by Dr. Virginia Loh-Hagan
“Nonfiction” sounds so binary. Essentially, it refers to writing that is not fiction – with fiction serving as the standard. However, we, readers, know that the spectrum of books is way more than just two choices: (1) fiction or (2) nonfiction. We also know that fiction is not secondary to nonfiction. In fact, in many, many cases, the truth is stranger than fiction – and much more interesting (and in some cases, way scarier).
Nonfiction, or more specifically, informational texts, have been greatly elevated by the Common Core Standards, which focused on informational texts as learning resources. In the past several years, nonfiction has blossomed. It is fair to say that nonfiction is in its “heyday.”
Today’s nonfiction not only educates but it also entertains. I credit the late and great Kathleen Krull (1952-2021), for making nonfiction fun and “sexy.” She helped popularize nonfiction picture biographies. Her signature witty style was to add “juicy bits of gossip” to her subjects. She also interjected her own voice, which broke the nonfiction mold. She hooked readers with fun facts and a bit of sass.
Gone are the days of “boring” nonfiction. The following are the top five promising trends in children’s nonfiction.
- Today’s young readers read in pictures. (Just watch a kid swipe through Instagram. Images tell stories, way more than words can.) Nonfiction graphic novels continue to appeal to our screen-obsessed youth. This makes sense in a world of social media and streaming.
- Today’s young readers want to be “in the know.” They want to know things before anyone else. Nonfiction that addresses obscure or little-known fun facts excites a generation that has information at their fingertips. (The key to good nonfiction is when readers are hungry to learn more. We have all googled “facts” after reading or watching something.)
- Today’s young readers want to get a lot of content with as little reading as possible. (Think: Bite-size.) A trend in nonfiction is presenting information in chunks; for example, anthologies and collections are on the rise. Reading books from cover to cover is not necessarily the norm anymore. Readers like to flip through pages and learn something right away.
- Today’s young readers are activated. They are watching current events unfold and want to learn more. More and more nonfiction address issues related to racial justice, human rights, marginalized communities, and more. A trend that I, personally, love seeing is an increase in books about the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) experience, which helps to combat escalating anti-Asian hate.
- Today’s young readers are, in many ways, the same as yesterday’s young readers. Gross and goofy will always be gold. Young readers love and have always loved humor. Today’s young readers also love all things “edgy.” (We have a popular culture that loves true crime, cults, and all kinds of whatnot.)
That stated, the key to any good nonfiction is a good story. Fiction or nonfiction matters not. What matters is being compelling. Find the story in nonfiction and tell it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Virginia Loh-Hagan is the author of more than 350 books for young readers. She likes to write about her Asian American heritage and about anything on the odd side. Currently, she serves as the inaugural Director of the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Center at San Diego State University. She is also the Co-Executive Director and Director of Curriculum Development of The Asian American Education Project. In addition, she is a former K-8 classroom teacher and university teacher educator. She is committed to supporting equitable classrooms and to increasing the voice and visibility of APIDA communities.