Often children get used to or attracted to a particular genre of literature and ignore all others. It is imperative to expose them to many, varied genres of literature. Propose the adage, “I’ll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure.” – Mae West and/ or “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Here’s some recommended breakthrough stories to sample different genres:
Magic School Bus series (fantasy and informational) and/ or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Harry Potter series (fantasy)
Goosebumps, Nancy Drew and/or Boxcar Children series (mystery/ horror)
Grimm’s fairytales or Disney stories (fairytales)
Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan (tall tales)
Native American Indian legends
A Wrinkle in Time, Aliens Ate My Homework, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (science fiction)
Compare the uses and functions of fiction vs. nonfiction texts. Discuss how they are both sources of information, but that nonfiction (biographies, expository articles, essays, etc.) texts usually are more informative because of their factual base. Talk about genres that bridge both fiction and nonfiction – such as plays and poetry.
Read a few books in the same genre (e.g. non-fiction like biographies, informational texts, etc. fantasy, realistic fiction, science fiction, mystery, comedy, fairytales, tall tales, fables, etc.) to make propositions about the genre (e.g. fairytales have things that come in threes – 3 little pigs, 3 wishes, etc.). Write these down with at least 3 details to support the proposed generalization or statement. Keep track of the different genre characteristics. There are no “wrong” answers as long as they have justification (explanation) and evidence (proof).
There are many different terms for genres of literature. Sometimes the word genre is not even used – they are also called structures or forms of literature. There are some common matters of confusion to clarify with your child. Sometimes myths and legends are grouped as one-in-the-same, but there are slight differences between the two. Also, science fiction is not at all informational – it is more fiction than science (e.g. Star Wars series, War of the Worlds, etc.). It is okay to see and use different titles for the genres, as long as the child understands the basic structures and differences in the types.
Practice planning before you read and write – study the book before you read it and plan your writing to determine what the genre is. Look on the book covers, front and back flaps, and information pages (e.g., Copyright page) to determine the genre. If you’re not sure, look it up online. When writing a story of your own, the elements vary greatly between genres. For example, if you want to center your story around an alien, you will most likely be writing a science fiction or fantasy story. Make sure to stick to the characteristics of your genre! Challenge yourself to read and write a variety of genres.
On your next trip to the video store, look at the titles of the genres of flicks (e.g., horror, drama, comedy, etc.). Compare these to genres of literature – what similarities and differences are there? Are there fictional and non-fictional movies? Yes, of course – documentaries and other educational videos are non-fiction. Challenge: Find movies based on books and see what genre of movies they are categorized as!
What is a structural difference? (something that is different in the makeup, formation, foundation, or structure)
What makes a fairytale? (they are set in the distant past; they often have an open phrase, “Once upon a time…” or “A very long time ago…”; the characters are often imaginary (e.g. dragons, elves, fairies, etc.) or royalty and have magical powers (e.g. granting wishes); they have difficult problems but end happily where good wins over evil)
What makes a fable? (they take place in the distant past or a timeless place; they are short; they have 2-3 characters that are often animals that talk and act like humans; there is usually a moral, or lesson, at the end of the story)
What makes a myth? (they may explain – not realistically – how something in nature looks or works or why people behave in certain ways; the characters are often gods or goddesses who interact with humans)
What makes a legend? (they are set in the past; they tell the story of a hero(ine); they might be based on facts and real history, but through retellings, the plot has been exaggerated and some facts are distorted)
What makes a fantasy? (they are set in a place that doesn’t exist in the real world and has events that couldn’t happen in the real world with characters – people, animals, objects, creatures, etc. – that are able to do things they couldn’t do in the real world)
What makes a “tall tale”? (they are set in the recent or distant past; they use humorous exaggeration to tell the adventures of a fictional, or sometimes nonfictional, character; they are very creative and unusual)
What makes a folk tale? (they are stories passed down – originally orally – from one generation to another, reflecting the original culture; characters may include inanimate objects that speak; they often teach a moral or lesson; some are call “trickster tales”; action builds through repetition; has exciting climaxes at the end; goodness and intelligence prevails over evil and foolishness; told from 3rd-person point of view)
What makes mystery/horror? (a puzzle, enigma, or problem to solve; detectives of some type are the characters; the plot is usually somewhat realistic)
What makes science fiction? (based on unproven scientific idea(s); usually involving aliens, outer space, and UFOs; plot is tied to ideas of science but is fantasized)
What are examples of fairytales? (Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Peter Pan, The Three Bears, etc.)
What are examples of fables? (“The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Fox and the Grapes,” etc.)
What are examples of myths? (“How the World was Created,” “How the Lion Got Its Whiskers,” etc.)
What are examples of legends? (Robin Hood, The Legend of the Persian Carpet, etc.)
What are examples of fantasies? (Magic School Bus series, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Harry Potter series, etc.)
What are examples of “tall tales”? (Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, etc.)
What are examples of folk tales? (Strega Nona, Anansi, Brer Rabbit, etc.)
What are examples of mystery/horror? (Goosebumps, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and/or Boxcar Children series, etc.)
What are examples of science fiction? Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds, Signs, etc.)
What are examples of non-fiction texts? (biographies –Albert Einstein, President Abraham Lincoln; autobiographies – Helen Keller and Anne Frank; essays – “Why Schools Should Serve Locally Grown Food”; expository – A Children’s Guide to America’s History; “All About Birds” article; etc.)
What is nonfiction? (real, truth, factual)
What is fiction? (false, fantasy, fable, fairy tale, fictitious, fabricated, phony, fib, figment, fake, fraud)