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MOWMT Day #6: Roxanne Troup Informs With Fiction

by Roxanne Troup

Kids love facts. And nonfiction is a wonderful tool for building critical thinking and research skills. But modern nonfiction builds other literacy skills as well—skills that for many years were assumed to connect solely to the fiction domain. Consider the poetry and suspense of the award-winning Giant Squid by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann. Or the silly rhyming verse of What Do They Do with all That Poo? by Jane Kurtz and Allison Black.

But some texts work better (are more accessible) when authors share their well-researched facts wrapped in a story, or alongside fictional elements like imagined characters and dialog or anthropomorphic narrators. Books that blend fiction and nonfiction elements like this are called “informational fiction.” And kids love them! If you’d like to learn more about nonfiction kidlit in all its forms [including the current debate surrounding informational fiction and how it should be shelved], I highly recommend Melissa Stewart’s blog, Celebrate Nonfiction.

BOARDWALK BABIES by Marissa Moss and April Chu tells the fascinating story of the 19th century doctor who developed incubators for premature babies. But hospitals refused to use them, so this doctor set up a sideshow (yes, sideshow, of the “bearded-lady” and “three-legged man” type) at Coney Island. Moss’ invented dialog adds to the emotional punch and brings this story to life in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

THE VERY IMPATIENT CATERPILLAR by Ross Burach introduces readers to metamorphosis and patience using a very impatient main character—a caterpillar. This dialog-only picture book is a great mentor text for keeping character voice(s) consistent, distinct, and childlike. And while it does deliver a (not so subtle) message on patience, its main aim is to showcase the life cycle of a caterpillar/butterfly.

SUN! ONE IN A BILLION The OUR UNIVERSE series by Stacy McAnulty and Steve Lewis (with currently includes seven picture books!) delivers tons of facts about Earth and our solar system through anthropomorphized planets, stars, moons, and oceans who speak directly to the reader. These books check lots of mentor text boxes, but one you might miss: McAnulty developed a separate character voice for each one. Impressive!

THE LOST PACKAGE by Richard Ho and Jessica Lanan uses an invented storyline to explain how our postal system works. And while that may sound like a dry topic, I assure you the book is incredibly heartwarming. I highly recommend it!

MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME - My book with Kendra Binney, also uses an invented storyline to make its subject more assessable. MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME is lyrical look at the growth-and harvest cycle of pecans. And while all the information in it is accurate, I chose to tell this story through the relational lens of a grandparent and child. Wrapping my research in this fictional relationship gives its agricultural focus another layer of meaning and widens its reach to readers who might not pick up a book about pecans otherwise. And that’s the beauty of informational fiction. It offers readers more entry points into fact-filled books.

What are your favorite informational fiction picture books? Leave a comment below and you could win a signed copy of MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME along with some garden-themed book swag.

Roxanne Troup grew up along the waterways of Missouri, where everyone had a pecan tree but few grew pecans commercially. Today, she lives in the mountains of Colorado (where no one grows pecans) and writes kid's books that celebrate the wonder of childhood and beauty of family. With a background in education, Roxanne loves learning new things and sharing that knowledge with kids in fun and engaging ways. When not writing, she enjoys hiking with her family, cheering at her kid's sporting events, and reading a good book. Roxanne often visits schools to water seeds of literacy and teach about writing. (And sometimes remembers to water the plants in her garden.) Connect with her on Twitter or her website.


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