Wednesday, October 2, 2019

List Books as a Text Structure

Most state ELA state standards currently emphasize five major nonfiction text structures— description, sequence, compare & contrast, problem-solutions, and cause and effect. But the truth is that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to text structure.

Some books include a one-of-a-kind text structure that perfectly reflects its concept and content. One of my favorite examples is Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman, which has a brilliant spiraling text structure.

When it comes to children’s literature, there are two common nonfiction text structures that I wish would receive more attention—list and question and answer. I’ll be discussing list books today and Q & A titles on Friday.

I used to place list books in the compare and contrast category, but I never felt 100 percent comfortable with that decision. Over the summer, I read two articles written by academic educators who consider list books to be their own separate category, and I like their way of thinking.

What exactly is a list book? It has an expository writing style, and the main idea is presented on the first double-page spread. Then each subsequent spread offers one or more examples that support that idea. In many cases, a list book has a concluding spread that links back to the opening or offers a fun twist on the topic, leaving readers with a sense of satisfaction. 

A list text structure works especially well for books that focus on plant or animal characteristics, adaptations, or behaviors, but it can be used in other ways too.

Here are some great examples:

Adventures to School: Real-Life Journeys of Students from Around the World by Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul

Birds of Every Color by Sneed B. Collard III

Bugs Don’t Hug: Six-legged Parents and Their Kids by Heather L. Montgomery

An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston

Homes in the Wild: Where Baby Animals and Their Parents Live by Lita Judge

Mama Dug a Little Den by Jennifer Ward

Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating 

Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs by Melissa Stewart

Seashells: More than a Home by Melissa Stewart

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt Lamothe


  1. I find it interesting that many of the professional science books I read are in essence list books -- many are collections of scientific studies on a shared topic.

    1. That's an interesting observation, Heather. You're right. And sometimes they throw in bits of narrative by focusing on a few scientists-as-characters as a sort of glue. This is different from children's books, which generally put the person first and focus much more heavily on the narrative. Fascinating. I need to give this some more thought. Thanks so much for expanding my thinking.

  2. Such an interesting way to look at it, and so many wonderful books here :)

  3. List and Q & A are about my favorite text structures--I'm drawn to these two styles of books.

  4. This helps in writing a new book I'm working on. Thank you!