A Look at Expository Literature by Melissa Stewart

Let’s start with a quick activity.

  1. Make a list of five nonfiction children’s books you love.
  2. Place an N next to the books with a narrative writing style. These books tell a true story.
  3. Place an E next to the books with an expository writing style. These titles inform, describe, or explain.
  4. Look at your list. Do you seem to prefer one writing style over the other? If so, why do you think you have that preference? Do a quick write to explain your rationale.

If you’re like most members of the children’s literature community, you’re naturally drawn to stories and storytelling. You enjoy reading a wide range of fiction as well as narrative nonfiction, such as the many excellent picture book biographies being published today.


But consider this: Many children see things differently. They connect more strongly with expository texts, and they’re most likely to develop a love of reading if they have access to fact-filled books with clear main ideas and supporting details. They’re captivated by books that include patterns, analogies, concepts, and calculations. As they read, their goal is to gather information so that they can learn about the world and how it works. They want to understand the past and the present, so they can envision the future stretching out before them.



But that’s not the only reason to fill schools and libraries with a diverse array of finely-crafted expository books. Expository text is the style of nonfiction writing students will be required to produce most frequently throughout their school years and in their future jobs. Whether they’re working on a report, a thesis, a business proposal, or a company newsletter, they’ll need to craft expository prose that’s clear, logical, and interesting. High-quality expository children’s books make ideal mentor texts for modeling these skills.



What differentiates finely-crafted expository literature from expository books of lesser quality? Besides being meticulously researched and fully faithful to the facts, these titles feature captivating art, dynamic design, and a creative and well executed mix of the following text characteristics:

—strong voice

—carefully chosen point of view

—innovative text structure

—purposeful text format

—rich, engaging language, such as vivid verbs, meaningful comparisons, and language devices.


Here’s a list of 50 recently published and forthcoming books that meet these criteria:


Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)


Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)


A Beetle Is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston (Chronicle, 2016)


Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2012)


A Black Hole is NOT a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano (Charlesbridge, 2012).


Bone by Bone by Sara Levine (Millbrook Press, 2013)


Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2014)


Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee (Bloomsbury, 2016)


Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart (Beach Lane, 2017)


Creature Features: Twenty-Five Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)


The Deadliest Creature in the World by Brenda Z. Guiberson (Holt, 2016)


Earth: Feeling the Heat by Brenda Z. Guiberson (Holt, 2010)


An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston (Chronicle, 2006)


Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)


Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart (Charlesbridge, 2014)


Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson (Holt, 2013)


How Big Were Dinosaurs? by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2013)


How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).


How to Swallow a Pig by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)


Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks (First Second, 2015)


I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos (Holt, 2015)


Just One Bite by Lola M. Schaefer (Chronicle, 2010)


Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer (Chronicle, 2013)


Lightship by Brian Floca (Atheneum, 2007)


Lincoln and Kennedy: A Pair to Compare by Gene Barretta (Holt, 2016)


Look Up! Bird-watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette L. Cate (Candlewick, 2013)


Mammoths on the Move by Lisa Wheeler (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)


The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson (Holt, 2015)


Move! by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006)


Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci by Gene Barretta (Holt, 2009)


A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston (Chronicle, 2015)


Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)


No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart (Charlesbridge, 2013)


Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta (Holt, 2013)


Octopus One to Ten by Ellen Jackson; Illustrated by Robin Page (Beach Lane Books,


Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating (2016)

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith (Peachtree, 2011)


Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines by Sarah Albee (Crown, 2017)


Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee (Bloomsbury, 2010)


A Rock Is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston (Chronicle, 2012)


A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston (Chronicle, 2007)


Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep by April Pulley Sayre (Holt, 2016) 


Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)


Timeless Thomas: How Thomas Edison Changed Our Lives by Gene Barretta (Holt, 2012)


Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies (Candlewick, 2014)


Tooth by Tooth by Sara Levine (Millbrook Press, 2016)


What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003)


What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating (Knopf, 2017)

When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature’s Balance in Yellowstone by Dorothy Patent Hinshaw (Walker, 2008).


Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky (Ten Speed Press, 2016)


Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 180 nonfiction books for children, including Can an Aardvark Bark?; No Monkeys, No Chocolate; and Feathers: Not Just for Flying. Her highly-regarded website features a rich array of educational resources for teaching nonfiction reading and writing. www.melissa-stewart.com Twitter: @mstewartscience