Long on Kid Appeal, Browsable Nonfiction Continues to Trend

From School Library Journal:

I first heard the term “browsable nonfiction” used by Jennifer Emmett, senior vice president of National Geographic for Kids in 2012 at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) writing retreat in Silver Bay, NY. It’s the perfect moniker for a popular category of children’s books inspired by Dorling Kindersley’s groundbreaking Eyewitness Book series.

When these lavishly photo-illustrated books entered the U.S. marketplace in 1991, they revolutionized children’s nonfiction by giving young fact lovers a fresh, engaging way to access information. Both then and now, the eye-catching design and short blocks of clear, straightforward expository text delight “info-kids” who crave knowledge about the world and how it works and their place in it.

Here’s what some young readers have to say about browsable books:

“You can open to any page and find a cool fact, and I like reading cool facts.” —Lily, second grader
“You have a lot of choices about how you read. It’s like the potluck dinners at my church.” —Matthew, fourth grader

“I like the design. I prefer to flip through the pages to find exactly what I’m looking for rather than having to read through a whole book.” —Keith, fifth grader
The ability to dip in and out of these books instead of reading from cover to cover is a key characteristic of browsable nonfiction, but—initially—it was this very aspect of the category that worried adults.

“When Eyewitness Books first came out, some educators thought the format would interfere with students’ ability to develop critical reading skills,” says Michele Nokleby, school librarian, Hawthorne Elementary School, Missoula, MT. “They wondered: Would these books impact reading stamina? Would they affect students’ attention spans? As a result, teachers were hesitant to use them in the classroom.”

Luckily, that attitude has changed. As is increasingly true with graphic novels, educators now recognize that browsable nonfiction is a gateway to literacy for many children. And according to Marlene Correia, associate professor of elementary and early childhood education, Bridgewater (MA) State University, these books can also “help students who prefer fiction develop the skills necessary to navigate the more complex expository texts they’ll encounter in high school and college, and in their future careers.”

Link to the rest at School Library Journal

2 thoughts on “Long on Kid Appeal, Browsable Nonfiction Continues to Trend”

  1. I don’t recall every seeing a DK “Eyewitness” book, but in general, I’ve been pleased with DK’s books – plenty of them are fun for adults, too (like the 3D cross section books). And, back when I was browsing the selections at the Scholastic school book fairs, I thought most of their books were decent values, unlike most of the others.

    • We bought a lot of the DK books at those fairs when the children were, well, children. (Okay, I still call them children, even though the youngest is finishing his first hitch in the USMCR.)

      But – I don’t recall seeing these, either. According to Wikipedia, they began publishing them in 1988, which would have been right in that time frame for me. Must have not been in the shipments they sent to my kid’s schools.

      Ah, just found one that had a Look Inside on Amazon. Hmm. The way they did this reminds me very much of my college level art history textbook. I’m not sure it is all that new of a concept.

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