Wednesday, April 8, 2020

5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Expository Literature

Back in 2017, I proposed a five-category system for classifying children’s nonfiction on my blog, and the response was incredible.

Teachers loved it. So did librarians and children’s book authors and editors. People praised the clarity it brought to the range of children’s nonfiction available today. In May 2018, School Library Journal published an article about the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction. Again, the response was incredibly positive. I’ve spoken about the system at a number of conferences, and later this year, 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing with Children’s Books, co-written by literacy educator Marlene Correia, will hit bookshelves.

Because so many people want information now, I’m discussing each of the categories and providing an updated list of exemplar books. You can scroll down to read about traditional nonfiction, browseable books, and narrative nonfiction. Today I’m focusing on expository literature.

When Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, school funding priorities changed. School library budgets were slashed, and many school librarians lost their jobs. Around the same time, the proliferation of websites made straightforward, kid-friendly information widely available without cost, which meant traditional survey books about volcanoes or whales or the Boston Tea Party were no longer mandatory purchases for libraries. 

As nonfiction book sales to schools and libraries slumped, authors, illustrators, and publishers began searching for new ways to add value to their work, so they could compete with the internet. The result has been a new breed of finely-crafted expository literature that delights as well as informs.

Besides being meticulously researched and fully faithful to the facts, expository literature features captivating art, dynamic design, and rich engaging language. It may also include strong voice, innovative point of view, carefully-chosen text structure, and purposeful text format. 

Unlike traditional nonfiction, expository literature often presents narrowly-focused or specialized topics, such as STEM concepts, in creative ways that reflect the author’s passion for the subject. For example, in the traditional nonfiction book Butterflies by Seymour Simon, children learn all about the graceful insects. The book has a standard format in which each double-page spread features one page of text and one full-page photo. The author employs a description text structure and uses concise, straightforward language. 

But the expository literature title A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston focuses on a butterfly’s most amazing characteristics. The book has an innovative format with two layers of text, stunning art, and a dynamic design. The author presents the information with a wondrous, lyrical voice and makes expert use of such language devices as imagery and personification, inviting readers to think about and appreciate butterflies in a whole new way.  

Because expository literature titles are so carefully crafted, they work especially well as mentor texts in writing workshop. They can also help students recognize patterns, think by analogy, and engage in big picture thinking.

Here are some examples:

Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth

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

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents by Kate Messner

Rotten: Vultures, Beetles, Slime and Nature’s Other Decomposers by Anita Sanchez

Seashells: More than a Home by Melissa Stewart

Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell

Women in Art: 50 Fearless Creatives Who Inspired the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

1 comment:

  1. Many of my favorite expository titles are here :). Looking forward to reading the book. It's going to be so helpful to educators!

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