Pairing Nonfiction and Fiction

Non­fic­tion and fic­tion are like peanut but­ter and choco­late. Each excel­lent on its own, but when combined…so sublime.


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.


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.


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?

Oth­er Pairings

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.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Carrie Pearson
5 years ago

Love these pair­ings, Pamela, and the activ­i­ties they spark. One pair­ing I enjoy dis­cussing dur­ing my school vis­its is Oliv­er, The Sec­ond-Largest Liv­ing Thing on Earth by Josh Crute illus­trat­ed by John Tae­soo Kim (Page Street Kids 2018) and my most recent pic­ture book Stretch to the Sun: From a Tiny Sprout to the Tallest Tree on Earth (amaz­ing­ly illus­trat­ed by Susan Swan, Charles­bridge 2018). As the title sug­gests, Oliv­er is a sto­ry about learn­ing one’s val­ue in the world. It’s also won­der­ful infor­ma­tion­al fic­tion because it expos­es read­ers to the sequoia tree ecosys­tem in a fun­ny, child-cen­tric way. In con­trast, Stretch to the… Read more »

Pamela S Turner
Reply to  Carrie Pearson
5 years ago

That’s a great suggestion…thank you for shar­ing! I look for­ward to read­ing that pairing.

5 years ago

What a well writ­ten article.
Just yes­ter­day I came across the book Almost to Free­dom by Vaun­da Micheaux Nel­son, illus­trat­ed by Col­in Boot­man (grade K and up). It’s a fic­tion­al account about a doll owned by a slave child whose fam­i­ly was trav­el­ing north on the under­ground rail­road. It proved an inter­est­ing read in light of the book we are cur­rent­ly read­ing aloud as a fam­i­ly: Free­dom Train: The Sto­ry of Har­ri­et Tub­man by Dorothy Ster­ling (grades 4 and up).

Pamela S Turner
Reply to  Anita
5 years ago

I’ve always liked FREEDOM TRAIN. Won­der­ful to know what to pair it with. Thank you!