Characteristics of Good Nonfiction (page 2)
You should evaluate informational books for young adults as carefully as you evaluate fiction. Just because a nonfiction book presents information does not mean that you should not examine its quality (Broderick, 1995; Jones, 1995) and its appeal to young adults including the writing ability of the author, her or his writing style, and the tone of the book. Fortunately, many nonfiction books have factual and unbiased material, clear photographs, and writing that reflects young adults’ reading levels and interests. Unfortunately, not all have these qualities. Thus, teachers and library media specialists must read reviewers’ critiques of nonfiction and engage in firsthand evaluation.
What qualities should you look for in evaluating nonfiction? Considerations for Selecting Young Adult Literature: Nonfiction outlines a few items that we believe are important to keep in mind when selecting nonfiction books. Obviously, accuracy and objectivity are of prime importance as is an unbiased perspective, (i.e., does the book present accurate representations of people with differing sexual orientations?). Nonfiction should not trivialize a subject. As Sullivan (2000) wonders, how can one book teach you everything you need to know about a topic (as some nonfiction books claim) in 100 pages or less? Important, too, is a style and organization that is appropriate to the content, appealing to young adults’ interests, and written on their reading levels. Because some authors write a number of informational books on different topics, it is necessary to look closely at their qualifications or at the amount of research that they have done. Also, examine the organizing features such as the index and glossary. Check the usefulness of the index by trying to locate information in the book and noting whether key topics and concepts are included in the index. Whether the illustrations are in color or black and white, they should be sharp and appropriately positioned on the pages. They should also accurately portray or extend the text, and have correct descriptive captions. Credits for the illustrations should be included. An appealing and compatible book design is important to attract readers. Even the shape of a nonfiction book is important, with short and thick books conveying the impression of serious information while tall and skinny books appeal to reluctant readers.
Considerations for Selecting Young Adult Literature Nonfiction
When evaluating and selecting nonfiction for young adults, ask the following questions:
- Is the content accurate, current, and clear?
- Is there an unbiased presentation and perspective?
- Does the author have a didactic or preachy tone?
- Is there a distinction between fact and conjecture or opinion?
- Is the content well-organized?
- Are the style and tone appropriate for the content and audience?
- What are the qualifications of the author?
- Are there a table of contents, index, glossary, timeline, or other organizers that help make the content accessible?
- Is there a useful index?
- Is the information up-to-date with current research and documentation?
- Is there evidence of research in bibliographies, notes or endnotes, suggestions for further reading, and Internet sites or key words for searching?
- Are the illustrations appropriate, attractive, and accurate with appropriate (and correct) captions?
- Is the book design appealing with:
- Attractive borders
- Crisp, uncluttered pages
- Readable and appropriate typeface
- Features such as symbols and feature boxes
As we have mentioned before, one special consideration when evaluating nonfiction is the number of series books. As Jones (1995) noted, the editors of some journals and magazines that review young adult books believe that evaluating the large number of nonfiction series is an overwhelming task. Thus, elect not to review them. Other journals will review a series one time, based only on the books that are available at that time. Adding to the difficulty of reviewing, just as some series fare better than others, individual books in the series may vary in quality. Unfortunately, publishers often try to get purchasers to buy the entire series by using a quote about one book to generalize the accolades to all books in the series (Jones, 1995). Lempke (1999) cautions against series books where authors insert annoying comments and exclamation points in an attempt to be chatty or perky. In any work of nonfiction, series, or stand-alone book, the ideal is to provide a well-written, attractive, interesting book that makes even complex subjects simple enough for adolescents without trivializing the information.
Like single works of nonfiction, series books must also be evaluated for accuracy and authenticity, content and perspective, style and organization, and author’s qualifications. Considerations for Selecting Young Adult Literature: Nonfiction Series identifies some special items to look for when evaluating nonfiction series. Although it is tempting to look for well-known authors, it is just as important to determine the qualifications of all of the authors who write books in the series. If the names of well-known authors are listed as editors or consultants for the series, you should determine exactly what their contributions are and whether they have actually written any books in the series. Be sure that the books in the series are more than out-of-print titles that have simply been given new covers and a new series title; in addition, verify that the individual books are not padded with thick sections of incidental information that is repeated from title to title throughout the series (Boardman, 1997).
© ______ 2006, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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