Fiction versus Nonfiction: Black and White or Shades of Gray

Now it’s time to tackle the labels fiction and nonfiction in children’s books.

If you spend any time at the library at all, you know that books are shelved in two main sections:  fiction and nonfiction. Someone has to decide where any given book ends up, but it is one of those two categories.


What criteria do people use to decide where a book belongs? Usually the decision is based on whether the story is made up by the author or not. If the story is made up by the author, then it is fiction.

To generate confusion, the nonfiction section at the library includes fairytales, poetry, folklore, and mythology. How does that count as nonfiction when the stories are clearly not real?

Maybe if we think of nonfiction as “captured from real life,” it would make the distinction more clear. Mythology consists of tales that were told in ancient days. Nonfiction books record the old tales, “capturing them from real life.” The same is true of fairytales and folklore.

The distinction still isn’t always clear cut, however. Many works of fiction are based on real events, real people and/or real places. On the other hand, there has been a recent trend for certain nonfiction, like biographies, to contain some made up elements to spruce up the story. Let’s face it, even selecting which facts to present is a form of “making things up.”

In the long run, the categories may run together like this:


Does this blurring solve the problem? Not really, because fuzzy categories makes it difficult to determine what is true and what is not true.

For example, let’s say you are reading a biography that the author reports contains some fictional elements or made up dialogue. Now you have to wonder, did the subject really climb trees or did the author just throw that in to make the story more interesting to children? Does it matter? If the subject had polio as a child and was physically weak, having him or her climb a tree changes a major aspect of the subject’s life.

What do you think? Should the line between nonfiction and fiction remain sharp?

For an insightful discussion of use of dialogue in nonfiction, try Danger! Dialogue Ahead by Marc Tyler Nobleman.


Of course the very next day, here comes a really great discussion of this. See Are Dewey’s Days Numbered?: Libraries Nationwide Are Ditching the Old Classification System mentions:

“For years, we’d been trying to explain to kids why the “Magic School Bus” series was in nonfiction when it’s obvious to any five-year-old that Ms. Frizzle isn’t real. “

Their solution? Red dots placed on the book cover for “imagination” and blue dots for “information.” Although I agree with the kids, Magic School Bus should have a purple dot.

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Have a blog post about writing for children? Feel free to leave it in the comments.

The Confusing World of Children’s Book Genres: Why They Matter

I am excited to announce that I am launching a new feature at Wrapped In Foil today:


Over the years I have gathered a whole bin full of information on writing for children, including notes from classes, newsletters, magazines, books, and clips from websites. Rather than letting all that knowledge gather dust in the closet, I’ve decided to pull it out and share it on a weekly basis.

If you choose to participate, this could become a round up or meme. Perhaps every Tuesday we could gather tips for writing for children? Please leave a comment and let me know if you are interested.

Without further ado, the first tidbit:


Tidbit 1: The Confusing World of Children’s Book Genres:  Why They Matter

Not much can cause a beginning writer more headaches than trying to figure out genres. Coming from a science background, I’m used to hierarchical classification schemes. Therefore I expected writing to have a similar system of organization. After all, a genre is a category or a kind of writing, so it would be a way for organizing different forms of writing, right? The word genre even has the same Latin root, genus, which is used in naming organisms, for example, genus Felis species domesticus.

The truth is, however, that in literature everyone seems to have a different idea of what genres are and how they should be used.  A child may be taught in school that genres are science fiction and mystery. A college student may be taught that the genres are poetry, fiction, drama, and possibly creative nonfiction, based on a classic interpretation. Aren’t science fiction and mystery types of fiction? How can science fiction and fiction both be genres if fiction encompasses science fiction? In that case, should science fiction be a lesser category like subgenre or style? Wait, isn’t cyberpunk a subgenre of science fiction? Where does nonfiction fit? Isn’t poetry shelved in the nonfiction section? What in the world is genre fiction?


All of these questions make the beginning writer wonder whether it is even worthwhile try to sort it all out.

It turns out that it is important for the writer to understand how writing is categorized -no matter what the categories are called – for a couple of reasons. The first reason is to help you find out which ones you enjoy and where your passions lie. Reading books of different genres, age classes or styles can help sort out what your niche is, what you would like to write about.

Secondly, you can find out what is expected from the different writing categories, allowing you to communicate effectively with your readers and other writers. You will be able to find others with similar interests and styles more easily, and also benefit more from writing classes and critique groups.

Learning the genres/categories is also important from the perspective of trying to sell your work. Publishers look for manuscripts of specific genres. Bookstores often sell their books organized by their definition of genre (perusing a bookstore is one way to learn more about how books are categorzied), so it pays to be able to categorize your manuscript within the accepted norms. Understanding the line between narrative nonfiction and historical fiction, for example, can save you a lot of heartache and revisions.

Next week let’s look into the categories of fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a resource or blog post that clarifies genre for beginning writers? If you chose to share it, please leave a link in the comments.


Capstone Action-Adventure Books Contest

Have you seen any of the books in the action-adventure, sci-fi book series Tony Hawk’s 900 Revolution, for example Drop In: Volume One by Donald Lemke and illustrated by Caio Majado? Filled with extreme sports and extreme action, these books have a graphic novel feel.

Capstone held a student writing contest inviting students to create a unique and inspiring character to be the next member of the Revolution team, a group of teens on a quest to find the remaining pieces of Tony Hawk’s shattered skateboard. This week they announced the finalists and are encouraging students to vote for their favorite. Voting runs through May 4, 2012, with the winner revealed May 11.

The finalists are:

•  Allison Wehrman, a 4th grader at Parkview Center School, Roseville, Minn.

•  Autumn Bray, a 7th grader at Meisler Middle School, Metairie, La.

•  Ayman Slamani, a 6th grader at Springfield Estates Elementary School, Alexandria, Va.

•  Elijah E. Foster, a 4th grader at Tri-City Elementary School in Springfield, Ill.

•  Lauren Johnson, a 5th grader at Rowland Elementary School in Victoria, Texas

The top five finalists will receive a Tony Hawk autographed copy of Impulse: Volume Two.The winning character will appear as part of the Revolution in a Tony Hawk’s 900 Revolution book available August 2013. The winner will also receive a trip to Tony Hawk’s Stand Up for Skateparks 2012 event in Beverly Hills and a VIP pass to meet Tony Hawk in person.

The five finalists were selected from entries nationwide featuring dozens of different sports. Descriptions of the finalists’ characters, as well as professionally-illustrated renderings of the characters are available at

What a great way to motivate those reluctant readers (and writers) out there!

(Based on a News Release by Jennifer Glidden, Capstone PR Manager)

Cheerios New Author Contest 2011

Are you an aspiring children’s author? Cheerios has a perfect contest for you!

If you are an unpublished author (please check the website for the rules about being published), then you should consider entering the 5th Annual Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories New Author Contest. The deadline is July 15, 2011. The winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize and a possible publishing deal with Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, in addition to having his or her book featured inside Cheerios cereal boxes nationwide.

Ron Rauss won last year for his story Can I Just Take a Nap? Look for his book in Cheerios boxes during the spring of 2012. (Can you imagine how fun it would be to find a copy of your book in a cereal box?) See more about Ron at Simon & Schuster.

After finding a free copy of Duck for President by Diane Cronin in our Cheerios one day, we have been hooked on the Spoonfuls of Stories idea. What a wonderful way to promote reading and to help new writers get a start.


(Oats cereal rings by Petr Kratochvil)