For a while now, I’ve become increasingly interested in historical mysteries, beyond the alleged Roswell crash in 1947. The History Channel created a page-a-day calendar with a new unknown or puzzling historical mystery for each day. I’ve been saving the ones I find most interesting for story ideas. For Hanukkah, my aunt gave me The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Eileen Weiss about the final state to ratify women’s right to vote. In praising the book, she said, “It reads like a novel.” It’s a great book and reading it reminded me how much I enjoy nonfiction books that read like novels.
Mostly, I read and write fiction. I love good stories. But the idea of using the narrative toolbox to augment your nonfiction writing is something I’ve been playing with for a while. So since December, I’ve been collecting narrative nonfiction mentor texts for my own education and to use with students. Another fun source for ideas and nonfiction mentor texts are the BuzzFeed: Unsolved episodes on YouTube. Some are true crime but others aren’t.
At some point, everyone has to write nonfiction for school, but using mentor texts that show how techniques like metaphor and simile, imagery, and strong verbs elevate nonfiction helps make that nonfiction more fun to write and if you’re a teacher, more fun to read/grade.
Some of my current mentor texts include:
For younger students – the Where Is and I Survived books from Scholastic. For example, Where Is Area 51 by Paula K. Manzanero.
For middle grade students (5th-7th) – Bomb: The Race to Build – And Steal – The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
For 8th-10th grade – Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, In the Heart of the Sea:the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick, Into Thin Air by John Krakauer