Nonfiction Plus

I've been making the case for sharing nonfiction with young readers since the 1980's and I'm so glad to see the growing appreciation of how this genre has evolved and how much appeal it offers to young readers. In just the last few weeks, I've read "Hooking the Reluctant Nonfiction Reader" by Jennifer Wharton in School Library Journal, made note of VOYA's "Nonfiction Honor List 2018," and checked out the latest posts at the Nonfiction Monday blog. New books like Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary by Martha Brokenbrough, They Lost Their Heads!: What Happened to Washington's Teeth, Einstein's Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts by Carlyn Beccia, and Eyes and Spies: How You're Tracked and Why You Should Know by Tanya Lloyd Kyi show how relevant and timely good books of nonfiction can be. Nonfiction capitalizes on young readers' thirst for knowing more about the world and meets our pedagogical needs for helping students become familiar with expository text. I try to keep up with all the nonfiction awards (e.g., Sibert, Orbis Pictus, etc.), so I'll know what's new, what's good, and what's relevant. And, I keep looking for strategies for incorporating good nonfiction literature across the curriculum.

Pairing Nonfiction with Fiction

But, I also like to take it a step further and connect quality nonfiction books with those in other genres. Sometimes you have to go through the back door to win people over to a genre they haven't tried in awhile. For example, nonfiction can be paired with fiction to show students how we can find the story in both kinds of books, factual AND fictional writing. For instance, the Newbery honor novel Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson could be paired with Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular by Mayim Bialik based on the subtopic of mentoring girls into womanhood. One book provides a fictional character to connect with and the other offers practical strategies, but both can deliver role models and inspiration. Or the award-winning historical novel The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley can be paired with New Hands, New Life: Robots, Prostheses and Innovation by Alex Mihailidis and Jan Andrysek. Here, two books focus on physical disabilities, but from very different points of view—one set in World War II and the other looking toward the future. Or the spooky mystery Doll Bones by Holly Black might be paired with Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. This may seem like an odd partnership, but both books consider different ways that death and darkness can be depicted.

Pairing Nonfiction with Poetry

Nonfiction can also be paired with poetry in interesting ways. For example, The novel in verse The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan can be connected to Locked Up for Freedom: Civil Rights Protesters at the Leesburg Stockade by Heather E. Schwartz, both books about children as social activists. One features a class of students acting together on behalf of their school and the other focuses on the true story of thirty African American girls who stood up for civil rights in Georgia in 1963. Even a poem anthology can be paired with nonfiction, such as The Poetry of Us: More Than 200 Poems about the People, Places and Passions of the United States edited by J. Patrick Lewis which offers a helpful backdrop for the nonfiction book How to Build a Museum: Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture by Tonya Bolden. Both books look at history, culture, attitudes, and the movers and shakers who have helped shape our country.

Pairing Nonfiction with More Nonfiction

We can even pair two nonfiction books in two different formats to help students see more possibilities in "report" style factual writing. For example, the picture book biography Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley can be combined with the how-to informational book Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World by Reshma Saujani. Students can see that even authors of nonfiction have many options when it comes to presenting their subject.

Conclusion

Nonfiction books today cover such a broad array of fascinating topics in many different formats and approaches, and there are so many good books to add to the collection, share with teachers for enhancing the curriculum, and promote to young readers who are looking for good books on topics of interest. These are just a few examples of literary text sets to get you thinking. And if you still meet resistance to enjoying nonfiction, we can "reverse engineer" our readers' advisory by starting with popular fiction titles that are already a hit and then connecting those with relevant nonfiction titles sure to be of interest, too. Using book pairs like these can help double the amount of reading, encourage critical thinking and analysis, and model more options for blossoming writers.

Resources

VOYA's Nonfiction Honor List 2018: http://voyamagazine.com/2018/08/30/voyas-nonfiction-honor-list-2018/

Wharton, Jennifer. "Hooking the Reluctant Nonfiction Reader""Hooking the Reluctant Nonfiction Reader" School Library Journal (August 14, 2018). https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=Hooking-the-Reluctant-Nonfiction-Reader_Be-Tween

Nonfiction Monday. https://nonfictionmonday.wordpress.com

Recommended Books

Beccia, Carlyn. They Lost Their Heads!: What Happened to Washington's Teeth, Einstein's Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts. Bloomsbury, 2018.

Bialik, Mayim. Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular. Random House, 2017.

Black, Holly. Doll Bones. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Bolden, Tonya. How to Build a Museum: Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. Viking, 2016.

Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. The War that Saved My Life. Dial, 2015.

Brokenbrough, Martha. Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary. Feiwel & Friends, 2017.

Kyi, Tanya Lloyd. Eyes and Spies: How You're Tracked and Why You Should Know. Annick, 2017.

Lewis, J. Patrick. The Poetry of Us: More Than 200 Poems about the People, Places and Passions of the United States. National Geographic, 2018.

Mihailidis, Alex and Jan Andrysek. New Hands, New Life: Robots, Prostheses and Innovation. Firefly, 2017.

Saujani, Reshma. Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World. Viking/Penguin Random House, 2017.

Schwartz, Heather E. Locked Up for Freedom: Civil Rights Protesters at the Leesburg Stockade. Millbrook/Lerner, 2017.

Shovan, Laura. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Random House, 2016.

Stanley, Diane. Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer. Simon & Schuster, 2016.

Tonatiuh, Duncan. Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras. Abrams, 2015.

Watson, Renée. Piecing Me Together. Bloomsbury, 2017.

About the Editor

Sylvia Vardell is Professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman's University and teaches courses in literature for children and young adults. She has authored or co-authored more than 100 published articles, more than 25 book chapters and given more than 150 presentations at national and international conferences. She is the author of Children's Literature in Action: A Librarian's Guide, Poetry Aloud Here!, The Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists, Poetry People, co-edits The Poetry Friday Anthology series (with Janet Wong) and maintains the PoetryForChildren blog and poetry column for ALA's Book Links magazine.

MLA Citation Vardell, Sylvia. "Nonfiction Plus." School Library Connection, September 2018, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2226856.

View all citation styles

Entry ID: 2169946

Back to Top