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Seminar on Lit for Youth: Informational Reading

Seminar in Literature for Youth Nonfiction: Part 1: Informational Reading from Annette Lamb on Vimeo.

Watch the video, then read the page.

"What we too often forget when considering the importance of nonfiction reading is the pleasure, the art, the wonder of it. We do not want to develop students who read nonfiction just for function, or for school success, but students who read nonfiction for enjoyment, to be fascinated, to discover." (Duke, 2005, ix)

With the advent of the NASA online resources, the National Geographic website, and Wikipedia, some people may ask whether we need nonfiction books and hard copies for informational reading in our libraries. However, the Guinness Book of World Records (see images below) continues to fly off the shelf along with books about snowboarding, codes and ciphers, and the latest fashion trends.


In a 2011 International Reading Association survey (Cassidy, 2010/2011), informational or nonfiction texts were identified as a "hot issue" in literacy education.

Marc Aronson (2015) noted that

"all across the country—in states that have embraced the Common Core and those that have moved to develop their own standards—librarians working with readers aged 12-18 are being asked to select and share more nonfiction. This is true in both public and school libraries, and professionals would value guidance from their organization in thinking about this ever-more-important role."

Read the editorial by Sutton, Roger (Mar/April 2011). It won't be on the test. The Horn Book Magazine, 87(2), 7-8. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Do you think works of print nonfiction will continue to be popular? Why or why not?

Read Hunt, Jonathan (May/June 2013). The amorphous genre. The Horn Book Magazine, 89(3), 31-34. IUPUI students can view the article online.
What do you envision as the needs in nonfiction? Hunt would like to see more narrative nonfiction in the form of series like Harry Potter. What do you think would appeal to the youth audience? Provide some examples.

The State of the Discipline

Whether focusing on school or public libraries, it's clear that library users continue to feel that libraries are an important source of reading materials. This is particularly true of parents. According to Miller and others (May 1, 2013),

"84% of these parents who say libraries are important say a major reason they want their children to have access to libraries is that libraries help inculcate their children’s love of reading and books.

81% say a major reason libraries are important is that libraries provide their children with information and resources not available at home."

According to the latest Pew Internet: Libraries (October 23, 2012) study,

"More than eight in ten Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year, and six in ten used their local public library. At the youngest end of the spectrum, high schoolers in their late teens (ages 16-17) and college-aged young adults (ages 18-24) are especially likely to have read a book or used the library in the past 12 months. And although their library usage patterns may often be influenced by the requirements of school assignments, their interest in the possibilities of mobile technology may also point the way toward opportunities of further engagement with libraries later in life."

read Read!
Read Freedman, Russell (2014). Changing Times. The Horn Book. Available at The Horn Book.

Read Flowers, Mark (January 22, 2013). More on Nonfiction-Now with (possibly dubious) statistics! School Library Journal. Available at SLJ.

Also, skim Celebrating Reading for Enjoyment. What are your questions about the current state of research on informational reading and nonfiction literature for youth?

The Reality

Unfortunately, there's lots of speculation, but not many facts about the state of nonfiction and informational reading habits of today's youth. While librarians may explore their library's circulation statistics or make generalizations from the new nonfiction works being published, there's a need for research that explores what youth are reading and what they want and need.


According to Aronson (2008, 31), "the majority of high school students across this great land of ours haven't made it through a single nonfiction title." This may be true, but we need research to support these claims and identify meaningful ways to encourage nonfiction reading.

Vent and Ray (2007) studied the nonfiction reading habits of elementary students. Although students claimed that they liked nonfiction, their interest wasn't reflected in circulation statistics. Only 35% of books checked out were nonfiction including topics such as animals, sports, explorers, and machinery.

Read Duke, Nell K. (February 2010). The Real-World Reading and Writing U.S. Children Need. Phi Delta Kappan, 91(5), 68-71. IUPUI students can view the article online. This article explores the needs in terms of "real world" reading and writing.

Read Miller, Donalyn (November 2013). The dazzling world of nonfiction. Educational Leadership, 22-27. IUPUI students can view the article online.

try itTry It!
If you hold a position at a library (or have a friend who does) find out what youth are reading based on circulation. What areas of the youth nonfiction collection circulate the most and least? What are the most popular books? Provide some examples and try to explain the statistics and the trends.

squidBook Spotlight

GIANT SQUID by Candace Fleming dives into the life of this marine animal and its habitat.

Recipient of the 2017 Robert F. Sibert Honor Medal for informational books, this beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of this often overlooked sea creature. Fleming brings this mysterious animal to life through short, descriptive sentences and phrases, while Rohmann’s illustrations remind readers of the immense size of this ocean dweller.

The author masterfully weaves factual information into the compelling story. The picture book concludes with a labelled diagram of a giant squid along with additional background information and resources.
Librarians will find this attractive picture book to be well-received by children who enjoy animals books. Book extensions can be downloaded from the author’s website.

To learn more about the author, go to
To learn more about the illustrator, go to

Nonfiction Defined

antsNonfiction has always been a difficult term to define. Kristo and Bamford (2004) define nonfiction as the "literature of facts." Its purpose is to deliver information, explain, argue, and/or demonstrate.

For instance, Exploding Ants: Amazing Facts about How Animals Adapt (1999) by Joanne Settel explores how animals adapt. It's intended to inform and explain, but also entertain.

According to Jamie Hall (2007),

"As a writer, I think the question that I get most frequently is "How can folklore possibly be nonfiction?" It is, there's no doubt about that. Check your local library, and you'll see folklore and mythology shelved in the nonfiction section. But why is it nonfiction? After all, it's pretty obvious that 99.999999% of it is made up.

The real answer has to do with the distinction between fiction and nonfiction, and the reason why nonfiction isn't simply called "fact." You see, nonfiction isn't really about things that are true. It is about things that have some level of truth attached to them. And that attachment can be pretty oblique."

Hall (2007) uses popular books to examine why topics that appear to be fictional are identified as nonfiction.

"Think about books like Piers Anthony's Visual Guide to Xanth or Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials. These guides describe fictional worlds and creatures, but they describe them in a factual way. There is a level of truth here, in that the beings, objects and landscapes being described do factually exist within the pages of novels. They aren't real, but they weren't made up specifically for Piers Anthony's Visual Guide to Xanth or Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials. The novels already existed before the guides were written about them. Roleplaying guides such as D&D monster manuals also qualify as nonfiction, as ridiculous as that may sound, because they are describing creatures and things that actually do exist within the game setting. No, these things don't exist in real life. The level of truth involved here is that the game is a real game. Within the context of the game, these monsters exist. Outside it, they don't, but that hardly matters. A roleplaying manual is nonfiction about how to play a game. Just like a chess manual, it belongs in the nonfiction section."

A great example of this fuzzy area between fiction and nonfiction is cryptozoology. This pseudoscience is involved with searching for creatures whose existence has yet to be proven. Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures that may or May Not Exist (see images below) by Kelly Milner Halls, Rick Spears, and Roxyanne Young is a popular book with middle school aged youth. It's found in the shelf at 001.94 Controversial Knowledge and Mysteries > Monsters and related phenomena near stories of Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle and UFOs.


Marc Aronson (2015) notes that there's a need to clarify the area of nonfiction. He states that there's a need for clarification

"because nonfiction for this audience (youth) is growing and changing. This change has been sparked, in part, by new educational standards, and by the boom in narrative nonfiction for adults, which in turn has made publishers much more receptive to nonfiction proposals for young readers. In addition, authors are trying new formats, approaches, and treatments— from memoirs in poetry to graphic novels to books with clear points of view. Just as librarians need clarification on the definition of nonfiction, nonfiction is mutating in ways that create new challenges for those who evaluate it."

Not everyone agrees on the definition of nonfiction or informational text within the library profession. This debate is likely to continue to rage into the future.

The discussion about the line between fiction and nonfiction becomes particularly interesting when those who speak other languages are brought into the discussion. Global discussions about this topic bring in thoughts about language, culture, and storytelling that make the term "nonfiction" even more thought-provoking.

Read Lea, Richard (March 24, 2016). Fiction v Nonfiction. The Guardian. Available through The Guardian. Think about the role that language and culture plays in nonfiction literature.

Informational Texts Defined

"What are informational books?... Nearly all informational books are about concrete subjects, things that can be seen and heard and touched, the lives of real people, places that can be visited, or the stories of real events. That connection with the real world is the heart of the attraction of informational books." (Isaacs, 2013)

Not all nonfiction works involve informational reading. Informational text provides information about the scientific, natural, or social world dealing with people, places, and things. They often contain description, sequences, comparison, problem solving, and an exploration of cause and effect.


A vast majority adult reading falls into the category of informational text. Research shows that more than 80% of texts read by adults are informational such as newspapers, menus, and directions (Duke, 2013).

It's important that youth learn to analyze informational text in the same deep way that they've learned to read fiction. Rather than viewing nonfiction books as simply a place to find answers, readers are asked to discuss the content of a variety of books exploring the same subject. Youth learn that evidence can be collected from many sources and that each book may present a different perspective. Students are asked to explore different points of view, ask deep questions, and apply evidence to draw conclusions.


Informational Reading and Genre

drawAdults know how to adjust their reading to address these different types of texts. For instance, you may skim and scan explanatory texts, while you might carefully follow the sequence of procedural texts.

How to Draw 101 Animals is a procedural book for youth.

Many genres can be found within informational texts. Duke and Watanabe (2013) note that these genres

"have particular purposes and use language and graphics in particular ways to accomplish those purposes."

The term genre in this case refers to particular types of texts based on their content, structure, and purpose. According to Duke and Watanabe (2013, 348),

"Unfortunately, research suggests that elementary-age children have not been provided with substantial exposure to some of the genres they are expected to learn to read and write, most notably informational genres (e.g., Duke, 2000; Jeong et al., 2010). Narrative genres have dominated writing and reading instruction. Although this is good for narrative development, this is not sufficient to develop strong informational reading and writing skills because (as noted earlier) reading is largely genre-specific (Duke & Roberts, 2010); knowledge of one genre does not render one an effective reader and writer of another genre. Notably, if children are exposed to and engaged in reading and writing informational genres, research suggests that they begin to develop stronger knowledge of these genres."

According to Tony Stead (2002), nonfiction writing can serve many purposes such as to describe, explain, respond, instruct, persuade, and retell. It can also take a narrative form. There are a number of genres that are used in writing nonfiction works including narrative, explanatory, persuasive, and procedural (Duke and Watanabe, 2013).

Research indicates that being proficient in one type of text such as narratives doesn't necessarily mean a reader will be successful in working with other types. Duke and Roberts (2010) found that students need both instruction and experience to be proficient with each type of informational text.

Beyond the genre, it's useful to think about how individuals approach different types of texts. Aronson (2015) asked the questions "How do different readers approach nonfiction? That is, what are their expectations? What engages them? What trips them up?"

Read Boys Read More Nonfiction, but Not Enough (February 2015). IUPUI students can view the article online.

Forms of Nonfiction

Many scholars have identified four to seven categories of nonfiction texts based on their forms. This approach helps librarians and their readers better understand this broad area of reading. Let's explore narrative, explanatory, persuasive, and procedural forms of nonfiction.

Narrative Nonfiction

Narrative genres are most commonly associated with fiction, however narrative nonfiction is growing in popularity. These works are used to share information and experiences in a story form. Reader can look for standard story elements such as character, plot, setting, and theme.

The narrative approach has been used for nonfiction picture books for a long time. Books like Bat Loves the Night and One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies use this approach.


During the past several years, narrative nonfiction has become increasingly popular in works for young adults. Many of these titles explore the lives of people or examine historical events or movements.

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson tells the compelling true story of composer Dmitri Shostakovich known for the symphony he created during the Siege of Leningrad. This work of narrative nonfiction chronicles the life of Dmitri Shostakovich and his passion for music and the city he loves. After an engaging prologue that sets the stage, the book details the composer’s childhood through early adulthood. The middle section of the work focuses on the Siege of Leningrad, Shostakovich’s work on what became known as the Leningrad Symphony, and the impact of the symphony around the world. The book concludes with the legacy of the symphony, the end of World War II, and the rest of Shostakovich’s life. The conversational narrative and inspiring storyline is likely to appeal to young adult readers. The biography contains the in-depth research expected of an adult work without the length and detail that can bog down high school scholars (Lamb 2015).


Some librarians have expressed concerns about works of narrative nonfiction that "fill in the gaps" of a story. Historians may not know the exact words spoken during a top secret meeting and scientists can only speculate on the motivations of animals. However, the narrative nonfiction approach can be appealing for children not otherwise attracted to informational reading experiences.

samurai risingBook Spotlight

by Pamela Turner tells the legendary story of Minamoto Yoshitsune.

Set in twelfth century Japan, young Yoshitsune is just a baby when his father is killed and his mother captured by a rival family. While living in a monastery, Yoshitsune learns warrior arts, becomes a samurai, and defeats his enemies.

Blending historical facts with classic literature, the author successfully creates a biography that’s both engaging for readers and based on actual people, places, and events. The fascinating illustrations draw readers into the story.

Short, chronological chapters focus on key events in the life of Yoshitsune. The list of characters and places, author’s notes, timelines, glossary, chapter notes, bibliography, and index make this book can excellent nonfiction information source for youth. The many maps also add to the usability.

Librarians know how difficult it can be to interest some youth in biographies. This action-packed biography is perfect for fans of the samurai and Japanese history. Because this work of nonfiction narrative reads like a novel, youth who enjoy a story approach will be drawn to this biography.

This well-researched biography will be popular among youth who enjoy the violence and valor found in twelfth century Japan.

To learn more about the author, go to

Explanatory Nonfiction

blackExplanatory (or expository) informational genres require that readers understand how information is organized and options for accessing this material. Books that focus on concepts related to the social or natural world would fit this category. Most reference texts would also fall into this category.

A Black Hole is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano is an example of an explanatory book.

Some people subdivide this category into explanatory and descriptive. Explanatory works being about how or why something occurs and descriptive books being organized around facts about an animal, country, or some other topic.

Expository books also called "concept books" begin with a general statement about the concept being introduced and contain a series of paragraphs providing definitions, examples and nonexamples, and classifications. Nic Bishop's Spiders is an example of a "concept book".

nicspiderBecause these texts can normally be accessed in any order, readers often use the book's structure such as the table of content, headings, a glossary, and the index to assist in locating information of interest. In addition, they often include a much more diverse vocabulary than narratives. In many cases, these books contain visual features such as charts, graphs, photographs, and drawings that are important to understand the text.

According to Duke and Watanabe (2013, 358),

"To comprehend informational texts, one must be able to glean information, and to compose these texts, one must be able to organize and present the information so that it is coherent. One important focus of instruction is how to information within informational text in cases in which reading the entire text is not necessary or advisable. This is important with many print-based information books, particularly reference books, and essential to Web-based texts."

Some books in this category use comparison and other strategies to help readers distinguish among examples and nonexamples of concepts. In addition, techniques such as "frequently asked questions" or a question-and-answer format are sometimes used to draw interest.

toothBook Spotlight

by Sara Levine is a fun follow-up to the popular Bone by Bone.

This informational picture book designed for the primary grades introduces readers to the teeth of mammals. Taking a question-and-answer approach, children are asked to look at their own teeth, then think about the teeth of other creatures including dogs, cats, and bears.

T.S. Spookytooth’s illustrations add to the fun, but they also contribute to the high-quality learning experience. Information about animal adaptations adds depth to the text. The book includes additional facts, a glossary, bibliography, and online resources.

Librarians will find the humorous approach will appeal to young readers who enjoy informational reading. Use this book as the focus of a dental health display that includes nonfiction works along with models of teeth.

Persuasive Nonfiction

recyclePersuasive genres focus on influencing audience behavior. These works often present evidence for and against a particular position, then suggest a particular position to the audience based on the arguments presented. Although persuasive nonfiction may have many of the same features as explanatory or descriptive works, their purpose is to change attitudes and behaviors. Many diet books try to convince readers that their plan is best.

Why Should I Recycle by Jenn Green discusses the importance in recycling in our society. The authors present a convincing argument for young readers.

The order of the text may or may not be important. In some situations, a case is built through each chapter of the text so reading the book sequentially is important. However many books weave persuasive elements throughout the book so reading in a particular order isn't imperative.

In most cases, persuasive books support an opinion on a particular topic such as the importance of recycling or the necessity of fitness as part of a healthy lifestyle. They may also deal with a social issue or a perspective on a historical event.

Procedural Nonfiction

Procedural (or instructional) genres are important in all aspects of daily life. Informational texts include how-to books, recipe books, and instruction manuals. The purpose of a procedural text is to help readers accomplish a goal such as making a model airplane or conducting a science experiment. The books generally present sequential steps for making or doing something.

lego ideaLego books are a wonderful example of procedural books. They show readers step-by-step how to construct an object such as a model car or building.

These books contain text features such as an overview of the goal, a list of materials or ingredients, ordered steps to follow including imperative verbs (i.e., cut, copy, paste), and suggestions for success. They often include illustrations showing the required materials, visualizing each step, and showing the final product.

While order isn't important in explanatory books, it's essential in procedural works. Missing a step may alter understanding along with the final product.

According to Duke and Watanabe (2013, 359),

"The purpose of procedural texts is to provide an explanation of and/or information on how to do something. This genre requires some strategies that are quite different from those in other genres because the reader is actually expected to do what the text directs."

Scratch has emerged as a popular programming language for kids. A number of well-received books have been published to help youth learn to use the free program, step-by-step. Books like Super Scratch Programming Adventure!: Learn to Program By Making Cool Games (2012) by The LEAD Project provide independent instruction for kids.


try itTry It!
Find examples of each of the four genres (narrative, explanatory, persuasive, and procedural) discussed. These nonfiction works should all come from the same general subject area (i.e., Asian history or geometry) or relate to a particular theme such as food preparation, birds, or historic battles. Choose one book in each genre to share. Do a comparison of the approach taken with each book. How would these books be used differently. In what situations would you recommend one book and not another.

Nonfiction Structure

Works of nonfiction are structured in a way that is different from most works of fiction. In generally, fiction uses a narrative approach with a story arc. While narratives are generally broken into chapters, they may or may not contain a table of contents.

Explanatory, persuasive, and procedural informational texts normally share a standard organization and features.

Let's use The Elephant Scientist (2011) by Donna Jackson and Caitlin O'Connell as an example. Designed for children ages 10 and up, the book is part of the Scientists in the Field collection from the Smithsonian and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The book contains a table of contents and chapters. In addition, it has an exploration section listing resources, a glossary, and an index.

elephant scientistelephant scientistelephant scientist

elephant scientistelephant scientistelephant scientist

Read Rossi, Jane (October 2005). Don't gloss over the glossary. School Library Journal, 51(10), 33. IUPUI students can view the article online.

try itTry It!
Go to the Google Preview for Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally Walker. Notice the table of contents, chapters, and timeline. Also notice the use of a variety of images including photographs, maps, and diagrams. Also notice that you're missing most of the page, so you don't experience the index and other elements of the structure.

Go to Google Books Juvenile Nonfiction Preview, Amazon Look Inside, or publisher websites provide previews, however they don't provide the full text. Do some exploring. Examine the structure of nonfiction.

Now, head to your library and explore the nonfiction collection for youth. This will give you a complete look that is missing when you use online previews.

History of Nonfiction for Youth

Although there has been an emphasis on informational reading the past couple years, nonfiction for youth isn't a new phenomenon.

It all begin with Orbis Pictis or Orbis Sensualium Pictus (Visible World in Pictures) published in 1658. Considered the first picture book intended for children, it was a children's encyclopedia. Czech educator and author Comenius divided the book into chapters including inanimate nature, botanics, zoology, religion, and humans and their activities. The book was illustrated with woodcuts to accompany the text. A major award for children's nonfiction is named after this book.


Although nonfiction textbooks emerged for youth, most other books for young people into the 20th century focused on works of fiction, folktales, or fairy tales.

Read Bader, Barbara (November 2, 2011). Nonfiction: what's really new and different and what isn't. The Horn Book. Available Online. Trace the history of a particular type of nonfiction for youth. How has it evolved over time?

SKIM Isaacs, Kathleen T. (Mar/April 2011). The facts of the matter: Children's nonfiction, from then to now. The Horn Book Magazine, 87(2), 10-18. IUPUI students can view the article online.

SKIM Giblin, James Cross (October 1, 1988). The rise and fall and rise of juvenile nonfiction, 1961-1988. School Library Journal, 35(2), 27-32. IUPUI students can view the article online.

try itTry It!
What's the history of nonfiction for youth? Think about all the books that came before the current nonfiction craze. Select a particular type of nonfiction (i.e., narrative, explanatory, persuasive, procedural) or a topic of interest (i.e., environmental issue, African American leaders, space, sports) and explore the history of nonfiction works for youth. Use a timeline tool such as Timeglider, Tiki-Toki or TimeToast. Provide an overview and add at least five annotated books to the timeline including a book cover image and explanation about where each item fits in your area of interest. Cite at least three professional articles somewhere in your timeline.

The Significance of Nonfiction for Youth

Books become meaningful when youth have a mission. Whether seeking information about pet care in hopes of convincing a parent to purchase a dog or looking for a "cheat book" that will a help a teen move to the next level in a video game, motivation is an important key to reading. Informational texts can often come to the rescue.

The Pets Plus series by Sally Morgan introduced young children to the world of pets including birds, rabbits, gerbils and hamsters, dogs, lizards and snakes, horses, rats and mice, and cats.


Aronson (2008, 31), suggests that we

"give students a chance to read nonfiction books that emphasize logic, insightful observations, well-crafted arguments, and a steady flow of provocative ideas."

Read Gutierrez, Peter (January 24, 2013). Exploring common core's informational text... with violent video games. School Library Journal. Available

SKIM Sullivan, Ed (January 2001). Some teens prefer the real thing: the case for young adult nonfiction. English Journal, 90(3), 43. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Reader's Advisory for Nonfiction

Most librarians are comfortable helping children and young adults select fiction books. However they may be less experienced in helping youth find nonfiction books of interest.

Readers' advisory is a fundamental library service that suggests titles to readers either formally or informally.

Lafayette and the American Revolution by Russell Freedman would be a useful book for both student project related to both biography and American history.



In The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction, Neal Wyatt (2007, 1) notes that librarians like to classify works and identify genres and subgenres. However Wyatt stresses that readers

"don't follow an orderly system when choosing what to read. They make their choices according to a chaotic whorl of interests based on an ever-changing set of reasons and moods. Yet we need some borders to our map of nonfiction so we can get our bearings and guide readers in the directions they wish to travel."


Task-based vs Fact-based Books

In The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction, Neal Wyatt (2007, 2) suggests breaking nonfiction into two categories for reader's advisory services: task books and non-task books.

"Task books are those readers want to use for some task-oriented function. They are the books readers turn to when they want to learn to knit, build a fence, or do some fact-specific research... In contrast, readers turn to nontask books for all sorts of other reasons, including pleasure, recreation, story, escape, exploration, and learning. Readers choose them for many of the same reasons they choose fiction, but also for reasons that are particularly nonfiction."


My Cookbook of Cakes is a task-based book, while Monsieur Marceau: Actor without Words by Leda Schubert is a fact-based book.

Wyatt (2007) suggests that librarians begin by determining what the reader needs. Those looking for task-based nonfiction need access to a comprehensive collection and well-designed catalog to help them find what they need. Readers seeking nontask-based nonfiction may need readers' advisory assistance.

"When readers' advisory service is needed, we must discern what elements influence a readers' reaction to a title. Four intertwining aspects shape this response: the work's narrative context, subject, type, and appeal. These elements have to be considered individually, but they act in concert as we consider both a reader's response to a title and the inherent qualities of a title itself." (Wyatt, 2007, 2)

Wyatt suggests that there are four interwoven aspects important in reader's advisory for nonfiction including narrative content, subject, type, and appeal.

Narrative Content

charlesNonfiction works can be gripping, page-turners. An increasing number of nonfiction works for youth use a narrative or storyline to convey information. Wyatt (2007, 2-3) described the use of narrative in nonfiction.

"(Narrative) offers readers understanding, comfort, and a way to contextualize life. Narrative authors use the devices of storytelling, such as character, dialogue, setting, plot, and scene building, to tell their story. These devices are not limited to novels; they are present in all types of writing including plays, poetry, and many forms of nonfiction. But even though story is important and the devices of narrative can enrich reading, a work does not have to be narrative to offer understanding, comfort, or contextualization. Not all nonfiction that is deeply enjoyed by readers is highly narrative."

The first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction was awarded in 2010 to Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith (2009) by Deborah Heiligman. A work of creative nonfiction or narrative nonfiction, it offers the story arc enjoyed by many young adults while also featuring factual information about Charles and Emma Darwin.

try itTry It!
Read the foreword and first chapter from Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith (2009) by Deborah Heiligman to get the feel for narrative nonfiction. How is this approach different from the informational texts you normally associate with nonfiction?

witchesWitches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer is a wonderful example of nonfiction narrative. The blurb for this book states

"In Witches!, award-winning author Rosalyn Schanzer tells the true story of the victims, accused witches, scheming officials, and mass hysteria that turned a mysterious illness affecting two children into a witch hunt that took more than 20 people's lives and ruined the lives of hundreds more. With powerful narrative, chilling primary sources, a striking period design, and stylized black-white-and-red scratchboard illustrations, this book will rivet young readers with novelistic power."

try itTry It!
Watch the booktrailer for Witches!. Then, browse Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer. The blurb for this book states "In Witches!, award-winning author Rosalyn Schanzer tells the true story of the victims, accused witches, scheming officials, and mass hysteria that turned a mysterious illness affecting two children into a witch hunt that took more than 20 people's lives and ruined the lives of hundreds more. With powerful narrative, chilling primary sources, a striking period design, and stylized black-white-and-red scratchboard illustrations, this book will rivet young readers with novelistic power."

authorAuthor Spotlight
Get to know Rosalyn Schanzer. Explore her website. This award-winning author-illustrator is known for her nonfiction biographies and focus on history.

Nonfiction narrative don't necessarily contain a traditional plotline. In some cases, the book simply contains an overarching story such as the life cycle of a butterfly or the Battle of Gettysburg.

Wyatt (2007, 5) notes that narratives can fall on a continuum from highly narrative to less narrative. He states

"The narrative context of a work, and the reader's reaction to that level of narrative, is a major consideration when offering nonfiction suggestions to readers. The reader's mood and level of interest influence where a book needs to fall on the narrative continuum, as do a book's subject, type, and appeal aspects. When working with a reader, it is important to ascertain what levels of narrative the reader typically needs before considering titles to suggest."

Read Partridge, Elizabeth (March/April 2011). Narrative nonfiction: kicking ass at last. The Horn Book Magazine, 87(2), 69-73. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Think about the questions you might ask to determine whether youth are interested in narrative nonfiction or some other information work such as "task-based" or "fact-based".

Subject Matter

rvoerWhile some nonfiction authors use many narrative devices, others focus on a fact-based approach using other techniques such as illustrations, engaging layouts, and interesting content to reel in their readers.

Within a bookstore or library, nonfiction works are generally organized by subject. In school and public libraries, the Dewey decimal system is generally applied with books organized by subject divisions. Because most children learn this system, most readers are familiar with the general categories if not the numbers associated with them. They know there's an mammals section where the rabbit and elephant books are found even if they don't know the number 599.

Once they find the space flight area, children can find lots of choices such as The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity.

In nonfiction readers' advisory, subject matter is important. Books dealing with rock collecting, football, and cooking appeal to different types of readers. However most libraries are limited in their offerings. Once a child has read all the motorcycle books, he or she will be ready for more. Wyatt (2007, 7) notes that

"As strong as the initial draw of subject may be, in the end it is not what keeps a reader reading a book - that is a combination of how closely the book fits the type or pattern the reader is seeking, how the narrative nature of the book matches her reading needs, and all the appeal aspects she consciously or unconsciously enjoys when reading. Readers go to a book because of its subject, but they stay for everything else... readers do not want just any book on World War I or football; they want the book that focuses on the subject in the way they want to experience it. There are World War I books that address military battles, or the huge personalities of the war, or the social shifts the war caused."

try itTry It!
Read Stone, Tanya Lee (March/April 2011). A fine, fine line: truth in nonfiction. The Horn Book Magazine, 87(2), 84-87. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Do you like fact and fiction together or do you prefer them to be kept separately? What about youth? Is a combination of fact and fiction confusing or engaging? How do you know if narrative nonfiction is "really" true? What about books that bridge the narrative and explanatory approaches?

Select four books that represent the "fine, fine line" that Tanya Stone describes in her article. Place them on a continuum or create a set of criteria that you use to separate fact from fiction and narrative from explanatory approaches. Is this an area of concern or are authors and reviewers just being picky? As a teacher or librarian, what are your thoughts on this "fine, fine line"?

authorAuthor Spotlight
Get to know Tanya Lee Stone. Explore her website. The award-winning author of Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream and Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, she is has written nearly 100 books for young readers. She keeps a blog, Facebook page, and contributed to INK until 2014.

Book Type

frogThe content of nonfiction books can be organized in many different ways. There are different types of books such as letters, essays, and biography. Science books can be investigative, explanatory, or literary. Each of these types strongly influence the "tone, pace, language, detail, story line, mood, and narrative nature of a book" (Wyatt, 2007, 10).

How a book is organized is important to a reader. While some readers enjoy history that is presented as a journey, escape, or adventure, others prefer an investigative or explanatory approach. The type of book impacts the tone, detail, story line, and narrative structure of the book.

The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle presents information about the vanishing frogs within the context of a scientific mystery that must be solved.

Reader Appeal

ripleyAppeal is the fourth element of reader's advisory for nonfiction. It's important to listen to what readers say they enjoy. Not all readers are in the mood for the same subjects or types of books.

In nonfiction, Wyatt (2007, 10) notes eight appeal elements including "pacing, characterization, story line, detail, learning/experiencing, language, setting, and tone."

It's important to remember that no matter how much you try to push nonfiction award winners and beautiful nonfiction narratives, students will still head to Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Keep in mind that even these popular books can be used to teach important skills about informational text structure.

Read Chapter 1 of Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (2007) by Neal Wyatt. It provides a more detailed overview of the elements to consider when working with readers selecting nonfiction. Keep in mind that this is a general overview rather than a work aimed specifically at materials for youth. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Skim Schneider, Jenifer Jasinski (2016). Chapter 11: Past Presidents and Evading Inventors: Not Your Grandmother’s Information Books. In, The Inside, Outside, and Upside Downs of Children’s Literature: From Poets and Pop-ups to Princesses and Porridge, 301-323. University of South Florida Scholar Commons. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Readers' Advisory Services

The key to effective readers' advisory is a combination of thoughtful listening and careful questioning. Although advisory for fiction and nonfiction is similar, once you've settled on the nonfiction collection it's important to incorporate questions associated with these types of reading experiences:

Sometimes children don't understand your questions. Words like "task," "topic," or "time period" might throw them off. Instead, consider showing them some three examples and asking which they prefer. This will help to narrow the focus of your search.

As you narrow your focus, review what you've learned from your client about their preferences. Rather than dwelling on one of their answers, try to get the big picture of what they're seeking.

In some cases, you'll need some time to come up with ideas particularly if you're working with a parent or teacher. Use the following resources to do some planning:

tryitTry It!
Become a secret shopper. Go to a library where you don't known the librarians. Find out what they might suggest for a child of a particular age. Don't immediately tell them that you're working on a project for class. Instead, observe how they work with an "every day" patron. Do they immediately suggest nonfiction? If not, see what they say if you guide them in that direction? Are they supportive or hesitant? When focusing on nonfiction, what types of questions did they ask? What books did they suggest?


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