Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Is It Fiction or Nonfiction? A Twitterchat

Last Friday, I published this post on my blog. After reading it, author Kirsten W. Larson posted this Tweet:

Deep questions: Should books that are expository and have true and verifiable information with a nonhuman narrator be considered expository fiction? I've always liked Melissa's term "informational fiction" to describe these, but does it tilt the balance too far toward “fiction?”

And it sparked a Twitterchat that lasted more than 24 hours and splintered off in several different directions. On Saturday morning, editor Carol Hinz of Millbrook Press asked me to curate the conversation and others quickly agreed. This is my attempt to do that.

If you feel I’ve misrepresented your views, please let me know. I’ve tried to re-create the conversation as accurately as possible. Please note that I made some minor edits for clarity. I also combined comments that were posted back-to-back because they exceeded Twitter character limits. And I omitted portions of the conversation that veered away from the overall focus—where to draw the line between fiction and nonfiction.

As you will see, I’m asking a lot of questions because I really don’t know what I think anymore. I used to be very rigid in my definition—if anything is made up, it’s fiction. Period. No made up dialog or scenes out of order to improve storytelling. No inanimate or animal narrators. No episodic or life cycle animal stories with “typical” activities. Nothing.

But recently, I’ve started to reconsider for two reasons.
—The art in any illustrated book, no matter how well researched by the artist, is at least partially imagined.
—How a book is labeled—fiction or nonfiction—determines where it’s shelved in libraries, and that affects how likely young readers are to find it when they’re curious about a particular topic or when they’re doing a report.

Perhaps what we really need is a new system for shelving what some people call “hybrid books” and other people call “informational fiction” in its own section. Kids might even enjoy hunting for the "made up" elements, while understanding that these books are based on solid research.

Here’s how the Twitterchat progressed:

@KirstenWLarson: Deep questions: Should books that are expository and have true and verifiable information with a nonhuman narrator be considered expository fiction? I've always liked Melissa's term "informational fiction" to describe these, but does it tilt the balance too far toward ‘fiction?’
@HannahWHolt: And where should it be shelved! The kids looking for nonfiction books will want it in the "facts" section, but if it has fictional elements...
@KirstenWLarson: Well, that's a whole other can of worms. How we identify books and how librarians shelve them is already complicated with NF and informational fiction. Sometimes they are shelved by Dewey decimal, sometimes put in the picture book section...
@MA_Cappiello: I always think of those books as informational fiction. I think this category can cover any work of fiction whose primary goal is to convey information about a topic through fictional devices like anthropomorphism. The information is accurate but the work is fiction.
Nicola Davies did it early on with BAT LOVES THE NIGHT. Also in that Read, Listen, and Wonder series, Vivian French’s GROWING FROGS. 
Martin Jenkins’s books in his “First Science Storybook” series also fall under this category. But those definitely have a narrative structure. All so interesting!!

@mars_stu: My book about astronomy features a starry-eyed, star-gazing cat teaching kids about the night sky, never thought about it as fiction...
@KirstenWLarson: Often we call this type of book "informational fiction," but I think there is debate...
@mstewartscience: As I think about it, informational fiction definitely includes Magic School Bus and narrative bios with invented dialog, etc. I'm not so sure about non-human narrators. Is it a matter of whether kids might be "fooled"?

@cylev: Yes, Melissa, I think that part of the issue does have to do with whether a reader might be, if not fooled, then misled. If School’s First Day of School were about what really goes on behind the scenes and included photos, it might be considered NF even with a school narrator.
@KateJPetersen: I'm thinking about Molly Bang's Living Sunlight. Just read it to my class. They were moved by the narration (sun) but their thinking was definitely focused on the learning. Calling that one informational fiction feels inaccurate.
@KateMessner: I like the term "informational fiction." I frequently find my Over & Under the Snow labeled as nonfiction, and it's not. Invented characters & storyline make it fiction, even though it's loaded with factual information about animals in winter.
@moonb2: We have the term “historical fiction” that everyone knows & uses. We need a similar one for science-based fiction
@mstewartscience: The tricky part is that "science fiction" is used to describe something completely different. :-) Maybe STEM fiction?
@barberchicago: Good one.
@KateMessner: I call this sciency fiction.
@KirstenWLarson: I still go back to Melissa's "informational fiction," which I think is a great term for fact-infused fiction.
@mrterborg: Interesting... I've seen realistic fiction, etc. but not informational fiction.
@barbrosenstock: I don’t “worry” about what it is until it’s created...and then as long as the author is honest, it’s up to the librarians to categorize.
@Jess_Keating: This is so interesting! I've got a series coming out, formatted as an advice column written by "Dr. Sugarpaws", a sugar glider with a PhD. She answers all sorts of biology questions posed by other animals. I considered a lot about this very Q when writing it!
@mstewartscience: This new series sounds SO fun.
@KateMessner: I'm so looking forward to this one, Jess!
@Jess_Keating: Thanks ladies! I totally call it nonfiction in passing, but the differentiation is important to keep in mind! It's great to see these questions even getting asked.
@CarolCHinz: This is a fascinating conversation! As an editor, I am always looking for a hook. For instance, in FLOWER TALK by @saraclevine, having a talking plant conveying info about pollination brings readers closer to the subject & helps us feel more invested in the topic. Whereas if it had just been a text that clearly explained how different flower colors (and shapes) attract different pollinators, it might have been harder to get approved at acquisitions because there wouldn't have been as much of a hook.
@mstewartscience: Yes, that's a fun approach, and I think it's a valuable way to present info. I'm curious, though, where it should be shelved. Should libraries create a new section for informational fiction? Things to think about.
@Jess_Keating: When I'm writing, I think I tend to cluster the definition in 2 ways: the mechanism by which I get across the true info might not be pure NF, but as a hook it might be great. If the mechanism isn’t as stylized, it seems much easier to safely house it in nonfiction on a shelf.
@LydiaLukidis: I was just talking to an editor the other day about these distinctions.
@alysonbeecher: This is a great discussion. I really like Sun: One in a Billion and don’t think kids actually think the Sun can talk. Same as with the fly in @bridgetheos book.
@KirstenWLarson: Personally, I think kids are smart enough to realize plants, animals, and planets can't talk, but I feel like it's a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line if a book with an invented narrator is called nonfiction? Hmmm. (& I am sure kids could care less.)
@MHGbooks: Interesting reflection. I’m not an authority on genre but I talk with kids about hybrid text. I consider nonfiction aspects being imbedded within narrative. These books may not have an exact label but I love how kids are vested in writing like this!
@bridgetheos: It's definitely not my intention to confuse or trick. In my mind, everything talks, and if a character like Fly, speaks to me, I write it in his/her voice. But I do make sure all other facts are true. I call them NF but am not sure if that's technically correct.
@KirstenWLarson: Definitions are such tricky things. Then there is the whole category of books where the main text is 100% nonfiction, but the illustrations add the fantasy element. Jason Chin's books come to mind. But again, I think readers are discerning and connect with these books.
@alysonbeecher: I think these are good discussions to have with teachers and students. Awareness and critical analysis is important, especially today.
@KristenWLarson: I agree 100%. And to that end, I just appreciate when authors play fair with the reader, letting them know what is true and what is made up, especially when it comes to dialog, additions of characters, etc.
@bridgetheos: I personally don't see a difference, FIC and NONFIC wise, between Miss Frizzle and Sun or Fly sharing facts. Many kids think fictional characters are real. Or at any rate, they suspend belief while reading. I think the difference is in POV. When narrators are also the subjects, they have a POV. FLY is biased but acts in good faith to share a truthful and broad picture of himself--good and bad. This is a type of NF that kids will encounter. My 2 cents. Of course, I may also be biased.
@alysonbeecher: Depending on the audience & the purpose and style, can’t I have layers? The facts should be factual. I don’t argue this part but who the narrator is maybe less important. Where I do take issue is with a historical person acting as narrator and what that narrator is saying may not be factual. This is harder for kids to discern than a talking fly or sun sharing facts.
@bridgetheos: I see what you mean. In grownup books, that would be historical fiction. But in kids’ books, based on the array of formats, it may look more like nonfiction.
@alysonbeecher: Especially tricky in some picture book bios. More long form NF vs HF chapter books are often clearer.
@bridgetheos: I agree. One explanation may be that for younger kids, clear cut, photo based NF is often assigned, flat fee work, so if you want to sell your own story you need a distinct angle/topic/POV. Or that has been my experience.
@KirstenWLarson: Couldn't agree more, ladies. There IS a lot of pressure to use unique structure/POVs/voice in trade nonfiction to distinguish from traditional nonfiction. But we have to tell the reader when we invent things in PB bios. I read some and have no idea what's true and what's not.
@mstewartscience: Yes, sometimes there is no backmatter or bibliography. What then? And if I notice a factual error, I start to doubt the entire book. Yet, kids and adult book reviewers may not have the background knowledge to notice the error.
@MA_Cappiello: Back matter is essential, from my perspective, for fiction that is heavily researched-informational fiction, historical fiction.
@bridgetheos: It seems like anything that could be mistaken for fact should be stated. For my science and history books, I sometimes choose a fictional narrator, which is explained in the back matter. With FLY, it seemed to go without saying, but perhaps not. In the future, I'll add a note.
@mstewartscience: Not trying to pick on your book, Bridget. Lots of books do the same thing. This conversation is making me rethink No Monkeys, No Chocolate.
@bridgetheos: Okay, because I was starting to feel like I was being kicked out of nonfiction and I love nonfiction. I research and factcheck like crazy. I don't make up anything except the narrator. Whatever the label, I think books like I, FLY are most useful as NF books.
@mstewartscience: There's no doubt that I FLY is useful. I love that book, and so do kids. But is it nf or informational fiction? That's the question. The same question can be applied to No Monkeys, No Chocolate as well as a book I'm working on now.
To be honest, I'm not sure where I draw the line. I'm always thinking and re-thinking it.
@bridgetheos: Me, too. And funny enough, as this conversation was getting started yesterday, a student asked me if a book can combine fiction and nonfiction, and I told him it was such a good question that it was being asked at that moment by the experts!

@mstewartscience: I love that you could tell a student that!
@alysonbeecher: I love seeing kids realize that adults ponder some of the same questions.
@alysonbeecher: As an educator, I want kids to be drawn to a book and excited to read it. Kids love I Fly & No Monkeys, No Chocolate. Call it what you want, but the facts are true, the other parts are discernible for what they are meant to be, and that’s what is important to me.
@KateMessner: To be honest, I think this particular question (is it NF or informational fiction) is mostly one that authors geek out over but curious readers don't care about. They love the information and appreciate it whether it's offered in true NF or embedded in a story.

@mrterborg: Yes, but it's an important distinction .... :) (Researcher/librarian / ....)
@teacher_meg: From ELA8 teacher view: variety of NF vehicles creates great fodder for talk in the class. Is it narrative NF? Strictly informative? What to do when creative author gestures are introduced? Does genre category even matter? "57 Bus" has started many of these convos this yr.
@LeslieBulion: This is such an interesting discussion! I think it highlights that while categorizing can be helpful, student-educator discussion sparked by sharing all kinds of informational books is invaluable since there are so many format/genre blends.
@HeatherLMont: To me, "informational fiction" makes sense as a broad category for any book with the primary intent of conveying information but which includes fictional elements. I wonder if "expository fiction" is a subset within informational fiction?
@mstewartscience: Yes, that’s how I think about it, Heather. Informational fiction is an umbrella category. But there are books that for some reason I hate to think of as fiction. @KateJPetersen mentioned Living Sunlight by Molly Bang. That's a good example.
@HeatherLMont: I don't really see a difference between non-human characters and fictional human characters. To me, both would put a book in the informational fiction category.
@mstewartscience: Q1: Is a narrator a character? I'm not sure one way or the other.
Q2: Is a non-human narrator "less problematic" than inventing dialog (putting words in the mouths of historical figures)? These are tricky questions.

@HeatherLMont: A1: A narrator is a character--sometimes more involved than other times.
A2: With a non-human character, I think the reader usually understands the fictional element. With invented dialog, that line is often not clear, so it could be more problematic.

@HeatherLMont: I wonder how much the emotional "baggage" I have about these labels impacts my usage of them.
@controlf: As students move more of their research online, I prioritize funds to buy more engaging/harder to classify nonfiction. My vendor struggles with these. They put Brilliant Deep in E, I'm trying to Love Spiders in NF, but Give Bees a Chance in E.

@libraryisheaven: I also struggle with this. My kids asked me why Diana’s White House Garden didn’t go in the NF if it was based on a true story, and I was like ??? But I do have I’m Trying to Love Spiders in my NF. When you figure out a good way to decide LMK.
@controlf: I will! I do have a "based on true” section in E, but it is largely people and events. And because the Missouri Show-me Awards (gr 1-3) from @MASLOnline include so much of this, we discuss what could be true or not. Call it foundational critical lit!
@CaptainLibrary: Can I stop by and see how you have this organized, @controlf ? I’m reorganizing some areas of my F and NF and am always looking for manageable ways to make sure students are finding the type of book they’re looking for.
@controlf: First tip: I started using whiteboard tape on my shelves so, as I try out sections temporarily, I just change Dewey range or genres. I do not teach meanings of Dewey's, but I have not ditched entirely. Our school does a lot of mapping, and I teach call numbers as map coordinates.
@barberchicago: I love blends of fiction and information. Turns out, my fifth graders do, too. We just talked about genres colliding and blending last week. The narrative elements really hook them. Feels less “teachy,” one said.
@mstewartscience: This is interesting. I think by 5th grade, most students can understand that an inanimate-object-narrator is made up, but what about a 1st grader? Also, would your students feel duped by a pb bio with invented dialog?
@barberchicago: Yes, I agree with you that it might be confusing for firsties! Especially because most Ss learn of that divide between narrative & info texts when they’re learning how to read.
Depends also on how it’s blended, I think.
We read a strictly info book on a topic, then an article that told the same topic in a narrative form, but the kids preferred the one with the info woven in. So maybe not “fiction” but more a blend of narrative elements.
Finally, I don’t think Ss would feel duped. We, as Ts can share w/ Ss how exciting it is to develop info in new ways, and bend the genres a bit. Another way info text gets complex!

@mstewartscience: But what if there is no teacher? When I read a pb bio and then find out some parts aren't true, I feel tricked, cheated. But maybe that's just me.
@barberchicago: Completely agree on the not true part 100%, especially in this day and age. I was referring more to the blending of narrative elements. I think fictional dialogue might be taking it too far. Info text, for me, has always been about topics purported to be true.

@SuzanneLipshaw: This is such an interesting thread. I’m discovering bits and pieces as I scroll through my twitter feed this morning.
@KateMessner: I have real issues with invented dialogue in books labeled NF. Once you start inventing things, it's fiction. And it might be great and useful! But don't call it NF. Call it "A Story Based on the Life of..." or similar.
@brandonmariemil: I share your feelings, Kate.
@KateMessner: You can still weave in lots of narrative (and poetic) elements in nonfiction. It's when something's invented that a book crosses that line.
@mstewartscience: I agree. I think the tricky thing is that many kids are taught to look at the Library of Congress (LOC) Catalog in Print (CIP) data to decide if something is fiction or nf and the LOC calls many books with invented dialogue “juvenile literature,” which is their term for “nonfiction.”
@KateMessner: This makes me all kinds of prickly.
@tamra_snell: As a librarian reading all this, I love the dialogue about it. Makes me think about books that come to me already labeled for shelving. Sometimes I’m not sure I agree, but I don’t always change them. This conversation helps me think about it.
@mrterborg: Makes me wonder who comes up with CIP data. I'm not sure it's LOC.
@mstewartscience: Publishers receive the CIP data and ISBN from the LOC prior to publication. This process often takes a couple of months, so if they disagree, there often isn’t time to request a change.

I've noticed lately, that some publishers aren't including LOC data in books that blur the F/NF line. Then kids really aren't sure.
@cylev: Adults might not be sure, either.
@mstewartscience: Yes, absolutely. If educators aren't sure, how can they pass the right info onto kids.
@barberchicago: Truth.
@Kpteach5: I think most young kids would understand an inanimate object narrator is made up. Invented dialogue in NF is confusing for all kids. As was said earlier in this thread, kids will easily be duped and may not read the backmatter.
@KirstenWLarson: I have a real problem with invented dialog IF we don't tell the students. Without the same access to resources a biographer has, students will have NO WAY to know what is fact vs. fiction. Vs. It's pretty easy for kids to know a fly speaking is a fictional element.
@mstewartscience: So is saying dialogue is invented in the backmatter enough? What if kids don't read the backmatter?
@knott_michele: Oftentimes, I wish there had been information that was frontloaded in a book instead of at the end. It would have been a different reading experience. I know we don’t want too much at the beginning, but some info is good to know first.
@Kpteach5: I agree with that, whole-heartedly. My kids and I just had a discussion about this with a book recently. Can’t remember which one right now, but information provided in the beginning would have been beneficial.
@KirstenWLarson: Interesting. I would say we as authors are often discouraged from not getting straight to the story. But a brief note or indicators throughout the text are something to consider.
@mstewartscience: If a teacher is doing it as a read aloud, s/he could share bits from the backmatter in advance if s/he thought it would enhance or enrich the reading experience. But that doesn't help for independent reading.
@Kpteach5: I do that sometimes. There are times, when I read aloud to kids, that we don’t realize how helpful a quick author’s note in the front would have been until we get to the end. More often, I’m thinking about the independent reading kids will be doing, as you mentioned.
@LydiaLukidis: This thread is amazing!! I'm enjoying reading it :)
@KateMessner: Just read a biography for YA readers - @mbrockenbrough's UNPRESIDENTED. The detail is amazing - right down to the frosting on the donuts on the table at the meeting. But all verifiably true, and with source notes.
@mstewartscience: Yes, many books do this very well. I guess the struggle comes when something happened in the past and those kinds of rich details have been lost to time.
@KateMessner: Definitely easier when it's more recent history. But it's still amazing to me how many tiny details you can dig up in journals/diaries/letters and even through archaeology.
@mstewartscience: Absolutely, you're right. But what if those details or dialogue don't exist and a writer needs them for the storytelling to work? Do they switch to expository or do they invent things? In many cases, they invent things.
@KateMessner: *whispers* And at that point, they're no longer writing nonfiction...
@KateMessner: In all honesty, it is AWFUL when you're searching for confirmation of that one detail or that one quote that would make everything perfect and you just can't find it. But you have to be willing to give things up when the research doesn't bear them out.
@mstewartscience: I agree 100 percent, Kate, and yet books like with invented details and dialog are frequently labeled nonfiction, shelved as nonfiction, win nonfiction awards.
@mbrokenbrough: Yet another reason for us not to define our work and our worth by awards. :-)
@mstewartscience: I agree, Martha, but kids need to develop an understanding of what they are reading. Seeing that a book is a nf award winner when it has invented dialog is confusing to them.
@moonb2: Nonfiction shelving in libraries is fuzzy at best Consider: fairytales, folk tales, mythology.
@barberchicago:  Yes. I’m just now starting to understand this.
@mstewartscience: FYI @barberchicago:
@barberchicago:  This is FASCINATING. Just sent it to my colleagues (and myself to share with my students!)
@mbrokenbrough: Nonfiction makes up nothing. Everything in quotation marks was actually said--and if it came from a letter recounting something, and might be not totally accurate, the notes reveal that.
@barberchicago:  Agree 100%. And that’s what we teach our kids to look for. And why the author may have included that quote, which is usually to offer a primary perspective from someone who was actually there/involved directly, vs. a secondary perspective.
@KateMessner: Yes! When I talk w/ kids about historical research, we also discuss how primary sources aren't perfect either. Because they're created by human beings who are sometimes known to make mistakes, remember things wrong, and frankly, lie sometimes to make themselves look better.
@KateMessner: For example, if I write my mom a letter about my morning today, that's a primary source. But I'm quite likely to tell her I had a banana for breakfast instead of that ice cream I just ate. And historical figures do that, too. Such interesting conversations to have w/ kids!
@mstewartscience: These are great lessons for kids.
@KristenWLarson: You can also get a lot of historical detail through parallel research into what was typical for the time period.
@mstewartscience: But here's where things can get tricky. Just because something was true for the time, was it true for your exact story/subject?
@KateMessner: Maybe you can't describe the exact holiday decorations at the historical figure's house - but you can note what the streets of their city looked like in December.
@KristenWLarson: That's the struggle with writing history. Unless you could take a video camera back in time and record a life, you will never know everything with absolute precision. Good historians are specific with their language, stating what they think they know and to what degree.
And I am amazed at how much we don't know when writing science too. You would not believe the lengths I had to go through to find out the flying speed of a peregrine falcon. And scientists don't know with precision. They've never instrumented one.
@KateMessner: It's kind of amazing how much of our history gets told (and often, misrepresented and mythologized) when a story becomes useful to tell during another period of history.
barberchicago:  Agree. It can have a lot of negative consequences both at the current time and later on, intentional or not. Speaks a lot to who has the power to tell the story, whose perspectives are left out, etc.
@KateMessner: I'm working on a NF series right now (not announced yet so I can't share more). This is pretty much what it’s about. Parts of the stories will be told in graphic format. But only someone's exact words can be in the speech bubbles & it's been a great challenge, storytelling with that mix of quotes & narration.
@mstewartscience: Yes, that's the challenge--and the fun--of writing nonfiction. It's a treasure hunt. Don Brown did this so well in his graphic book about Hurricane Katrina.
@KateMessner: Yes! And in his 9/11 book, too.
@KristenWLarson: I've seen some very well-researched graphic novel bios that indicate a subject’s real words/quotes with bold, italics, or asterisks. As a reader, I appreciate knowing which dialog is real vs. made up.
@alysonbeecher: My challenge is a fictional story told from the perspective of a sea turtle or wolf (for example). An “every animal” story, so to speak. Factual on one level, but not actually true. I tend to partner these with an expository book on same topic.
@mstewartscience: Martha, what are your thoughts about a factual book that's narrated by the sun or a fly? Or a story about a wolf where all the info is factual, but not the recorded activities of an actual wolf? Books like this are generally called nonfiction. Is that okay?
@mbrokenbrough: I have no problem with the concept of it. It all depends on the execution, and how it's packaged.
@mstewartscience: Well, these books are labeled as nonfiction. Do you think that's okay?
@mbrokenbrough: It all depends on the execution. Is it disclosed? Is the reason for it given? Does it help with the reader's understanding? We have a responsibility to readers, and I lean toward rigor over rigidity in presentation.
An animation of a sunrise on Mars isn't literally true, but it shows what it looks like and as long as it's labeled "animation," then I think it's OK. So, a book told from the POV of a fetal tiger shark that says, "The developing shark sought the most nutritious meal it could find ... its brother," is all right by me.
@KristenWLarson: In history, if we make up a narrator, it's historical fiction. Period. I think if we don't call books with an inanimate-object or animal narrators "fiction" then we confuse the fundamental idea we teach young readers: if you make up ANYTHING, it's fiction.
@mstewartscience: And what do you think about the wolf story example, Kristen?
@KristenWLarson: I don't know why, but I feel like this is ok, because you can research a pattern of behavior with enough clarity to say what a typical day might look like for an animal. And there is likely a reference for each action/event. FLYING DEEP (Cusolito) comes to mind too.
@mstewartscience: I think Flying Deep is different because @MCusolito worked closely with scientists who had descended in Alvin. But your point is well taken. Any pb with illustrations isn't showing an actual verifiable scene. There is imagination involved.
@KristenWLarson: Exactly. We went through this with my book about aviation pioneer Lilian Todd (WOOD, WIRE, WINGS). We had a few, grainy photos. The illustrator, Tracy Subisak, had to fill in the gaps, and we had the art reviewed by experts in early aviation. But unless we illus. with photos...
@MCusolito: I thought about this A LOT when writing Flying Deep. All the scenes described in the book really happened, BUT they didn’t necessarily happen in that order during the same day. Launch & recovery sequences & the associated dialogue are always the same but what happens between the two varies. Experts agreed that it’s reflective of a typical dive day but it’s not a particular one.
@meganbfrazer: As a librarian I have a real problem with invented dialogue for real characters. I also find first person biographies (i.e. by someone other than the individual) problematic. The little kids can't tell/understand that the person didn't really say those things.
@PeggyHarkins: That makes sense. How are you defining "little kids?" And at what age is a first-person novel appropriate?
@meganbfrazer: I currently work K-5, so I'm thinking k-2 for little. But most of my 3-5 students would need it explicitly stated up front that the work is not the actual voice of the individual.
@mstewartscience: Hi, Meg! What are your thoughts about a factual book that's narrated by the sun or a fly? Or a story about a wolf where all the info is factual, but not the recorded activities of an actual wolf. Books like this are generally called nonfiction.
@meganbfrazer: That's a good question. I think most kids can more clearly understand that the sun doesn't actually talk, which is my primary concern: will this informational text (fic or nf) leave kids with misinformation?
So, in that sense, I think a talking sun is more appropriate than a made up dialogue/narration for a person. Still with my library hat on, my next question would be, "Where would I shelve it?" Fiction or nonfiction? That's trickier.
My primary concern with shelving is findability, which is why we are moving to genrefication and considering interfiling fic and nf, but that dodges your question.
@controlf: As a librarian, I get to move things where I want, and I change shelf locations all the time. And these are the books I love to display and share. I'm just wondering if on a systemic level, the classification process has not kept up with readers’ needs.
@mstewartscience: Yes, I think you are absolutely right. The classification process has not kept up with readers’ needs.
And that’s where the Twitter conversation petered out on Saturday around noon. If you’d like to contribute some additional thoughts, please do so in the comments below.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this here, Melissa. What a fascinating conversation. I'm especially grateful that you shared it since I am not on twitter, and would otherwise have missed it.

    So many interesting questions and factors to consider here. I like the idea of calling it informational fiction or even creative nonfiction, and I think this umbrella term works well for most informational content with the exception of historical stuff, like biographies. There I think it's critical to note when things like dialogue are invented, and then it could be termed historical fiction or historical informational fiction, like in novels, and the approached can be best addressed in the backmatter or author's note. That would also be a great way as many noted for teachers to begin the conversation.

    1. Informational fiction does include historical books as well as STEM books, Arts books, etc.

      The problem with "creative nonfiction" is that it is used in so many different ways. Some people use it to refer to any narrative nonfiction. Other people use it to describe expository literature and narrative nonfiction. In both these cases, absolutely nothing can be made up.

      The problem with including invented dialog and using the backmatter as a "get out of jail free card," is that kids (and adults) often don't read the backmatter. Even if a child reads it, s/he may need an adult to help unpack it, and there isn't always an adult available.

  2. I watched this unfold on Twitter and loved the discourse and analysis. Two of my books have been categorized by reviewers as fiction, nonfiction, infofic, narrative nonfiction, and fiction with real science elements. I find them on both fiction and nonfiction shelves in libraries. I've struggled to find the right category for them as well and informational fiction fits the far. I also wonder about 'fact-based fiction' - has this description been debated?

    1. I've never heard "fact-based fiction." Way back when Magic School Bus came out, some academic educators were calling it "faction," but that term didn't seem to pick up much traction. "Informational fiction" seems to be the most popular descriptor.

  3. I love this thread!! This is getting bookmarked. I once thought the distinction between fiction and nonfiction was so clear, but there are so many nuances.

  4. I worry very much about child readers who are still young enough to look for everything to fit neatly into a category but who are reading independently. This gives a great overview of the issue from their perspective. I'm disturbed that some will learn "facts" that are untrue. Children often skip back matter, especially when reading for pleasure. In fact, adults do too. For these reasons, I think we need ways to categorize the hybrids to make it clear that's what they are. But there are so many styles of hybrid that this may not be feasible. It's an interesting problem.

  5. I worry very much about child readers who are still young enough to look for everything to fit neatly into a category but who are reading independently. This gives a great overview of the issue from their perspective. I'm disturbed that some will learn "facts" that are untrue. Children often skip back matter, especially when reading for pleasure. In fact, adults do too. For these reasons, I think we need ways to categorize the hybrids to make it clear that's what they are. But there are so many styles of hybrid that this may not be feasible. It's an interesting problem.

  6. Wonderful discussion and thank you to all who participated and shared their candid thoughts. I loved the point Kate Messner made about how even historical figures, in the primary sources we read, might have not relayed exactly what happened. And I love what Barb Rosenstock said...we need to honest about what we are writing. But Debbie Viardi's point is and adults may not take note of the disclosure that all is not exactly the truth. But the best thing of all of this is that there was open and honest communication amongst the participants and, even when there was disagreement, it was respectfully offered. Thank you so much, Melissa, for putting this all together, especially for those of us who might have missed it in real time.

    1. Yes, it's a great discussion with many different and interesting points of view.

  7. I've really enjoyed reading this discussion, and all the ways in which to look at writing. I'm struggling with an informational NF PB and so much of what was said here, will make me go back and think, deeply think and rearrange. Thank you all.

  8. For my MFA critical thesis about picture book biographies a couple of years ago, I deeply researched the nonfiction/fiction topic by interviewing editors, librarians, and Library of Congress catalogers and comparing their feedback to the nonfiction award criteria. It was fascinating! I have a lot to add to this conversation once I return home AND my current WIP is wrapped up. Thanks for the conversation, Melissa, et al!

  9. Fascinating! As a children's librarian, I wonder about scrapping fiction/nonfiction shelving altogether. If we are trying to meet the users' information seeking needs, maybe collections would be better divided by the book's purpose - is it informational or entertainment? Although many kids are entertained by information, so maybe that distinction is not quite right. But Dewey as it stands has tons of problems (if I had a nickel for every time I had to explain why I have fairy tales in the non-fiction section...) so I could instead see it broken down into areas - science, history, tales, etc. with non-fiction and informational fiction (maybe even historical fiction? not sure) together. It's a complicated issue, for sure.

    1. You're right, it is complicated.

      Informational fiction is an umbrella term for historical fiction, STEM-based fiction, Arts fiction, etc.

      I think one of the potential dangers of eliminating Dewey completely is that every library would be different, which can be confusing or overwhelming for patrons that use many different libraries. That's why Dewey proposed his system in the first place.

      But I do think it might be possible to create a new, separate section for informational fiction. This would really only be for picture books. MG/YA nonfiction rarely introduces fictional elements.

      I'm strongly opposed to the idea of calling a book either informational or entertaining. Many, many books are both. And I don't think any author's purpose is to either inform or entertain. Both fiction and nonfiction authors have an idea or a story that they are compelled to share. They have a strong deep personal connection.

    2. You're absolutely right about informational/entertaining. That was a swing and a miss on my part! Non-fiction isn't really a truly accurate term for the Dewey section as it stands in most libraries, however, so I am still struggling with the best way to label it.

      I can see the separate section for informational fiction, but I also like having it interfiled with the non-fiction. Most children looking for books on a particular topic would be equally happy with true non-fiction or informational fiction. Maybe we could use spine labels to indicate which books are informational fiction, but leave them in the non-fiction section.

    3. Yes, a colored sticker on the spine could work. As long as kids know what the stickers mean, they can easily differentiate between books in which everything is true and based on verified research vs books in which some elements are fictional.

  10. Great discussion! I’m glad I found this since I think I just wrote my first informational fiction pb.As a former librarian, I was very interested in that aspect of the discussion as well.