GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.

See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020

Classifying Science Books for Kids

Recently, I had a chance to read “The Durable, Dynamic Nature of Genre and Science: A Purpose-Driven Typology of Science Trade Books” by Professor Laura May and five of her Georgia State University colleagues. The article appeared in the September 2019 issue of Reading Research Quarterly, which is published by the International Literacy Association.

I’ll be honest. The title gave me absolutely no hint of what the article was about, but I trusted the person who sent it to me, and the term “science trade books” sounded promising. So I decided to give it a whirl, and boy am I glad I did.

The article describes a study in which the six researchers read and analyzed the 400 children’s books that appeared on the National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 (OSTB) list between 2010-2017. This list includes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry titles.

2 Function-based Categories of Science Books for Children

In a nutshell, the researchers identified two broad, function-based categories of science books for children:

Accepted Knowledge: These books explain/describe widely-accepted science knowledge or concepts and typically have an expository writing style.

Accepted Knowledge - one category of science books for children.
Accepted Knowledge

Lived Lives of Scientists: These books explore the nature of science or scientific inquiry (how people develop and change scientific understandings). They feature a narrative writing style and generally have a chronological sequence text structure.

Lived Lives of Scientists, one category of science books for kids
Lived Lives of Scientists

The researchers divided each of these categories into various subgroups, which they call “genres.” Overall, the “typology” the researchers developed to better understand the range of OSTBs has a lot in common with my 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system, which is both exciting and reassuring.

5 Kinds of Nonfiction, including children's books
5 Kinds of Nonfiction

According to the researchers, the takeaway for teachers is that they can and should “leverage science trade book genres to support the different components of science education.” In other words, all the OSTB books have educational value, but should be used in different ways based on their characteristics. While Accepted Knowledge books work well for introducing and reinforcing NGSS’s Disciplinary Core Ideas, Lived Lives of Scientists books are generally better suited for demonstrating the NGSS’s eight Science Practices in action.

But there’s also a takeaway for the creators of these books. The researchers’ genre categories reveal patterns, or trends, that are worth studying because they show what works. They provide an overview of the techniques children’s book writers have used to present the “what” and “how” of science in manuscripts that were acquired by publishers and then selected as models of excellence by NSTA’s panel of experts.

Thank you, Dr. May, for giving science writers a powerful new tool for thinking about how to organize the ideas and information we collect and then select a lens for sharing the science concepts and processes we’re passionate about with young readers.

Melissa Stewart

Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 180 nonfiction books for children, including Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins; and the upcoming title Seashells: More than a Home, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. Melissa’s highly-regarded website features a rich array of educational resources for teaching nonfiction reading and writing.

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