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Seminar on Lit for Youth: Humanities

Watch the video, then read the page. 

The humanities are disciplines connected with the study of human culture. They reflect a significant part of what are considered social studies in school. In addition to biography discussed in the previous section, they also include anthropology, cultural studies, language, literature government and law, philosophy, religion, visual and performing arts, sports.

Dorfman and Cappelli (2009) suggest that works of nonfiction can provide a clear picture of our multicultural society through books like Through My Eyes (cover shown below right) by Ruby Bridges.

Nonfiction can also help young people in areas such as service learning. Books like Can We Help? Kids Volunteering to Help Their Communities by George Ancona get youth thinking about their role as a citizen in the local community.

However, not everyone is a fan of the humanities. From religion to human sexuality, there are those who would prefer that libraries not provide access to controversial subjects. It's the role of the librarian to ensure that youth have access to the information they need.

School librarians need to ensure that young adults and their teachers have access to the information they need to address state and national standards. They need access to alternative viewpoints and multiple perspectives on topics related to philosophy, culture, and history.

Read Rybakova, Katie; Piotrowski, Amy & Harper, Ellie (Spring 2013). Teaching controversial youth adult literature with the common core. Wisconsin English Journal, 1(55), 27-45. Available.

willBook Spotlight

by Jane Sutcliffe is an informational picture book explore the impact of Shakespeare on the English language.

Designed for intermediate grade students, the book begins with a letter from the author explaining that the focus of the book is on Shakespeare’s fascinating words and phrases. This beautifully illustrated picture book immerses readers in the time period, while weaving Shakespeare’s famous words into the narrative. Phrases like “too much of a good thing” and “wild-goose chase” are a couple examples of the many words made famous by this famous playwright. The book features sidebars containing Shakespeare’s words, their meaning, and where they can be found in his work. The book concludes with a second letter from the author, a timeline, and a bibliography.

Librarians will find this book to be a fun and engaging way to introduce young readers to Shakespeare’s world and his love of wordplay. Place the book in a learning center along with other books about Shakespeare, online resources, and a hands-on activity involving his famous phrases.

Learn more about the author at
Learn more about the illustrator at

The Research

rubyLibrarians are often called on to assist youth in their reading and research. Duke (2010, 68) notes that there is a gap between literary reading achievement and information reading achievement in U.S. students. She asks,

"what causes this? In this 'information age,' why are U.S. students relatively poor at reading to acquire and use real-world information (informational texts) when compared to reading to experience imagined worlds (literary texts)?" Duke suggests practices that support informational comprehension such as using real-world texts for real-world reasons and fostering reading motivation.

An understanding of reading comprehension is essential in helping young people apply what they are reading. Traditionally the teaching of reading has centered on the act of reading itself such as recognizing and decoding words. However educators are increasingly finding that simply being able to read doesn't translate into comprehending texts. In Reality Checks: Teaching Reading Comprehension with Nonfiction, K-5, Tony Stead (2006) has identified three major areas of reading comprehension based on the research.

Literal understandings require that readers recall or recognize ideas and information stated in the text. They're able to summarize, retell, recognize the main idea, find supportive details, locate cause and effect, compare and contrast, and follow sequences. Students are also able to solve unknown vocabulary.

Interpretive understandings ask readers to make inferences based on their informational text reading. They must use the information on the page, but also apply prior knowledge and make connections to experience. They are able to predict what will happen, identifying problems and solutions, and connect the text to themselves, other texts, and the world.

Evaluative understandings ask readers to make judgements about the content they are reading. They use both literal and interpretive understandings to organize evidence, develop arguments, and make complex decisions. Strategies include distinguishing fact from opinion; determining the validity and relevance of a text; identifying author bias, intent, and point of view; and making judgments about the information they read.

In The Aztec, Frida Kahlo, and Cinco de Mayo: Mexico in Children's Literature, Michaell Bauml and Sherry Field (2012) provide an overview of children's books published in the United States from 2000-2010. While focusing on the topic of Mexico and the Mexican people, they suggest guidelines for selecting quality books in this area. Along the way, they question whether textbooks are an effective resource for teaching and whether children's literature may be a better approach. Their study provides an excellent template for exploring nonfiction children's literature in the humanities.

Read Bauml, Michelle & Field, Sherry L. (2012). The Aztec, Frida Kahlo, and Cinco de Mayo: Mexico in Children's Literature. The Social Studies, 103(2), 90-95. IUPUI students can view the article online.

try itTry It!
Think about Bauml and Field's approach to studying children's literature. What are the pros and cons of their approach? How would you limit or expand the study? How could their approach be applied to another area of the humanities? What awards lists would you explore? What are three books that you would place on the list? Why?

fresh poetryBook Spotlight

by Michelle Schaub features over a dozen short poems exploring local foods and markets.

A series of short poems trace locally grown foods from the farm to market and finally to home. Each catchy poem explores a different aspect of the experience.

Colorful illustrations by Amy Huntington will connect children with the experience of a farmer’s market. The book concludes with reasons for visiting a local market.

Librarians will find this appealing picture book to be a useful tool for read-aloud activities. Consider building a learning station focusing on locally grown foods. Involve children in writing their own poetry about foods grown locally.

LocalHarvest.Org helps people locate farmer’s markets across the United States. Use it to locate a market near your school. Go to

Dewey and the Nonfiction Section

Most school and public libraries use the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) to organize works on the shelf. Invented in the 19th century, it's worked pretty well for over a century. Although the shelving aspects of the system have been modified by some libraries to accommodate picture books, graphic novels, and a few other areas, it's remained pretty much the same for all that time. In addition, numbers have been modified to accommodate changes in technology.

With the popularity of places like Barnes and Noble along with online services there's been lots of discussion about alternative approaches to organizing nonfiction works for youth. However until someone comes up with a better system, most libraries are sticking to Dewey.

Read at least ONE of the following articles about Dewey vs Genre.
Buchter, Holli (Nov/Dec 2013). Dewey vs genre throw down. Knowledge Quest, 42(2), 48-55. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Jameson, Juanita (Nov/Dec 2013). A genre conversation begins. Knowledge Quest, 42(2), 10-13. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Or, pick another article from the Nov/De 2013 issue of Knowledge Quest.

Try It!
Read Kaplan, Tali Balas, Dolloff, Andrea K., Giffard, Sue, Still-Schiff, Jennifer (September 28, 2012). Are Dewey's Days Number?: Libraries Nationwide Are Ditching the Old Classification System, School Library Journal. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Be sure to read the comments to get another perspective! Is this a radical, unwise move or a sensible, practical approach? You decide.

Do some research on recent discussions about the DDC and alternative approaches to accessing nonfiction works in libraries for children and young adults. 

The Humanities are spread out into the following areas:

000 General

From the computer science to the local legends, Dewey's 000 area is a catch-all for a wide range of nonfiction materials you don't want youth to miss.

bigfootLet's explore a few examples.

Controversial Knowledge

The 001.9 area contains some favorite books of youth, however they're often lost among other books in this broad section of the library. This area houses mysteries, deceptions, hoaxes, delusions, and superstitions. If you don't look carefully, you'll miss the fun UFO and monster books!

Looking for Bigfoot, part of the Step into Reading leveled book series is just one of the many books focusing on the Bigfoot legend. Look for ways to connect student fiction reading with information text books. For instance, So You Want to Catch Bigfoot? is an informational reading companion to the popular Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer book and movie.

Capstone Press' series Legend Has It explores the creepy stories that students love. This series shows the difficulties of categories and shelving. Half the series is shelved at 398.24 and the other half in 001.944. Titles in the 001 area include


100 Philosophy & Psychology

From young children's fascinating with ghosts to teen interests in psychology and ethics, this area of the collection has a lot of overlooked potential.


When working with youth on information inquiry topics, it's helpful to have a background in philosophy.

The Philosophers' Club (2001) by Christopher Phillips is an excellent resource for learning about questioning and the Socratic method. The accompanying website has lots of resources that extend the reading experience. For older children, try Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions that Help You Wonder About Everything (2001) by David A. White.


Seek out ways to make philosophy accessible to youth. For instance, Philosophy: A Discovery in Comics (2012) by Margreet De Heer is a visual way to introduce philosophy to teens. The image below shows a page from this comic-based book.


Epistemology, Parapsychology & Occultism

Many teens are fascinated by paranormal topics. Whether it's reading Tarot cards or the art of palm reading, these topics are hot with teens. For instance, The Art of Palm Reading (2013) by Staci Mendoza and David Bourne is a new book on the ancient art of palmistry.

Mary Roach writes books for adults that young adults enjoy. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (2005) is an example.





Many teens enjoy self-help books. Many adult books have been adapted for the teen market such as Who Moved My Cheese for Teens by Spencer Johnson and Life Strategies for Teens by Jay McGraw.


200 Religion

domesWhen looking at Dewey numbers related to religion, it's clear that the system was established by a Christian.

Today, it's equally important to consider the "Other Religions" when selecting nonfiction works for youth.

Religion is a hot button issue in schools.

Get to know the interests and needs of your local community in addition to providing books that promote diversity and understanding.

Golden Domes and Silver Lantern by Hena Khan is a beautiful picture book introducing the world of Islam to young readers. However it's been met with controversy.

A number of series for children are useful for ensuring that all world religions are represented. For instance, the World Faiths series published by Kingfisher is an option including the following titles:


Families and their Faiths is a series by Crabtree Publishing Company. Books like What is Religion by Bobbie Kalman and Religion by DK Eyewitness are two other popular options.

For the high school level, look for the Britannica Guide to Religion from Britannica including Judaism and Christianity.


300 Social Sciences

From anthropology and culture to economics and law, the social sciences area is a large section of the library's collection.

Let's explore just a few representative topics and books.

Cultural Studies

Cultural studies is an area often overlooked by youth. However once they discover the area, it opens up a whole new way of thinking about the world.

If America Were a Village: A Book about the People of the United States (2009) and If the World Were a Village: A Book about the World's People, 2nd edition (2011) by David J. Smith asks questions such as "what are our families like?" and "what do we do?"


Some wonderful essays and collections of essays like Arab Spring Dreams: The Next Generation Speaks Out for Freedom and Justice from North Africa to Iran (2012) get lost when they're shelved at 305.235 among what's known as Social Sciences>Groups of People>Age Groups. This book is a collection of essays edited by Nasser Wedday. The award-winning essays were written by young writers living in Arab nations. The book would be a wonderful addition to an Arab studies unit. Unfortunately, teachers and students aren't likely to find it if they're simply browsing the collection. Another great book that gets lost in this section is The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.


Gender Roles, Women's Studies, and Human Sexuality

Feminism, gender studies, gay studies, and men/women's studies are just a few of the many topics found in the social sciences section.

An area of increasing interest among teens is gender roles, human sexuality, and the GLBTQ experience (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender).gay america

Gay America: Struggle for Equality (2008) by Linas Alsenas explores the milestones of gay and lesbian life in the United States designed specifically for teens. While many books on human sexuality have been challenged in some schools, the work has been embraced by high school librarians and their students across the nation. The starred review in Booklist stated "This first-ever book to cover this material for young adults is essential reading for all young people - gay, lesbian, and straight."

Books like GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens (2nd Edition) (2011) address a wide range of issues from dating to coming out that are of interest to young adults.

It's important that librarians are ready and comfortable with answering questions that students might have about sexuality. Some excellent, online support networks can supplement your print collection. Ideas include

Social Issues

From cyberbullying to people gossip, there's a need for resources that address the real-world issues facing today's youth. Three examples include:


Economics, Government, and Law

PennyLook for fun ways to introduce difficult topics. For instance, One Proud Penny (2017) by Randy Siegel and Serge Bloch tells the story of the American penny. Told from the perspective of a 1983 penny, this informational picture book describes the general history and uses of the penny along with details about one specific penny.

Seek out highly visual works of nonfiction. For instance, The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Volume One: Microeconomics by Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman is a fun way to learn about this topic.

Young people like to see themselves in works of nonfiction. Beyond the Lemonade Stand by Bill Rancic explores small business opportunities for youth. The book features successful youth businesses and examples of business plans.

Series books are a good way to explore social studies topics. For instance, Systems of Government is designed for grades 5 through 8. Topics include dictatorship, communism, monarchy, democracy, and theocracy by Sean Connolly. Each book clearly explains the form of government, its context in history, and current issues.


economicsBook Spotlight

by Karen Latchana Kenney is the newest book in the SUPER SOCIAL STUDIES INFOGRAPHICS series aimed at upper elementary school youth. Economics is an aspect of the social studies curriculum that can be difficult for youth to understanding. Visual representations are an effective way to convey key concepts related to trade, currency, spending, markets, and business. In this work of nonfiction for youth, the author uses “the money trail” to help readers understand how the cycle of money works. Questioning is woven into the text to stimulate student thinking. Blocks of text introduce key concepts and useful examples. While many of the examples explore topics connected to the every-day world such as iPhones, others are connected to social studies topics like the fur trade. From Australia to Israel, examples are provided from around the world.

The author points out that professional economists use graphic elements to convey their ideas. Illustrator Steven Stankiewicz uses infographics to present the key concepts visually. Bright, attractive colors will immediately attract readers. A wide variety of visuals are incorporated including pictograms, charts, concept maps, flowcharts, timelines, and maps.

Like any book focusing on economics, the book is likely to become dated in a few years. For instance, a section discussing the minimum wage ends with data from 2010, a dated flip phone is used as an example, and the cost of services like movies are likely to change. However, the book should remain current for the life of the book.

The book concludes with an index, further information, and a glossary. Other books in the series focus on culture, geography, government, and history.


As teens prepare for college, consider those books that will help with their preparation such as Cracking the ACT (2013) by Geoff Martz. In addition, many young people enjoy working with children. Books on storytelling and teaching methods can apply whether they're volunteering in the church daycare or working in a summer camp. Artsy Toddler Storytimes: A Year's Worth of Ready-to-Go Programming (2013) by Carol Garnett Hopkins is an example.

When investigating colleges and careers, many youth look for books that help them identify areas of interest. What Color is Your Parachute? For Teens by Richard Nelson Bolles is a popular book for adults that's been adapted for the teen audience.



Fairytales, Folklore, and Tall Tales

zombieWhile some children love stories about princesses and unicorns, others prefer vampires and werewolves.

The Legend Has It series from Capstone features the following titles

Fairytales, folklore, and tall tales are all woven into the elementary and middle school curriculum. However, many children enjoy reading these books for fun too. Be sure youth are aware of their location.

Steven Kellogg is known for his wonderful picture books based on American folk heroes including Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bills, and Johnny Appleseed.

The study of folktales is an important part of the elementary curriculum and a great tie to culture studies. Grandma and the Great Gourd by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an authentic Bengali folktale.



400 Language

Whether learning a second language or learning more about English, this section of the library contains some fun books that are often not even used by teachers let alone children. However they provide a wonderful foundation for important language understandings. For instance, An Ambush of Tigers: A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns by Betsy R. Rosenthal is an engaging book that could easily be overlooked, but would be useful in the elementary classroom.

When thinking about nonfiction and youth, home school parents are an important audience. Particularly for public libraries, it's important to think about this very specific audience and whether they are being supported effectively.

Brian P. Cleary is known for his many books exploring language. These would be particularly valuable for home school teachers who may not have access to other teaching materials. Pre- and Re-, Mis- and Dis-: What is a Prefix (2013) and Breezier, Cheesier, Newest and Bluest: What are Comparatives and Superlatives are his latest work. Past works have focused on palindrome, irregular plurals, interjection, compound words, contractions, punctuation, similes and metaphors, antonyms, adverbs, adjectives, verbs, nouns, and more!


Loreen Leedy is known for her great connections to the curriculum. For instance, Crazy Like a Fox: A Simile Story (2008) explores similes. The author of Crazy Like a Fox suggests illustrating a simile. Choose a familiar saying or think of a new one. Watch the book trailer on You Tube. There's a Frog in My Throat! (2004) is another favorite focusing on sayings.

The Furry News: How to Make a Newspaper (1990) is about creating a newspaper and Look at My Book: How Kids Can Write and Illustrate Terrific Books (2004) is about writing.


Series books on writing can be useful in jump-starting the writing process. Writing Builders by Norwood is aimed at grades 2 to 4. Topics include book reports, blogs, essays, interviews, letters, and speeches.


700 Arts & Recreation

Both school and public libraries need a well-stocked arts and recreation area. Whether weaving art into the classroom, updating the library's makerspace, or exploring a student's personal interests, this is a popular area of the library.

A few recent titles include:

Arts and Crafts

Carving, flower arranging, jewelry making, origami, pottery, and weaving are just a few of the many crafts that youth may wish to investigate.

Look for ways to connect recreational activities with other content areas like science. Fun with Nature by Annalees Lim is part of the Clever Crafts series that also includes Fun with Paint, Fun with Paper, and Fun with Fabric.


While some youth will skim a few books and quit, for others the craft may become a lifelong hobby.

Knitted Animal Hats: 35 Wild and Wonderful Hats and More for Babies, Kids, and Teens (2013) by Fiona Goble will keep the knitting club happy. Keep in mind that teens will quickly tire of books made for kids. Instead, be sure that there are adequate adult resources to keep them busy.



Popular culture is important to teens. Books about television and movies are particularly hot. While not all books will be for everyone, fans of Doctor Who: Character Encyclopedia (2013) by Jason Loborik will be hot with Who fans.


Seek out music books with high-interest. American Music Milestones is a new series from Lerner books. Focusing on American music the titles including American Country, American Hip-Hop, American Latin Music, American Pop, American R&B, and American Rock. Designed for middle and high school aged youth, these book explore key events, performers, albums, trends, and songs. Everyone will find at least one book they enjoy.


6 Steps to Songwriting Success: The Comprehensive Guide to Writing and Marketing Hits by Jason Blume is one of many books focused on writing music.

flmPhotography and Videography

Many of the world's great photographers and videographers dove into their craft as youth.

130 Project To Get You Into Filmmaking by Elliot Grove is only one of many books focusing on student production.

Sports and Recreation

Both boys and girls enjoy books about sports and fitness. The key is matching the types of books with the specific interests. For instance, children who enjoyed reading the fiction book My Side of the Mountain will love the Pocket Guide to the Outdoors: Based on My Side of the Mountain (2009) by Jean Craighead George. The book instructs readers on how to live in the wild including starting a fire, building a shelter, and identifying plants.


While some children prefer to learn about the people, teams, and events related to sports, others are more interested in the statistics and "how-to" aspects.

The conversational style of Hey Batta Batta Swing!: The Wild Old Days of Baseball provides an entertaining way to present facts, trivia, and anecdotes about old-time baseball. The use of comical, vintage cartoons adds to the appeal.


Many biographies focus on individual sports figures.

martina & chrissieBook Spotlight

by Phil Bildner tells the story of two women striving for excellence in tennis.

In addition to tracing the history of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert’s friendship and rivalry, this compelling picture book biography also weaves in historical information that provides a global context.

Brett Helquist’s engaging and realistic illustrations bring the competition to life for readers. The book concludes with a timelines and addition sources.

Librarians know that sports biographies are popular. With the current popularity of tennis, young women will be particularly drawn to this fierce rivalry.

To learn more about the author, go to

To learn more about the illustrator, go to

karateOften great sports books for children are found in the picture book rather than the nonfiction collection. It's important to explore both areas.

Young people are interested in a wide range of sports, but sure to have books available in all areas. A series is a good way to ensure coverage. Also use series to add depth to an area such as Maiko Nakashima's series Karate Made Simple which contains books on Etiquette, Practice, Origins, and Punching.

Some of the most highly circulated books in the library fall into the category of "weird", "strange", and bizarre. From the X Games to the latest sporting craze, seek out books that will draw in readers and jumpstart further exploration.

WeirdZone: Sports (2013) by Maria Birmingham is designed for children ages 8 and up. The book focuses on wild, daring events like a giant wheel of cheese rolling the English countryside and sports like toe wrestling. Be sure to put an underwater bike race on your "bucket list"!


Other authors to look for include

Implications for Librarians

Connect the world inside the school or public library with the world outside the library.

Check out harmonicas to go with your music books, set up a whiteboard with books about drawing, or create a library fitness program that combines reading about fitness with a walking challenge.

Bring nonfiction works alive through activities that involve imagination and creativity. Dress up as a community worker while reading books about careers or listen to music of a particular culture while exploring books based on the traditions of the group.

800s Literature

dreamingFrom poetry and drama to essays, speeches, letters, humor, and puzzles, the Dewey 800s represent a broad range of types that include both fiction and nonfiction.

A book like Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building (2012) by Christy Hale is a work of poetry. However it could just as easily by categorized in architecture, construction, or famous buildings. It even includes LEGO examples. Connecting concrete poetry with building construction is a great way to connect poetry with meaningful engineering concepts.

Flutter and Hum/Aleteo y Zumbido: Animal Poems/Poema de Animales by Julie Paschkis is poetry written in both English and Spanish.

In Out of Wonder, Kwane Alexander celebrates poets and poetry with a picture book featuring twenty famed poets who made their readers "listen, wonder, and perhaps, even pick up a pen".

Out of WonderOut of Wonder

From contemporary issues to historical events, poetry has the potential to impact all subject areas. Teachers often connect poetry with social sciences and particularly history to bring people, places, and events alive for their students. For instance, Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics (2017) by Margarita Engle features over a dozen poems that celebrate the accomplishments and contributions Latinos.

Poetry and science connections are becoming increasingly popular as school expand their STEM programs to include the Arts. Animal Ark (2017) by Kwame Alexander and Joel Sartore celebrates animals through poetry and photographs.

animal arkAnimal Ark

Skim Spencer, Andrea (April 28, 2015). Pairing Poetry with Nonfiction to Teach the Civil Rights Movement: A Unit Plan for High School English Teachers. Utah State University DigitalCommons@USU. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Think about how poetry can be connected with nonfiction to enhance understandings.

nowBook Spotlight

by David L. Harrison is an amazing informational picture book featuring poems about animal camouflage.

Featuring nineteen different creatures organized into five categories, each poem highlights interesting facts about the behavior and habitat of a sea creature, reptile, amphibian, mammal, insect or bird. Laroche’s fascinating cut-paper illustrations bring the habitats to life for young readers.

Librarians will appreciate the endnotes that include details about the creatures featured in each poem. Great as a read-aloud activity, this book is excellent for STEAM projects that combine science and art. Involve you in learning about a creature and creating their own poem and artwork.

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

This section can be confusing to students. For instance, at 808 you'll find The Elements of Style by William Strunk. Then, farther down the bookcase at 808 to 818 you'll find joke books. Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids by Rob Elliott is one of those books that children will read over and over again. However, if you want "wit and humor" like Donna Jackson's (2011) What's So Funny? Making Sense of Humor, you'll need to go to 152.43 on the other side of the library!


try itTry It!
Shelving isn't just a problem with the literature section. Think about areas of the library collection that get lost because of the way materials are shelved.

Start by looking at the Dewey system and thinking about books that seem out-of-place by today's standards. Pick three examples of books or clusters of books that need to be moved, marketed, displayed or otherwise featured to get them moving.


Bauml, Michelle & Field, Sherry L. (2012). The Aztec, Frida Kahlo, and Cinco de Mayo: Mexico in Children's Literature. The Social Studies, 103(2), 90-95. Available

Dorfman, Lynne R. & Cappelli, Rose (2009). Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing Through Children's Literature. Stenhouse Publishers. Preview Available

Duke, Nell K. (February 2010). The Real-World Reading and Writing U.S. Children Need. Phi Delta Kappan, 91(5), 68-71. Available

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