Friday, September 14, 2018

Rethinking Your Book Collection

Take a moment to evaluate your classroom or library book collection. Do you have enough nonfiction titles? Experts recommend a 50-50 mix of fiction and nonfiction.

How diverse is your nonfiction section? Does it include a healthy selection of expository nonfiction? Experts recommend that at least 66 percent all nonfiction titles should have an expository writing style that explains, describes, or informs rather than a narrative writing style that tells a true story or conveys an experience.

(Why is it important to have more expository nonfiction? Because narrative nonfiction  appeals to the same group of readers who love fiction. Libraries need plenty of books for the 42 percent of students who prefer expository nonfiction.)

Sadly, studies evaluating U.S. classroom libraries show that only 17 to 22 percent of all titles are nonfiction, and that only 7 to 9 percent have an expository writing style.

While similar statistics aren’t available for school libraries, according to 2016 report from the National Education Association, only 61.9 percent of elementary schools have a full-time state-certified librarian/media specialist. As a result, it’s likely that many school libraries do not have a well-balanced, up-to-date collection. 

In recent years, children’s book publishers have published many wonderful picture book biographies with a narrative writing style. Because they’ve received starred reviews and won awards, they have ended up on bookshelves across America. Some students love these books, but others don’t. So to re-balance your collection in a way that makes sense in terms of student reading preferences and how the books can best be used in a school setting, I’d like to suggest striving for the percentages included in this table:
(This table assumes that your school has a makerspace with plenty of active nonfiction. If this is not the case, aim to add a bit more active nonfiction to your collection.)


  1. The appeal of expository writing seems so clear to me, especially for struggling readers, or those who might have dyslexia--they might not be able to process long sentences, but are better able to understand chunks of material (like comics, or speech bubbles). There are so many great expository texts out there. Thanks for championing them, and writing them, Melissa!

  2. I think people are beginning to become more aware of the benefits of expository nonfiction, but we still have a long way to go.