Wednesday, April 1, 2020

5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Narrative Nonfiction

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 earlier posts about about traditional nonfiction and browseable books. Today I’m focusing on narrative nonfiction.

In the mid-1990s, children’s authors began crafting narrative nonfiction—prose that tells a true story or conveys an experience. Narrative nonfiction appeals to fiction lovers because it includes real characters and settings; narrative scenes; and, ideally, a narrative arc with rising tension, a climax, and denouement. The scenes, which give readers an intimate look at the events and people being described, are linked by transitional text that provides necessary background while speeding through parts of the true story that don’t require close inspection.



Narrative nonfiction, which typically features rich, engaging language and a chronological sequence text structure, slowly gained momentum during the 2000s. Today, it’s the writing style of choice for biographies and books that focus on historical events. It may also be used in books about animal life cycles or scientific processes, which have a built-in beginning, middle, and end.

Because narrative nonfiction titles often lack headings and other text features, they aren’t as useful for targeted research as other kinds of nonfiction, but they can help young readers get an overall sense of a particular time and place or a person and their important achievements.

Here are some examples:

Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Joan Proctor, Reptile Doctor by Patricia Valdez

Karl’s New Beak by Lela Nargi

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura BelprĂ© by Anika Denise 

Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America by Gail Jarrow

Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill by Heather L. Montgomery

Two Brothers, Four Hands by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

You’re Invited to a Moth Ball: A Nighttime Insect Celebration by Loree Griffin Burns 

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