Fiction brought me to the library, and it looks like nonfiction is keeping me here. While I used to spend my days lost in a good story, I’m now more likely to spend my time with a good informative selection. I don’t know how I’ve gone from someone who would summarily dismiss tales of anything real to someone who reads because I want to know. Was the change in me or was it in the books?
While children’s nonfiction used to rather dryly inform readers about the world around them, the books today employ images, typeset, and narrative forms that engage and excite young readers about people, places, and creatures (Isaacs). Librarians, teachers and parents are realizing that more and more young people, especially boys, prefer nonfiction texts (Coles and Hall).
LOCATING NEW NONFICTION
Add to that the demand for nonfiction that is created with the implementation of the Common Core Standards across the country and librarians are pressed to find more of these books. Of course, we want to find only the best for our young readers. Unlike with fiction books, there aren’t hundreds of online and offline selection tools that review informational books. Those that we do find are often written by reviewers who may lack the content knowledge to provide a rigorous analysis of the subject or any sort of expertise with nonfiction that would suggest they have examined text features, photo placement, usage of white space, indexing, or the presence of source notes.
Reviewing nonfiction is similar to what classroom teachers and school librarians do when evaluating textbooks. We look to see if the photos match the text and are free of bias. We read the text for accuracy and examine the sources that were used to gather information. We also look to see how appealing, intriguing, and engaging the book is from cover to cover.
Are you lacking the time for such work, or are you unable to access the necessary materials? I suggest three basic types of sources to quickly and easily find high quality children’s nonfiction books.
PROFESSIONAL TEACHING ORGANIZATIONS
First are professional teaching organizations that provide awards to children’s literature in their respective discipline. The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) each year releases the Carter G. Woodson Book Award and the Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People list. The Carter G. Woodson Book Award began in 1974 for the most distinguished social science books for young readers that depict ethnicity in the United States. Carter G. Woodson was a respected African American historian and educator who today is known as the Father of Black History Week. (It was Black History Week before it became Black History Month.)
The NCSS also provides its annual list of Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. A review committee consisting of members appointed by the NCSS and assembled in cooperation with the Children’s Book Council (CBC) each year selects books that appear in the annotated book list. High quality books are selected for children in grades K-8 that focuses on human relations, are diverse and sensitive to a range of cultural experiences, and present original perspectives.
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has also worked with the CBC to develop their Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children annotated book list. While materials were originally identified for K-8, it began including grades 9-12 in 2002.
The Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children was created by a committee of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). This annual award promotes and recognizes excellence in children’s nonfiction literature. One book wins the award and up to five books are recognized as honor books.
The most widely recognized book awards are probably delivered by the American Library Association (ALA). Annual nonfiction awards include the Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults list, the Amelia Bloomer list, and the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal. Several awards and lists recognize both fiction and nonfiction titles for children and teens. These include the Notable Children’s Books list, the Batchelder Award, and the Outstanding Books for the College Bound and Lifelong Learners list. While not specifically listed as nonfiction text, the Randolph Caldecott Medal winners and honor books are excellent acquisitions to support the art curriculum for K-12 students.
A second useful source for finding rich and full voiced nonfiction would be awards lists that are generated each year by various organizations. The most recent addition would probably be the CYBILS, or Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards. These are given by kidlit bloggers for the year’s best children’s and young adult titles. Genres recognized include nonfiction picture books and nonfiction middle and young adult books. Anyone is able to nominate books for this award, and the result is a large pool of titles that librarians can consider for addition to their collections. One finalist is selected by a panel of judges for each genre along with four honor books.
SELECTED CHILDREN’S AND YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION BOOK AWARDS AND LISTS
American Library Association (ALA)
Randolph Caldecott Medal
Robert Sibert Informational Book Award and Honor
Américas Book Award
Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards
Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards (CYBILS)
The Cook Prize
The Flora Stieglitz Straus Award
I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids Blog
National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Carter G Woodson Award:
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People List:
National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) Orbis
Nonfiction Monday Blog Roundup
Publishers Weekly Annual Nonfiction Best Books
SB&F (Science Books & Films)
AWARDS AND LISTS THAT INCLUDE NONFICTION
International Reading Association Children’s and Young Adult Book Award
Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards
Notable Children’s Books (ALA)
Outstanding Books for the College Bound and Lifelong Learners (ALA)
LISTS AND AWARDS FOR ETHNIC BOOKS THAT OFTEN INCLUDE NONFICTION TITLES
Children’s Africana Book Award
Gold Kite Award
Sydney Taylor Book Award
Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award
USBBY Outstanding International Books
Awards that celebrate the best science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) books for children ages 8-10 are recognized with the Bank Street College of Education’s Cook Prize. Criteria for winning this award include having clearly defined concepts and terms, containing accurate content, encouraging inquiry, and inviting interaction. The Bank Street College also presents the Flora Stieglitz Award to nonfiction that inspires young readers. The Américas Award includes nonfiction that recognizes well-crafted books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in a manner that is authentic and engaging. These winning titles can help support ENL/ESL and the foreign language curriculum.
One of my favorite selection tools for science nonfiction is SB&F, the online review journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. While each edition contains reviews, there is an annual best books edition. In age appropriate sections, Dewey’s 500s are divided by the tens. The lists of 510, 520, etc. each contain the best books for that discipline. And yes, that includes the 510s!
The third and final type of source is the blog. I find there are several advantages to using blogs to locate nonfiction texts. They’re a current and dynamically changing source. While the awards offer titles that are almost certain to satisfy, blogs introduce books as they’re released, if not sooner. Followers of the blog can offer comments on the book, or ask questions of the reviewer. Sometimes, blogs offer the opportunity to win a free copy of the book, and who doesn’t like a free book?
I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids is maintained by a group of published nonfiction authors who present new books and show how nonfiction writers practice their craft.
Nonfiction Monday is a blog activity. Every Monday, interested kidlit bloggers write a review for a nonfiction book on their own blogs and then post a link on the Nonfiction Monday blog. This provides readers with a wide variety of links to nonfiction book reviews. While some reviews may be better than others, this can be a good way to discover what’s available, and it’s certainly more interesting than reading catalogs. Nonfiction Monday can help lead you to bloggers with opinions and tastes you can rely upon.
Awards lists from professional organizations and from organizations and blogs are ways to help you find high quality nonfiction texts that visitors to your library will enjoy. By consistently delivering authentic texts that focus on a variety of important issues, you will grow your reputation as a reliable and user-friendly librarian.