Friday, June 7, 2019

Nonfiction Evolution: The New Survey Book

Once upon a time, all nonfiction books for children were survey (all about) books that provide a general introduction of a broad topic, such as gorillas or galaxies or weather.

These books, which are often published in large series, feature concise, straightforward language. They have a description text structure and an expository writing style.

Because covering a huge amount of information in a limited number of words constrains a nonfiction writer’s ability to craft rich text, these traditional nonfiction titles may seem less engaging than the other kinds of nonfiction books that have become increasingly popular in recent years.

Some young readers enjoy narrative nonfiction because it reads like a story. Narrative nonfiction is ideal for biographies and books about historical events because it has a chronological sequence structure.

Other children are especially fond of expository literature, which takes an in-depth look at a specific idea or concept. Because the topic is tightly focused, writers can be more playful and innovative. They can select a format and text structure that reflects their unique approach to the content, and they can experiment with voice and language devices.

And yet, many curious kids are hungry for books that provide broad overviews of their favorite subjects. In an effort to create books that satisfy young readers and seem more fun, some authors have begun employing techniques that blur the line between fiction and nonfiction. The result is informational fiction survey books.

For example, I, Fly: The Buzz about Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos features a talking fly who tells a classroom of students all about flies.

In Sun: One in a Billion by Stacey McAnulty, a sun character (with eyes, a nose and mouth, and arms), talks directly to readers, sharing a plethora of fascinating facts.

Truth About Bears: Seriously Funny Facts About Your Favorite Animals by Maxwell Eaton III combines a simple, straightforward main text with information about bears and dialog bubbles in which talking bears add humor. Many pages also include factoid boxes.  

Beavers: The Superpower Field Guide by Rachel Poliquin, which is 96 pages long and intended for a middle grade audience, is narrated by a girl who presents information to readers in an enthusiastic, conversational voice.
Some educators worry that young children may be confused by this new way of presenting true information. They wonder:

·        Will kids mistakenly believe that an animal or inanimate object can talk and/or experience the world in the same way as humans do?

·       If children recognize that the first-person narrators are made up, will they realize that the ideas and information are factual?  

While understanding how kids at various age levels respond to these books may take time, the growing interest in informational fiction survey books suggests that we’re likely to see more of them in the future.

This article was originally published by PLOS Scicomm on April 9, 2019, but I thought it was worth publishing again here because informational fiction seems to be getting more and more popular all the time . 


  1. I really enjoy reading these kinds of books--they're a lot of fun. I think kids are smart enough to realize that animals don't communicate and talk the same way that humans do, and it's an interesting and engaging way to impart the information. I, Fly is one of my favorite books! It's hilarious.

  2. I am a big fan of informational fiction, so I'm glad their popularity is on the rise. Yay!