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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming

Thank you Mary Ann, Myra, Mark for your suggestion of upper-elementary NF. I’m giving a talk this morning on NF and so the selection criteria — if not the list of examples — is on my mind. I think we might break up NF for these ages into different kinds of books that offer different pleasures — entry points. The first obvious fact is that books for this age are generally very well illustrated. That does not mean they have a bunch of illustrations, or a photoshop format of background print, facing sidebar, marching through the book. Rather it means that the best books have really been hand-crafted — with a great deal of thought about the selection and placement of every image. So look for books that surround the reader in a carefully crafted visual journey. The second is writing — Myra pointed out that sense test: how many of the reader’s senses does the author engage? The third, though, is quite different from the previous two. There are readers — of any age, but especially in upper elementary — who want unadorned facts — the Trading Card mentalit: the world stripped down to stats. I’d feature a slection of those Book of Records, or Airplanes of WWII compendia — you want to show your readers that you understand the spectrum of choices that could appeal to them. In that vein, I’d add a small how-to section geared to your readers — make money, handle a pet, draw aliens, perhaps — depending on the kids you work with — make a youtube video, etc. And then the next group, dear to my heart, are kids who want to read to get new ideas — to have their mind’s opened — books designed to provoke them about the version of political, social, ecological, issues that are suited to their age. Remember that it is a pleasure to care — to be moved, to find a sense of purpose in beginning to see a way that the world needs to be changed, and that you can begin to see ways to take action.

I’m rushing to make an early train, but readers, are there other categories of books (with examples if you have time) that you would add to this breakdown of NF pleasures? I have not written by topic — nature, science, math, history — all of which can come in the various forms listed above. But have I missed a key area of interest in this pre-dawn typing? If so, please let us know.


  1. Marc,
    Just saw this post on nonfiction books. Don’t know where the first post is, but wanted you to know that the CYBILS book awards (, where bloggers, authors, and teachers nominate the best books published in a specific year have an entire category devoted to nonfiction for younger kids, and then one for middle/secondary. Tons and tons of terrific books this year. Check it out!

  2. Wondering where biography/autobiography/memoir fits into the categories that you mention. It could be the latter…but not necessarily. I find that I read them for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is because of a connection that I think I might have to the subject, sometimes to open my mind to new things. I’m not sure they fit squarely into the categories you have listed.

  3. I’m not the kind of book consumer you are…I’m a science teacher. This is a topic that my classes and I’ve been debating all year.

    Here’s how they see the NF world from the work we’ve been doing throughout this year. I think my 150+ kids would tell you that 6th grade NF science books break up into pretty much two categories: the kinds of books you need to write reports with and the kinds of books you read because you like the subject.

    They see these as the two major distinctions. I read them your categories…and they thought those were fine for adults. But they thought they preferred their categories because it helped them understand better what kind of book they needed to look for, how they selected the book, and what they expected to get out of it. If they were needing something for a research project, they wanted lots of facts and diagrams…it needed to be delivered in shorter pieces than chapters because they can’t read for that long and still get the gist of the information. If they wanted to learn something, they wanted the topic to have some kind of story that goes along with it. Not that it has to be a real story….like a biography or tale of scientist in the field, but something that’s more than facts. The example they gave was the Dan Green books about science. They felt the story was the cartoon characters who made the topic on the facing page have some personality (ie fun and a story they could invent in their mind).

    Sometimes we write about what they’re discussing on my teacher blog at and maybe it would be helpful. And I’m very excited that the kids are in the last 4 weeks of their own work where they’ll be writing their Top 20 titles under each science topic they’ve tackled this year in class as well as Tips & Strategies for reading Nonfiction. They’ll be drafting some of those ideas out on our class blog at in the next couple of weeks with a final product due out by the end of May. It their legacy project for the incoming 5th graders so they don’t have to “suffer” thru all the dreadful books they had to!!!!

  4. Marc Aronson says:

    very helpful, thank you for gather this information and sharing it.