As a young reader, I basically wouldn’t touch nonfiction. (My parents found this funny because my brother basically wouldn’t touch fiction!) As it happens, though, one of the first manuscripts I completed for my MFA program was a nonfiction picture book, and as an editor, I’ve now worked on several dozen nonfiction books for all ages. When the Iowa chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators asked me to speak at their recent conference, “First Spark to Work of Art: Crafting Nonfiction for Kids,” I was excited to dig into the reasons I’ve become a lover of nonfiction.
My general philosophy is that standout nonfiction is engaging for the same reason that standout fiction is: a good story! The specific pleasures of them might be different—for example, finding out new facts is a hallmark of nonfiction—but the fundamental elements of story remain the same.
With this in mind, I took a close look at a collection of nonfiction titles I love:
- The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, ill. Nikkolas Smith
- A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, ill. Michael Carroll
- Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood, ill. Sally Wern Comport
- Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone
- Did You Burp?: How to Ask Questions…Or Not! by April Pulley Sayre, ill. Leeza Hernandez
- Follow Chester!: A College Football Team Fights Racism and Makes History by Gloria Respress-Churchwell, ill. Laura Freeman
- Galloping Gertie: The True Story of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse by Amanda Abler, ill. Levi Hastings
- Hidden Powers: Lise Meitner’s Call to Science by Jeannine Atkins
- Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton Johnson, ill. Sonia Lynn Sadler
- Sharks: A Mighty Bite-y History by Miriam Forster, ill. Gordy Wright
- The Tree of Hope: The Miraculous Rescue of Puerto Rico’s Beloved Banyan by Anna Orenstein-Cardona, ill. Juan Manuel Moreno
- Water Is Water: A Book about the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul, ill. Jason Chin
- Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, ill. Don Tate
It was fun to return to some favorites from my MA program and my early career in publishing, while also exploring newer titles. I appreciated attendee questions, too, like this one on bibliographies: Do all sources in the bibliography of a children’s book have to be kid-friendly? My answer was no; I usually like to include a “further reading” section and a separate “bibliography” section, the former for readers who want to find related books and the latter for readers who want to check sources. In that case, I’d expect the further reading section to contain mostly or only kid-friendly titles, but the bibliography to contain adult and scholarly books as well (or even primarily).
I’m happy to be a convert to nonfiction, and in fact I’m now reading a small press history I picked up at a Barrow Bookstore: Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia’s Women Pilots in WWII by Bruce Myles. As a female aerospace engineer, I’m always a sucker for stories about women in aviation! Here’s to reading in multiple genres, from diverse perspectives, all the time.