guest blog by Karen Deans
My two books, Playing to Win and Swing Sisters, are picture book biographies based on the lives of some remarkable women who defied racist and sexist barriers to become champions and superstars in their respective fields. They are written for children who are beginning to identify the differences between fiction and non-fiction writing. I often explain to students that my books are nonfiction, and based on real people and events that actually happened in the past. I talk about the importance of research, because non-fiction depends on it. Fiction, on the other hand, is a story that comes from the author’s imagination. It may require research, too, but it can be as fantastical as an author wants it to be.
Here are some classroom activities that will help develop and deepen an understanding of fiction and nonfiction writing. Have fun!
1. Create a classroom chart: Make two columns with headings: Fiction and Nonfiction. Ask students to brainstorm words that relate to each heading and write them in the correct column. Fiction: poetry, pretend, imaginary, fantasy, talking animals, etc. Nonfiction: facts, biography, history, index, bibliography, etc.
Create a duplicate chart and brainstorm books they have read or will be reading in class. Add them to the new chart in the correct column. Have students describe elements from the first chart that were found in the books they mention. For example, Swing Sisters is both non-fiction and biography. While it doesn’t have an index, it has a bibliography. It is based on facts and not something imagined by the author.
2. Share a Story: Have the children write (or tell) a brief story, either from their imagination or from factual events. Then take turns reading them aloud and let the class determine if they are fiction or nonfiction. Sometimes it is obvious, but sometimes it is not. A fantasy story about a spaceship will obviously be identified as fiction. But someone describing a vacation to the beach might be creating something from her or his imagination. Discuss the elements that lead to their conclusion.
3. Historical Fiction Fun: For older children, depending on their ability, ask them to identify a real event from history, such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Ask them to write some factual elements from this event, answering the basic who, what, why, when and where prompts. Next, have them create a character, maybe a cat that sneaks into the room chasing a mouse. What happens next? Does a desk turn over? Is there laughter? Maybe a servant spills a pail of water and shrieks before climbing on top of a chair. How do the real elements mix with the imagined ones?
Karen Deans is a writer, painter and owner of a decorative art business, WoodenTile.com. She has written two picture books for Holiday House, including Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, which came out in March. She has worked as head scenic painter for the children’s theater Adventure Theatre MTC. This work has taken her to Broadway, as set painter for a musical adaptation of the children’s book Three Little Birds, based on the music of Bob Marley. She is the mother of three grown children and lives with her husband and kitty in Bethesda, MD. Visit her at www.karendeans.com