Melissa Stewart: A Fresh Look at Expository Nonfiction

No Monkeys No Chocolate
No Mon­keys, No Choco­late Allen Young, co-author illus­trat­ed by Nicole Wang Charles­bridge, 2013

by Melis­sa Stewart

Nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion. The words have a nice ring to them, don’t they?

Expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion? Not so much.

Rhymes with gory, pur­ga­to­ry, deroga­to­ry, lava­to­ry. Gesh, it’s no won­der expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion gets a bad rap. And yet, plen­ty of great non­fic­tion for kids is expos­i­to­ry. Its main pur­pose is to explain, describe, or inform.

As far as I’m con­cerned, this is a gold­en moment for expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion because, in recent years, it’s gone through an excit­ing trans­for­ma­tion. Once upon a time, it was bor­ing and stodgy and mat­ter-of-fact, but today’s non­fic­tion books MUST delight as well as inform young read­ers, and authors are work­ing hard to do just that. The expos­i­to­ry books we’re cre­at­ing fea­ture engag­ing text, often with a strong voice, as well as dynam­ic art and design.

Here are ten of my recent favorites:

  • A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Car­olyn Cina­mi DeCristofano
  • Bone by Bone: Com­par­ing Ani­mal Skele­tons by Sarah Levine
  • Born in the Wild: Baby Mam­mals and Their Par­ents by Lita Judge
  • Bugged: How Insects Changed the World by Sarah Albee
  • Crea­ture Fea­tures by Steve Jenk­ins & Robin Page
  • Feath­ers: Not Just for Fly­ing by Melis­sa Stewart
  • Frogs by Nic Bishop
  • Look Up! Bird-Watch­ing in Your Own Back­yard by Annette LeBlanc Cate
  • Neo Leo by Gene Barretta
  • Tiny Crea­tures: The Invis­i­ble World of Microbes by Nico­la Davies
Sarah S. Bran­nen, illus­tra­tor
Charles­bridge, 2014

There is also a sec­ond kind of expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion books. Some peo­ple call them data books. I pre­fer to call them fast-fact books to dis­tin­guish them from the facts-plus books list­ed above.

Facts-plus books focus on facts as well as over­ar­ch­ing ideas. In oth­er words, they present facts and explain them. Fast-fact books focus on shar­ing cool facts. Peri­od. They inform, and that’s all. Exam­ples include The Guin­ness Book of World Records and The Time for Kids Big Book of Why. These are the con­cise, fact-filled books that groups of boys love to read togeth­er and discuss.

Some peo­ple don’t have a very high opin­ion of fast-fact books, and to be sure, they don’t build read­ing sta­mi­na or crit­i­cal think­ing skills. BUT they do entice many reluc­tant read­ers to pick up a book, and IMHO that alone makes them worthwhile.

Why do stu­dents need to be exposed to a diverse array of expos­i­to­ry texts? Because it’s the style of non­fic­tion they’ll be asked to write most fre­quent­ly through­out their school years and in their future jobs. Whether they’re work­ing on a report, a the­sis, a busi­ness pro­pos­al, or even a com­pa­ny newslet­ter, they’ll need to know how to sum­ma­rize infor­ma­tion and syn­the­size ideas in a way that is clear, log­i­cal, and inter­est­ing to their read­ers. Today’s expos­i­to­ry children’s books make ide­al men­tor texts for mod­el­ing these skills.


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