Posted by: nancyisanders | March 22, 2016

The Debate Continues: Nonfiction or Fiction?

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Lately I’ve been reading Chapter 11: Nonfiction Books of Charlotte Huck’s Children’s Literature (tenth edition) by Barbara Z. Kiefer.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this book, it is the standard in the industry of children’s publishing. What does this mean? It means that this is a college textbook that has been widely studied by editors, agents, and literature majors in their college years. So it’s important for us as writers to read through this book to gain a better understanding of the point of view coming back to us from editors and agents and other professionals in the world of children’s publishing.

Recently, as those of you know who have been following along here on my blog, I have been evaluating nonfiction and fiction picture books in an attempt to help me write better books of my own. I am particularly evaluating nonfiction picture books published by Charlesbridge Publishers as I’m trying to familiarize myself with their product line and understand better why these manuscripts made it into print with this publisher. I’m also looking for more nonfiction picture books to use as mentor texts in my own writing.

Up to this point, I’ve been using just two rubrics to track my evaluations. One for fiction and one for nonfiction.

But now I’ve added a third rubric to my line-up. It’s for “informational text.”

Why did I feel the need to add this third rubric?

Because I’ve been reading books that are classified in the nonfiction section in libraries and bookstores. However, even though there is a solid amount of facts included, these books add ingredients of fiction. I just can’t call them nonfiction, especially after reading the section in Charlotte Huck’s Children’s Literature of Chapter 11 called “Criteria for Evaluating Nonfiction Books.”

For years, as this textbook explains, the accepted term among children’s literature scholars has been “Informational Text” for nonfiction books in general. However, as more and more truly nonfiction books are being published these days in response to the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the term “Nonfiction” is being used to identify these books filled with facts and facts alone even if they’re among the increasing number that uses engaging text and fiction techniques to convey these facts to kids.

An excellent example of the difference between a nonfiction picture book and picture book I’m choosing to identify as informational text is the title by Charlesbridge, Mosquito Bite.

Mosquito Bite can be found in the nonfiction section of my public library. It is classified as nonfiction. And it should be. It’s filled with microphotographs of mosquitos as it describes the life cycle of mosquitos.

However, the story arc of the book is written along the fictional story of children playing hide-and-seek. And this is where the book moves out of the nonfiction category for us as writers.

Yes, it’s classified as nonfiction in the library and in the bookstores and in the catalogs.

But yes, it includes fiction…a lot of it!…to convey the fascinating facts.

And there are lots and lots of children’s books that do this.

That is why I have decided to classify these books for my own personal investigation by borrowing the term that has already been in our industry for years. I’m choosing to identify these titles with a rubric called “Informational Text.”

For years, I’ve watched the debate among children’s writers about whether the words we write are truly nonfiction or cross over into the genre of fiction.

Here’s a short example of what I mean:

Nonfiction that uses fiction techniques:

If writing about George Washington, you can say he felt the cold wind on his face as he rode his horse among the men in the freezing winter at Valley Forge.

Nonfiction that should be labeled as informational text because it includes some fictional elements (note that this is not Historical Fiction, a different genre altogether):

This would occur when we give the horse of George Washington feelings as the faithful steed who carries the future president through the Revolutionary War.

So now I’m joining the debate.

I really think that for us as writers, we need to divide our work into 3 categories, not just 2.



Informational Text that is mostly nonfiction but strays into the genre of fiction by including fictional text while still being classified as nonfiction in libraries, bookstores, and other places.

Read Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkel to see what I mean. And read Chapter 11 of Charlotte Huck’s Children’s Literature (tenth edition).

In my next post I’ll be posting the rubric I made of Mosquito Bite, an excellent book, I must say!

As you evaluate picture books on your own,  you can find all 3 rubrics that I created by visiting one of my sites at Writing According to Humphrey and Friends. Scroll all the way down to the section RUBRICS TO HELP EVALUATE MANUSCRIPTS OR PUBLISHED BOOKS. Click on the links for the Fiction Picture Book Rubric, Nonfiction Picture Book Rubric, and Informational Text Picture Book Rubric.

When you download these three free rubrics, you’ll see that the nonfiction one and the informational text one are exactly the same. That’s because the evaluation is the same, it’s just that I feel the need to classify them differently as we’ve discussed.

3 Rubrics




  1. This is helpful, Nancy. I often question whether certain books and certain stories I write fit into fiction or nonfiction. I like the ‘freedom’ of informational text because we can tell a story and include important facts for our readers to learn.

    • I agree with you, Trine, that adding an “informational text” category gives us as authors more freedom, especially when we want to remain in the nonfiction genre and not move over to the historical fiction category.

  2. Awesome post with wonderful details, Nancy. In my humble opinion, and if I were making the rules, I’d create a Faction category. 😊

    • Smile. Wouldn’t it be fun to make up rules of our own?

      • It sure would be great, Nancy!

  3. You’re right Nancy . We need this third category. I believe outside of picture books are also the cases of literary nonfiction , ex., the great YA book by Heiligman, Charles and Emma.

    • Yes, I can see how this category could cross different formats.

  4. Very interesting, Nancy. I’ve never heard of Kiefer’s book. I agree, it’s getting pretty hairy on how to classify types of nonfiction(ish) books!

    • I had never heard of it before either…but after attending some conferences and hearing speakers refer to this terminology and that terminology and hearing these same terms talked about over the web, I did a search to find the source for the terms that are being thrown around in children’s publishing and also in Common Core…and lo and behold, they originated in print with Charlotte Huck and now since her death are continued and updated in this version of her work. It’s fascinating to read it and see what I mean, especially in nonfiction like this.

      • Great research for finding THE source! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thank you so much for this, Nancy! I’ve written a couple of “informational texts” that I’d been calling “nonfiction” for the lack of a better term. Will also get my hands on Charlotte Huck’s Children’s Literature book.

  6. Thanks for this post, Nancy. I’ve added Kiefer’s book to my wish list. One of my favorite books, “Anatomy of Nonfiction” by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas refers to informational writing as “creative nonfiction.” I recommend their book as well. It’s a great resource. I have it tabbed for quick reference (as I am currently doing with your Yes! You can books).

    • Yes, yes, yes! Peggy’s book is the go-to book for all things nonfiction for children! I have it here on my shelves and use it often. And Peggy will be teaching in person at Texas next September to share her nuggets of gold. Registration starts April 1!!! Check it out at NF4NF.

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