Trends in Nonfiction


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.


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


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Jennifer Swanson
Science ROCKS! And so do Jennifer Swanson's books. She is the award-winning author of over 40 nonfiction books for kids. Jennifer Swanson’s love of science began when she started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. While no longer working from the garage, you can find Jennifer at her favorite place to explore the world around her.
Jennifer is also the creator and administrator of #STEMTuesday and #STEAMTeam2020
  1. I hadn’t heard the term browsable non-fiction, but I agree it’s perfect for the reluctant reader or quick entertainment read. Thanks for the post!

  2. Browsable non-fiction books are my secret weapon for reluctant boy readers. I just match up their interest and it really does work!

  3. Lincoln’s Grave Robbers seems like it would be an interesting book.

  4. That book sounds cool, Annette! I’m going to have to check it out.

  5. I loved Marching to the Mountaintop by Ann Bausum (which I won at the conference!). It’s definitely narrative non-fiction, with a clear narrative voice, but has fascinating browsable elements worked into the book design–compelling captioned photos and highlighted quotes. I’ve noticed that even kids who haven’t started reading the book pick it up and get involved with those more browsable elements.

  6. Thanks for the clarifications, Melissa! And for all the other types of nonfiction. There are plenty of different terms to choose from, that’s for sure. 🙂 The one thing that I think is is so exciting is how publishers are embracing it!

  7. I think they key to something being narrative nonficiton is the interplay of scenes and summary text, such as We’ve Got a Job, Bomb, or just about any biography. I wouldn’t classify A Black Hole Is Not a Hole as narrative. To me, it’s direct nonfiction with a very strong, wonderful voice.

    “Browsable” is a good descriptor for National Geographic Readers, which is what Jennifer Emmett was discussing at Falling Leaves. Other terms I’ve heard are “dip in” nonfiction, just-the-facts nonfiction, and even non-narrative nonficiton. But I like “direct” because the facts are delivered straight to the reader rather than embedded in a story.

  8. Thanks Linda! Yes, I met Heather at the above conference. Can’t wait to get her book!

  9. Jennifer,

    Great post. I love the term “browsable books.”

    Heather Montgomery has a new book out: Wild Discoveries: Wacky New Animals. It will be available at Scholastic book fairs and Amazon, etc. I’m fortunate to know Heather because she is in my writing group. She has other nonfiction titles too. Check them out. She makes learning fun!