Zia Hassan

The Ephemeral Nature Of Book Genres

When I was five, there were two genres of books: fiction and non-fiction.

The distinction was easy enough for little kids to understand: fiction meant that the story was made up, and non-fiction meant that the story was not made up.

As we got older, we realized that the genre of fiction was actually much more expansive than we realized. Fantasy books were much different than romance, despite sharing the common denominator of imagination, wonder, and surprise.

And non-fiction, we realized was much more expansive as well. How-to books are different from biographies and philosophy books were different than memoirs. Elementary school teachers now refer to this genre as informational, which made more sense to me as a new teacher.

But even that can be a misnomer, since all books, even fictional ones, contain information. The difference seems to be that the consequences of attaining that information can have a direct effect on a person’s life.

But wait, can’t the information attained in a fictional book have direct consequences on someone’s life? Clearly, lives have been changed by fiction – for me, A Wrinkle in Time altered my interests and how I thought about the world around me, even though it’s about teenagers traveling to alternate universes.

Also, don’t informational books also contain narratives? Most of the informational books I read nowadays seem to be chalk full of stories that illuminate the main points of the book.

Maybe it’s that all books can have the same effect on us, no matter the genre. To inspire, to encourage, to change.

So can we rid Kindergarten classrooms of the dichotomy of fiction vs. non-fiction? I think we can, quite safely. Because kids, like adults, want their perspective and world view to be changed by the stories of others. But I’ve met many a kid who claims to like one genre over the other. They’ve been sold on the idea that one book informs and the other sparks the imagination.

I think that’s false. Let’s teach kids that books are collections of words meant to be interpreted by each individual in their own way.

Let’s teach them more about how to find the relevant information to their own lives, to look for hints about which books might cause this shift in them, and to know what it feels like to be inspired by words, whether it’s a dragon racing across the sky or the Art of War.

After all, someone’s how-to book could have the same function as someone else’s travel memoir.