Nonfiction or informational? What’s the difference?

So, kind of like when a person finally gets a diagnosis – a name – for an illness, this is a great relief.

Sometimes I have had moments of doubt when trying to categorize my own books. Usually I call them nonfiction – they’re about real things. My nature/science (birds, bugs, snakes, and dinosaurs) and biography books fit snugly into the basic nonfiction category. But some others, for example the lift-the-flap paper-engineered books, like Go! Go! Go! (about transportation), Circus, Rodeo, and Doors (you learn about what’s in a doctor’s office, horse barn, boat, train, mechanic’s garage, space station, etc), are a little quirky and are occasionally even considered “novelty” books. They don’t fall neatly into the nonfiction category. And books like Market Maze and Ecomazes: 12 Earth Adventures use “gamification” and educational devices not typical of nonfiction books. Some are concept books (for instance, Mazeways: A to Z – an alphabet book that shows real-life things and their environs, like an airport, boatyard, highways, etc). Then there are nonfiction ideas that are wrapped around a finding/counting/naming format, like Desert Days, Desert Nights and Ranch.

Turns out there’s a name for these works… Informational books!

You could call informational books a subset of nonfiction. Nonfiction includes any content or text that is factual. However, not all nonfiction is considered informational. The main purpose of informational texts is to inform or instruct the reader in some way.

Informational text often teaches about the social and natural world (and frequently, in my case, the man-made world). A biography is a classic form of nonfiction; it teaches us about an individual’s life, and certain points in history, but it is not considered “informational.” A procedural or how-to text tells one how to do something; it doesn’t convey information about a particular topic. Other forms of nonfiction may be narrative (like a memoir). Informational text differs from other types of nonfiction in purpose, features, and, often, format.

There are many benefits, besides learning facts, to children when they are exposed to informational books. Understanding new words is one. From So Much More Than the ABCs: The Early Phases of Reading and Writing by Judith A. Schickedanz and Molly F. Collins:  “Because informational books contain many sophisticated technical words and explain them explicitly, reading this kind of book helps children learn higher-level vocabulary.” The illustrations, and sometimes charts and other imagery in informational picture books, enhance learning, thinking, and contribute to increased comprehension… they can be a form of visual cognition for some children.

Informational books often address children’s specific interests and questions about the world. Librarians tell me that these are the books most often asked for; their young patrons want to learn about and understand how things work, are built, what they look like, where they come from. The various ways in which writers and illustrators create these informational works make for some engaging books which enlighten and inform children, often in lively, accessible, and fun formats.

Here’s some more info:

http://www.naeyc.org/books/so_much_more_than_the_abcs/excerpt

http://www.teachersfirst.com/exclusives/moreless/librarian/fuss/q2.cfm

http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/scholasticprofessional/authors/pdfs/duke_sample_pages.pdf

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6 comments
  1. hellerj said:

    Thank you for this helpful essay, Roxie Munro! I gave one of my great-nephews a book about the recycling process, and he loved it!

    Best wishes for the spring!

    Janet Ruth Heller
    Author of the poetry books Exodus (WordTech Editions, 2014), Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012) and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011), the scholarly book Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990), the award-winning book for kids about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006), and the middle-grade book for kids The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015).
    My websites are http://www.janetruthheller.com/ and http://wattpad.com/JanetRuthHeller

    • Yes, Janet – kids want to understand the real world.

    • Thanks, Eve – trying to figure out what’s what in the lexicon …

  2. Robert Munro said:

    Dear Roxie,
    Excellent explanation of the different species and families of books…..Answers a question that I’ve never been able to explain…..or put my finger on..as it twer….
    Love, Rob Munro

    • Thanks, Rob. I’ve been thinking about it, and decided to do a little research – can be confusing!

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