STEM-themed children’s books: A new approach

In the not-so-distant past, children’s book publishers produced only one type of nonfiction—investigative books that offered general introductions to broad topics such as gorillas, galaxies, or the weather. These titles are usually published in large series, emphasizing balance and breadth of coverage. They have an expository writing style of explaining, describing, or informing, and have concise, direct language.

Since covering a lot of information in a limited word count limits the ability of non-fiction writers to produce rich text, these traditional non-fiction books seem less engaging than other types of non-fiction books that have grown in popularity in recent years.

Some younger readers tend to read nonfiction narratives because it reads like a story. This writing style is ideal for biographies and books about historical events because of its chronological structure. Narrative nonfiction also applies to animal life stories and books that describe journeys of discovery or natural processes.

Other children prefer expository literature, which provides insight into specific ideas, such as STEM concepts. Because the topics are closely related, writers can be more creative and innovative. They can choose formats and text structures that reflect their passion and unique approach to content, and can experiment with speech and language devices.

However, many curious children crave books that provide broad overviews of their favorite STEM subjects. In an effort to create titles that will delight younger readers and appear more interesting than traditional survey titles, some authors have begun employing techniques that blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction. The result is the Information Fiction Survey Book.

such as picture books Me, fly: The buzz about flies and how awesome they are Bridget Heos features a talking fly that tells students in the classroom all about flies.

in the picture book Sun: one in a billion By Stacey McAnulty, a sun character (with eyes, nose, mouth and arms), speaks directly to readers and shares many fascinating facts about how we Earthlings depend on the sun.

The Truth About Bears: Very Interesting Facts About Your Favorite Animal Maxwell Eaton III combines simple, direct body text with information about bears and speech bubbles, where a talking bear adds a sense of humor. Many pages of this picture book also contain fact boxes with more information.

Beavers: A Field Guide to Superpowers Written by Rachel Poliquin, 96 pages for a middle grade audience, it is narrated by a girl who delivers information to readers in a warm, conversational voice.

Some adults worry that young children may be confused by this new way of presenting authentic information. They want to know:

  • Do children mistakenly believe that animals or inanimate objects can speak and/or experience the world like humans?
  • If children recognize that the first-person narrator is fictional, will they realize that the ideas and information are real?

While it may take time to understand how children of different ages react to these books, the growing interest in information fiction survey books suggests we may see more of them in the future.

Edited by Bill Sullivan, Ph.D., Indiana University School of Medicine.

You can also enjoy:

Five STEM-Themed Nonfiction Children’s Books

Engaging Curious Kids in STEM

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