Narrative and Informational Nonfiction Children’s Books: Analyzing Stellaluna and Time to Eat

While many subgenres fall within the umbrella of children’s nonfiction, there are three greater subgenres that just about all nonfiction children’s books can fit within the context of informational, narrative, and poetry (McMath et al., 1998). Within these primary subgenres, nonfiction books can be broken down even further into categories and genres such as board books, lift-the-flap books, self-help, science, biography, and more.

The previously discussed writings of McMath et al., Yopp and Yopp (2012), and Stewart (2014) offered insightful perspectives on the roles that informational and narrative nonfiction play in young readers’ development and education. Here, we apply these ideas, in addition to Vivienne Smith’s Lifting the Flaps on Information: Purpose and Play in Non-Fiction Text, to two examples of children’s nonfiction: Janelle Cannon’s Stellaluna (1993) and Steve Jenkins and Robin Page’s Time to Eat (2011). While Smith’s article primarily focuses on the power of lift-the-flaps books, much of the takeaways apply universally.

Cannons’ 1993 Stellaluna is the recipient of nearly countless accolades, including being added to the Indies Choice Picture Book Hall of Fame in 2014 (Diverse Families, 2007). Upon re-reading the story, it’s no wonder why this story of a newborn fruit bat, who befriends a nest of birds after falling from her mother’s grasp, has won the hearts of so many. Stellaluna walks a fine line between the world of fiction and nonfiction. While, of course, the young bat’s adventure is one of fiction, the amount the story teaches of fruit bats and nesting birds is not insignificant. McMath et al. put it well when they write:

Unconventional formats and approaches that are driven by a new breed of informational book writers and publishers not bound by the traditional and, too often, dry presentations of facts… The fruit bats of the world owe [Stellaluna] and her author a medal in recognition of new and improved attitudes toward fruit bats. Again, the facts are accurate but we cannot be certain that bats and birds talk (p. 21).

In this way, Stellaluna blends the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction–a defining characteristic of the narrative nonfiction subgenre mentioned…

Amanda Fisher-Katz-Keohane