Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

The 2nd grade class is starting to learn the difference between fiction and non-fiction books. Most of the students already know that non-fiction books are “real” and fiction books are “make believe”. The question is how can they tell which type it is just by looking at the book? You have all heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”. It couldn’t be more true than when you are trying to decipher a fiction book from a non-fiction book. Can you tell which of the following books are fiction and which are non-fiction?

You might be surprised at the books that are actually fiction and the ones that are truly non-fiction. When you are in a library the easiest way to tell is to look at the call number. A call number is the label on the spine of the book that provides you with the location or “address” of the book. It tells you where the book lives on the library’s shelves. But, because library books are organized by type of book,  the call number also tells you what kind of book it is. Not all libraries are the same but most of them use the Dewey Decimal System to label non-fiction books and some sort of locator symbol to label fiction books. Here is how the St. Philip’s library works.

Fiction has one of the three locator symbols: FIC, E or YA

Non-fiction has one of the following: Number, REF or B

And they all stand for something

FIC: fiction
E: easy reader
YA: young adult
Number: example 509.893
REF: reference
B: biography

So what are the books I posted above?

Call number: 598 STE (non-fiction because of the Dewey number)

“In a simple yet informative language, award-winning children’s science writer Melissa Stewart introduces readers to some of the ways human action or inaction can affect bird populations. More than just a book about birds, A Place For Birds will open readers’ minds to a wide range of environmental issues.”

Call number: 598 ARN (non-fiction because of the Dewey number)

“Birds:Nature’s Magnificent Flying Machines looks at how feathers, body structure, and wings vary from bird to bird. Readers will learn the mechanics of bird flight from takeoff to landing and discover how wing types meet the survival needs of each species.”        

Call number: E PEN (fiction because of the E for easy reader)

Ming-Li a Chinese girl is devastated to hear her country’s leader had call sparrows the enemy of the farmers and soon announce a great “sparrow war” to banish them from China. While her village gathered to rid itself of sparrows Ming-Li vows to save the sparrow’s, one by one,  no matter the consequences.

This tale is based on the true story of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s war on sparrows in 1958. Yet Ming-Li is a made up character as are her actions making the book a work of fiction. In reality the sparrow population in China was decimated in three days leading to a growth in the locust population that ended up contributing to a famine that killed between thirty to forty million Chinese over the next three years.


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