STORY IN NONFICTION

Recently, I was reading a librarian’s blog about a nonfiction author’s school visit, and she wrote: “He weaves the power of story into all of his books, fiction and nonfiction alike. Even facts have a story to tell!” Whether intended or not, it seemed as if there was an element of surprise that today’s nonfiction books contain powerful stories. This is the beauty of narrative nonfiction–STORY. No longer do nonfiction books simply list facts and dates, as one might list items to purchase on a shopping list. The facts are interwoven into a narrative that makes for compelling reading.

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Several of my favorites are featured here. In Brave Girl, Michelle Markel explores the STORY of Clara Lemlich and the shirtwaist makers’ strike of 1909. Facts, coupled with narrative.  In The Flag Maker, Susan Campbell Bartoletti tells the STORY of how the U.S. flag came to be through the eyes of Mary Pickersgill’s daughter Caroline.

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Also for young readers, Andrea Davis Pinkney looks at the civil rights movement in Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down. About the beginning of the sit-in movement, the STORY is told in lyrical prose. Yes, there are facts–many of them–but these are woven into a gripping narrative.

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For slightly older children, there’s The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. Admittedly, I am especially drawn to this particular title, as it combines an eccentric, one-of-a-kind character, a maverick, with the compelling STORY of his ceramic artwork.

My own nonfiction work, for grades 4 or 5 and up also leans heavily toward story. In one, We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin, I explored a relatively unknown leader of the civil rights movement. Indeed, he was and is called the “intellectual engineer” of the movement. Rustin was marginalized during his lifetime and only recently have people begun to give him his due credit. But it is the narrative of his life that makes the facts pop. Another, Birmingham Sunday, looks at the singular event in September 1963 that probably more than anything brought the discussion of the civil rights movement into white living rooms across America. The book is loaded with facts, but they come to life through STORY–the story of four little girls and two little boys, the story of oppression, the story of racial hatred and bigotry.

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So, YES, EVEN FACTS HAVE A STORY TO TELL. Check out these titles for a gripping look at history and the people who made it happen.

2 Comments on “STORY IN NONFICTION

  1. Lesa Cline-Ransome is another great nonfiction STORY-teller. Be sure to check out her titles. As she says, “[N]on fiction is finally coming to light.” And it’s about time that educators realize this genre is literature. No longer should I be asked when visiting a school to address “only your literature,” meaning fiction, and” not your fact-based stuff,” as one principal put it prior to a school visit a couple of years ago. All the strategies of fiction get incorporated into nonfiction, from characterization to foreshadowing to dialogue to drama. It’s there in narrative nonfiction. Read some today.

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