
Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet
Buried Alive by Elaine Scott
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
What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley

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

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

Cycle narrative
A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison
Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman
Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley
Beneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart
Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre

Chronological expository
Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee
Dog Days of History by Sarah Albee
Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee

How-to expository
Dessert Designers: Creations You Can Make and Eat by Dana Meachen Rau
How to Swallow a Pig by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes by Doug Stillinger
Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes by Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl
Try This! 50 Fun Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You by Karen Romano Young

Compare & Contrast
Dueling spreads
Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart

Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy

Neo Leo by Gene Barretta
Those Rebels, Tom & John by Barbara Kerley
List book

Born in the Wild by Lita Judge
Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge
Eye to Eye
by Steve Jenkins

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart
Move by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

My First Day by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
Just One Bite by Lola Schaefer

Cause & Effect
Earth: Feeling the Heat by Brenda Z. Guiberson
Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman

A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart
When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart

The Great Monkey Rescue by Sandra Markle
A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart
Mesmerized  by Mara Rockliff
Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs by Michaela Muntean

Q & A Books
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine Good Question series (Sterling)
Creature Features by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
Hatch! by Roxie Munro
Hello, Bumblebee Bat by Darrin Lunde
Scholastic Question & Answer series
What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Mixing & Matching
If you’re writing a Life Story . . .
  • Probably sequence (chronological) structure
  • Narrative writing style
If you’re writing a Survey Book . . .
  • Description/explanation, sequence, Q & A
  • Expository writing style
If you’re writing Specialized Nonfiction . . .
  • Probably sequence, compare & contrast
  • Narrative or expository writing style
If you’re writing a Concept Book . . .
  • Sequence, compare & contrast, Q & A, cause & effect, problem—solution, or invent your own
  • Probably expository writing style

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

In the Classroom: Spotlight on Science Poetry

Since April is poetry month, I thought I’d share ten of my favorite science and nature poetry books for children. Most of these authors have created many wonderful books. If you aren’t familiar with their work, I urge you to visit their websites to see what else they’ve written for young readers.

Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and Robbin Gourley

A Leaf Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas and Violeta Dabija
Leaf Litter Critters by Leslie Bulion and Robert Meganck

On the Wing by David Elliott and Becca Stadtlander

Thunder Underground by Jane Yolen and Josée Masse

Monday, April 23, 2018

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Lisa Maucione, Earth Day Edition

I chose five favorite expository nonfiction books about our planet Earth. Our planet, our home, is an amazing and complex place, as readers can learn within the pages of these books. In addition to providing information, these books are favorites because they celebrate our Earth, remind us how precious it is, and nudge us to be kind to it.

Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty (Holt, 2017)
Earth, who is both informative and entertaining, tells the story of her life. This book gives young readers an introduction to our planet, telling facts about how it works and how it has evolved. It's also a celebration of the place we call home with a reminder to take care of it. 

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman (Greenwillow, 2017)
Numbers are used to explain facts about our universe and planet Earth. This book will ignite reader’s curiosity and their sense of wonder about the world. The use of numbers illustrates just how vast our world is. In the note at the end of the book, the author explains how he researched and estimated to arrive at the numbers in the book.

Looking Down by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003)
Even though this book is wordless, I classify it as expository because it provides information about how our Earth looks from a great distance and close up. It begins with an astronaut’s view of Earth which then, over the pages of the book, turns into a closer and closer view. Turning each page to see a closer look at our Earth is interesting, but can also lead to discussions about our planet and its place in the universe.
Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies (Candlewick, 2017)
Nicola Davies explains that there are many different kinds of living things on our planet Earth. This book not only shows the great diversity of life, but also that there is life in places we may not even think to look and there is a connection among living things. This book is one that will inspire wonder, but also prompt readers to reflect on the role we play among living things.

Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm (Blue Sky Press, 2017)
The sun is the narrator of this book that explains the role of the sun in the water cycle process, which makes it possible to have life on our planet. The authors provide factual information with descriptive language that sounds like poetry. This book explains concepts related to the water cycle and shows the importance of water in our lives.

Lisa Maucione is a literacy specialist at DeMello School in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. She is an active member of the Massachusetts Reading Association, currently serving as Publicity Chair. You can read about the books she is reading on her blog Literacy on the Mind. You can also follow her on Twitter @DrLMaucione.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Classifying Nonfiction: A Fresh Look at Nonfiction Categories

 A couple of months ago, a reader who’s an educator and well as an aspiring children’s book author pointed out that I’ve been using the term “nonfiction categories” in two different ways on this blog and, as a result, she was feeling confused about the best way to classify nonfiction.

She’s right. I’m guilty as charged. And it is confusing.

The problem is that I think both uses have value, depending on how you’re interacting with the text. To me, the 5-category system is more relevant for readers . . .

. . . and the 4-category system is more important for writers, especially if you’re writing books for children or using children’s books as mentor texts.

Here’s how I think the two systems are related to one another.

—Traditional nonfiction and browse-able books are almost always survey books. They cover broad topics.

—Expository literature is most frequently STEM concept books, though it can be specialized nonfiction.

—Narrative nonfiction is generally life stories or specialized nonfiction focused on historical events.

—Active nonfiction isn’t quite so easy to pigeonhole, but I’m going to say it’s mostly specialized because most of these books help readers participate in a specific activity.

And so perhaps survey books, concept books, life stories, and specialized nonfiction are best described as subcategories that are most beneficial when writers are considering the best way to present information to their readers. Then, as the writers think about the research process, they can switch gears to focus on which of the five major categories (or which combination of those five) is most likely to contain the information they need. 
Maybe the best classification infographic looks like this:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Behind the Books: Nonfiction Writers Aren’t Robots

I’m excited to host award-winning author and poet Laura Purdie Salas, who has an important message for us to consider. Thanks, Laura.

I try not to take it personally, but there’s a common, crushing misconception that fiction is creative writing drawn from the depths of a writer’s soul, while nonfiction is simply a recitation of facts that any basic robot could spit out.

The reality is very different. I think my personality, my beliefs, and my experiences are deeply embedded in the books I end up writing. Here are some examples.

 A Leaf Can Be . . . (Millbrook Press, 2012)
I changed majors a lot in college. I tend to get bored easily, and that’s one reason poetry and picture books call to me. They are small, close, brief examinations of a topic.

Credit: Leyo, Wikimedia Commons
I tend to think about topics broadly and ask, “What else?” For example, A Leaf Can Be . . . began when I read an old poem I had written about Honduran tent bats and their leafy shelters. Some writers might have wanted to delve into that relationship in great detail. But because I like lists and variety, my question was not, “Why?” or “How did they evolve to do that?” It was, “What else do leaves do?”

Another way I am present in my Can Be… books is that I have a deeply felt sense of justice, and I tend to root for the underdog. I find that exploring the wonders of underappreciated things is a common thread in my work.

If You Were the Moon (Millbrook Press, 2017)
This is another list poem (basically) exploring the roles of an everyday (or every night) object. But this topic was more personal for me.

My dad worked as a NASA engineer at Cape Canaveral during my childhood. He talked about the space program a lot at the dinner table, but it was usually more about office politics or chemistry and physics way beyond my understanding.
Credit: NASA
Still, I was awed by our solar system, by space travel, by watching space shuttle launches. In college, I was devastated to witness the Challenger explosion.
When I started this book, I needed facts, of course. But I also wanted to explore my own emotions about space and the moon. And I wanted to present the moon in an accessible way that would leave kids inspired, not confused. I wanted to help kids make friends with the moon, in a way I couldn’t as a kid. So, I compared the moon’s actions to things kids do, like play tug-of-war or miss their friends.

Meet My Family!
This is my brand new picture book, and I feel like it’s been growing wings inside me for more than 40 years.

When I was a kid, my family was very different from my friends’ families. My parents were super strict. Five hours of TV per week, maximum. We kids paid part of the electric bill. Straight As weren’t good enough. We were estranged from most extended family.
On top of that, one of my sisters had a brain condition we now call OCD, and she washed her hands hundreds of times per day. Back then, that was just considered weird—not recognized as a medical condition. 

I'm the small kid with braids in the center.
While visiting schools, I’ve had students write poems about divorced parents, parents they’ve never known, being adopted, and more. Kids often feel such unwarranted shame. My own remembered shame about my family was like an engine driving this manuscript. It’s a nonfiction book about the different structures of animal families. But more importantly, it’s a book that says to kids, “Your family is okay. As long as you are loved, you are okay. You are okay.” I don’t think there’s anything more important that I have to say to young readers.

So all my little quirks, loves, and fears shape the books that I write. I’d love to see more recognition that this is true for most nonfiction books. And imagine all the exciting nonfiction that students will create as we encourage them to infuse all their writing—not just their fiction—with the qualities that make them who they are.

Laura Purdie Salas thought books appeared by magic when she was little. She read non-stop, but the library had a bottomless supply of books to feed her hunger. As a children’s author, she knows there’s a lot of work involved in bringing books to the world—and still plenty of magic, too!
Laura is a former 8th-grade English teacher, a former copyeditor (who has nightmares about errors on menus and signs), and a former magazine editor. She will never be a former reader. Laura is the author of many poetry and nonfiction books, including Water Can Be…, BookSpeak!, and Meet My Family! You can meet Laura at her website,, where you can also access her blog and her e-letter for educators or learn where to connect with her on social media.