For Librarians

Trends in Nonfiction

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Back in November, I was lucky enough to attend the Falling Leaves Master Retreat for nonfiction writers. It was FABULOUS!   Located at a YMCA camp nestled in the mountains of the Adirondacks and overlooking beautiful Silver Lake Bay, it was picture perfect for a weekend of learning about writing. The leaves on the trees were decked out in bright oranges and reds and there was just a nip of chilly weather in the air to brighten your cheeks. This Florida girl was in heaven!

Aside from the wonderfully peaceful environment, the weekend just hummed with energy. The mix of new and established writers and as well 5 valued editors from major publishing houses had my creative senses in a whirl.

All of the editor talks were extremely interesting and informative. Listening to them, I managed to take away a few notes on upcoming trends in nonfiction. Naturally, a fair amount of talk centered around the Common Core and how all newly published nonfiction books need provide teachers with the necessary tools for teaching. The editors made a big deal about this:

According to the guidelines for the Common Core:

50% of classroom reading in elementary and middle schools will use nonfiction books

70% of classroom reading in high school will use nonfiction books

 

In response for the increased demand, publishers will be providing many different types of nonfiction books. One editor introduced a new term for a type of nonfiction. She called it “Browsable nonfiction”.

So, what is Browsable Nonfiction?

 

These books are examples of browsable nonfiction:
                              

 

But so are these:
                           

So, I guess you could say that browsable books are books that have short bites of information. They can be lists, like the books in the first section above. Or they can have chapters filled with interesting snippets of history or art. They can also deal with many different topics all in one book.

The advantage of browsable books?

Perfect for the reluctant reader or maybe just one that needs a book to keep their attention, they are chock full of fun and exciting fun facts!  These books usually contain many vivid and visually entertaining photos – the better to catch a reader’s eye and interest. These diverse and unique books are filled with  fascinating information presented in easy to read snippets and chapters. In this world where readers are deluged with information and images 24 hours a day, these books not only capture and hold a reader’s attention, but also make for great resources for tiny bits of trivia to share with your friends.

As far as the Common Core goes, they can be great starter books for a research project. Or for even finding a topic. Have to do write a biography but not sure what interests you? Then pick up the How They Croaked Book, and page through the chapters. Surely reading about the dramatic endings of some of these people will liven up the most boring of biography topics.

Browsable books often contain interactive features like For Further Reading and Original text from other sources, hands-on reference material, and easy connections a reader can make. Hopefully, a small nugget of information will turn into a large thirst for knowledge.

 

Narrative Nonfiction books are also making a surge according to the publishers. Narrative nonfiction, like the word narrative implies, has a storyline to it.

For example:

 

       School Library Journal awards Larry Dane Brimner’s Birmingham Sunday with a starred review.

“The author successfully blends the facts of the event with the intense emotions of the period in order to bring it to life. …The book is beautifully designed, with good-quality, black-and-white photos, informative captions, and pertinent pull quotes. A worthy addition to any collection.”

 

The book contains informational sidebars to augment the highly engaging text. These provides opportunities for classroom discussions using Common Core relative questions and topics.

 

But narrative nonfiction is not only for history and biographies, it can also be used very successfully in science books as well.

This introduction to black holes takes readers from simple to complex by dropping definitions and information slowly and clearly into the lively narrative. Dramatic and amazing illustrations help to impart the sense of the vast distances in space, of how atomic nuclei meld in the intense interaction  called fusion, and how the areas of a black hole–the event boundary, the extreme gravity zone, and the singularity–are defined. … ” –School Library Journal, starred review

The author provides additional information on her website and an extensive glossary to make this book very user-friendly.

 

What did I come away with from my fantastic weekend in the Adirondacks?  Upcoming nonfiction books are interesting, exciting and ready to grab the imagination of any child – from 1  to 101!  Check them out!!

 

So tell me, what nonfiction books are you excited about this year? Put them in the comments below so we can all know. I am always looking for great books to add to my “to-read” list.

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Jennifer Swanson is a self-professed science geek and author of 9 nonfiction books for kids. When not writing she can be found searching for cool science facts to share with her students. You can find more about Jennifer at her website http://jenniferswansonbooks.com/

 

The Reluctant Gardener

My name is Laurie Schneider and I love books. I love reading books, sharing books, browsing books, talking about books, and, yes, buying books. Whether you call me a bibliophile—or a bookaholic—the fact is I have a problem: my appetite for the latest Lois Lowery, Jerry Spinelli, Gary Schmidt, and Jennifer Holm far exceeds my shelf space.

A bigger house is out of the question, and our family room is already wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling books. So what’s a booklover to do?  Give up buying books cold turkey? Not a chance. I’m powerless in the face of a starred review.

The cold, hard, merciless truth—unless I want to turn up in a future episode of Hoarders—is that something has to go, and that something is books. If I want to add, I have to subtract. I have to weed.

It’s the same at the public library where I work. We’re blessed with a community of voracious readers and a healthy budget for new materials, but cursed with a small building on a small lot, with no room to expand. The librarians are under constant pressure to weed, to make space for all the new books, movies, music, and audiobooks the public expects.

I spoke recently about weeding with Cathy Ensley, our newly retired youth services librarian, and here’s what she had to say about the process:

“Library shelves are finite. When I was first weeding the collection eleven years ago, the district’s book budget was much smaller. The shelves were full of very old, weed-able books with negligible literary merit, which meant they also didn’t need to be replaced. Then, the book budget inflated, which was wonderful, but suddenly there wasn’t as much shelf space. So I weeded single books by forgotten authors that had not created an oeuvre. Then I started weeding by the total number of checkouts each year. Then I actually had to start cutting into an author’s body of work, pulling out the less popular books, which really pained me.

“It makes me sad to lose perfectly good books, sometimes wonderful books, because we need the shelf space for newer books that might very well not be as good, but are in demand because of their subject matter. Case in point: Not too long ago, I weeded about a dozen YA historical novels that dealt with slavery. Excellent books, but most of them hadn’t been checked out in years. They were discarded in order to make shelf space for books about vampires.”

Short of launching a capital campaign to build a bigger library, there really doesn’t seem to be another solution. Like me, the county can’t just go out and buy a bigger house, and we need to provide the books people want to read. It pains me, though, to see some of my favorite titles removed from the catalog and put out to pasture at the Friends of the Library book sale. On the other hand, some of those titles have found their way to my house where they are now cozying up to Lois Lowry and Jerry Spinelli, Gary Schmidt and Jennifer Holm.

If there’s been any benefit to weeding my personal collection it’s this: my collection may not have grown larger, but it has grown more interesting, more focused, more quirky, more “me” – a collection of desert-island books I won’t mind spending a lifetime with.

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Laurie Schneider can be found writing, reading, and weeding in Moscow, Idaho. She tweets her favorite reads at https://twitter.com/Idaho_Laurie.


A new page for ravenous readers

Has this ever happened to you? Your favorite middle-grade reader has finished reading the latest stack of books from the library.

“More!” your reader says to you. “I want more! Give me more books!”

“Fine,” you say. You’ve already gone through all the book lists and book list blog posts on our site, so you browse aimlessly through your library’s online catalog. “What kind of book do you want?”

“I like sports and I like science. I want girl power. I want it to be funny, but not too hard to read. And it can’t have any of that icky stuff we learned about in Human Growth and Development.”

 

Where do you start?

 You can start here, at our new page, What should I read next?

Although we here at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors think we have a pretty good site, there are lots more out there and we all have one goal in common–getting great books into the hands of readers. To help bring the resources of the online middle-grade community together, we’ve collected links to sites that review and categorize middle-grade books. Some are searchable, some are specialized, some are by kids, some are by librarians. Try out the sites and find the sites that are right for you. And if you have a favorite, please let us know so we can add it.

 

Jacqueline Houtman is a very slow reader, and her to-be-read pile is taking over her house.