Nonfiction and fiction are like peanut butter and chocolate. Each excellent on its own, but when combined…so sublime.
INVITE A DISCUSSION
My nonfiction account Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune (2016, grade 6 and up) describes the dramatic rise and fall of a 12th-century samurai. One of the joys of researching the life of this Japanese hero was learning about the underlying political, social and economic currents that resulted in the 700-year-long rule of the samurai. In Katherine Paterson’s Of Nightingales That Weep (1989, grade 6 and up), Patterson’s protagonist, Takiko, serves the rival samurai family that Yoshitsune eventually destroys.
A side-by-side reading of Samurai and Nightingales allows readers to ponder how war is experienced by those waging it compared to those who are its victims.
SPARK A STORY
Lynn Fulton’s new picture book biography She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein (2018, grade 1 and up) is based on Shelley’s own account of the inspiration for her iconic monster. Pair it with an accessible version of the classic such as the Stepping Stones version of Frankenstein (1982, grade 1 and up).
Ask your young reader: Have you ever had a strange dream that stuck in your head? We can’t control our dreams, but we can turn them into stories. Try writing one.
EXPLORE ANIMAL MINDS
A straight-up science book and a novel make a great duo. In my book Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird (2016, grade 5 and up), I look at the extraordinary abilities of the tool-making New Caledonian crow. Team this one up with Katherine Applegate’s lovely Wishtree (2017, grade 4 and up), which features a crow among its cast of suburban wildlife.
Young readers may not be familiar with the term “anthropomorphism,” but this pairing invites a discussion about how animal characters in books are often given a mix of characteristics that are true-to-life and fanciful. Based on Crow, how realistic is Applegate’s black-feathered character?
Deborah Hopkinson’s Courage and Defiance: Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in WWII Denmark (2015, grade 5 and up), and Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (2012, grade 7 and up).
Christy Hale’s Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World (2018, pre‑K and up), and Arthur Dorros’s bilingual Isla (1999, pre‑K and up).
Jeanne Walker Harvey’s Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines (2017, kindergarten and up), and Eve Bunting’s The Wall (1992, pre‑K and up).
Now that I’ve shared mine, what are YOUR favorite nonfiction/fiction pairings? What comparisons/discussion activities does the pairing invite? Please add your suggestions in the comments. And then go reward yourself with something involving wine and cheese. Or guacamole and chips. Or peanut butter and chocolate.