As educators, we often assume that young readers want fiction when they come to the library for recreational reading. And many do! We love make-believe stories and adventures that take us new places. However, not every reader prefers fiction above all other genres. Some readers love to learn facts about things that fascinate them, or browse through books of amazing trivia, or pore over illustrations or photographs in books that are highly visual and current. Nonfiction can also be a wonderful source for recreational reading, and we sometimes forget that. We do tend to think of nonfiction as valuable for cross-curricular instruction and test preparation and it is. But even there, we can be more creative and imaginative when it comes to introducing expository elements in nonfiction or informational books. Where can we learn more about the best new nonfiction for young people? And, what kinds of instructional strategies are appropriate for introducing quality nonfiction? Luckily, there are more and more resources for finding and sharing nonfiction and informational literature with young people.
You can start your week by checking out the "Nonfiction Monday" posts of author Anastasia Suen at her blog: https://asuen.com/nonfictionmonday/. Since 2013, a bevy of bloggers has been sharing new books and idea about nonfiction on Mondays, led by Suen, a nonfiction author herself. She now posts her own "Facts First! Nonfiction Monday" with a mini-booktalk and "snippet" on a new nonfiction book weekly. You can subscribe to her reviews and visit the archived posts of the entire Nonfiction Monday blog community for the last several years, too. This is a great spot to begin in finding newly published nonfiction and informational books and getting tips on sharing them with students.
Nonfiction Wednesday: The Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge
On Wednesdays, you can switch your focus to nonfiction picture books (a dominating and appealing format) for the latest information. Alyson Beecher at Kidlit Frenzy has issued a reading challenge that has motivated several other bloggers to read, review, and post their thoughts about new nonfiction books. Bloggers like Margie Culver (Librarian's Quest), Myra Garces-Bascal (Gathering Books) and Michelle (Books My Kids Read) all participate regularly and include instructional strategies and personal observations in their reviews. These are great places to gather information about new works of nonfiction that are accessible and appealing to young readers. You might even pick up the challenge and participate yourself!
Finally, you can also celebrate STEM Friday with author Anastasia Suen once again leading the charge at https://asuen.com/stemfriday/. Here, a variety of participants post about nonfiction (and some fiction) related to science, technology, engineering, and math. Active contributors include Sue Heavenrich (https://archimedesnotebook.blogspot.com) and Shelf-Employed (https://shelf-employed.blogspot.com). What great resources for finding good books to promote STEM reading and learning.
Whether you want to begin your week with a Nonfiction Monday book to jumpstart a topic or invite discussion or pause mid-week to find and share an informational picture book just for fun or end your week with a STEM-themed book to promote wonder and curiosity, here are helpful place to start. It's so great to know that there are colleagues online who are sharing their reading and thinking with us, helping us to find the quality nonfiction that will add to our collections and giving us ideas for how to use these books with young people. And that's only the beginning! Once you've started seeking out and sharing current, topical children's nonfiction, you may be surprised at the level of student interest. These may be the "just right" books for some of your least likely readers.
Nonfiction Book Blogs to Note
Archimedes Notebook (Sue Heavenrich) https://archimedesnotebook.blogspot.com
Books My Kids Read https://booksmykidsread.blog
Gathering Books (Myra Garces-Bascal) https://gatheringbooks.org
Kidlit Frenzy (Alyson Beecher) http://www.kidlitfrenzy.com/
Librarian's Quest (Margie Culver) https://librariansquest.blogspot.com
Nonfiction Monday (Anastasia Suen) https://asuen.com/nonfictionmonday/
STEM Friday (Anastasia Suen) https://asuen.com/stemfriday/
What is the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge? (of 2019) http://www.kidlitfrenzy.com/kid-lit-frenzy/2019/1/1/nonfiction-picture-book-challenge-kicking-off-8-years-of-reading
CHILDREN"S LITERATURE IN ACTION
Literature in Action: Introducing Text Features
It's not always obvious to children that nonfiction books are arranged differently from fiction books and that readers can often approach them differently. Although some informational books are beautifully written literature and can be read from cover to cover, many nonfiction books serve more as reference sources that we "dip" into when seeking answers to questions or browse through just for fun. In addition, children will very likely be required to handle more and more nonfiction material throughout their adult lives. Thus, they need to be equipped with strategies for processing this "expository text" and for focusing their attention appropriately on the important information. We can help them with that in several ways, particularly by guiding them through the use of text access features as these are used to organize informational books.
Text features provide a skeletal framework for the organization of informational text and come in both visual and verbal forms. They include the "reference aids" such as bibliographies and tables of contents, but go beyond. According to Rick Kerper in "Features for Accessing and Visualizing Information" (Kristo and Bamford, 2003), there are several major features for accessing and/or visualizing information in nonfiction texts. These include:
Visual Text Features
Illustrations (drawings and paintings)
Photographs (and captions)
Diagrams (cutaways, cross-sections, webs, timelines, flow diagrams, scale diagrams)
Tables (and rows and columns)
Verbal Text Features
Table of contents (and chapter titles)
Index (to both verbal and visual material)
Sidebars and inserts
Bibliography (primary and secondary sources)
Author/Illustrator notes (especially important for assessing accuracy and author credibility)
In her book Texts and Forms and Features: A Resource for Intentional Teaching, Margaret Mooney (2001) has dissected the typical nonfiction book to note nearly each and every form and feature of the genre. She provides an alphabetical listing of 39 text access features and includes a definition of each along with a listing of the purpose and attributes of each feature. The list includes everything from abbreviations to blurbs to prefaces to timetables. For each of the elements, she provides a "why," "what," and "features" list that can be helpful for planning a mini-lesson.
If we do just a bit of planning, we can use informational books to explain what certain text elements are, providing children with the labels ("This is called a 'glossary'"), authentic examples ("Here is the glossary from Wilcox's book, Mummies, Bones & Body Parts [Carolrhoda, 2000]"), and explanations ("The glossary is a list of words and meanings, which helps us with this subject. Here is the word 'bog.' Let's read what a bog is."). In the give-and-take of an interactive read aloud session, we can help children clarify their understanding of all these "pieces" of text. Or share Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) which is full of colorful diagrams and charts that we can use to show children how to interpret visual and verbal text features. Using high-quality informational books helps provide an interesting and meaningful context for identifying these elements. As children become more familiar with how these elements work in books they enjoy, they may be better equipped to experiment with recognizing them in their content area textbooks and with using these tools in their own writing.
These reference tools can each be presented quite naturally through nonfiction literature. Deciding which excerpt to read aloud can provide a need for referring to a table of contents. Reading aloud the table of contents can involve the children in choosing a starting chapter. Afterward, a discussion of how the author chooses titles for each chapter and why the chapters are organized the way they are is a rich opportunity for developing the thinking behind the writing and organizing of expository text.
The same kind of practice can be used for demonstrating the value of an index. This time, begin at the end by projecting an image of the index pages. Again, children can choose intriguing topics that interest them from the index. The adult or student leader then looks for the reference within the text. Show children how to read only the relevant material. So often, less able readers need "permission" not to read the entire page, not realizing that skimming and scanning are appropriate and necessary skills.
Expository text is full of all kinds of text features that can be systematically introduced through informational books. One at a time, in the context of a quality trade book, these tools can be demonstrated as the useful and informative devices they are. Jim Murphy's Orbis Pictus award–winning book, The Great Fire (Scholastic, 2006), is an excellent example of how helpful maps can be in telling a story. The scale and magnitude of the Great Fire of Chicago are vividly conveyed by the expanding gray area on the maps provided throughout the book. As the details of the fire unfold throughout the read aloud experience, projections of the maps can reveal the extent of the developing fire in a very concrete and visual way.
Other text features that can provide information and opportunity for quick instruction include the use of photographs and captions such as in Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem by Patricia Newman (Millbrook, 2017), detailed family trees and maps in The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade, 2014), and even timelines as in Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). Through a "show and tell" approach, we can actively engage children in understanding and interpreting these elements, their purpose and placement in the text, and their own responses to these information sources.
Text features can help us make better use of informational books. They can help us segment and comprehend material as we read a book or look back and look up material after we have read a book. They can enhance the organization of a book in terms of placement and sequence of text and visuals. They can also contribute to the overall design quality of the book. Imagine a book without any visual or verbal text features. Text-only could be rather overwhelming or boring. Now, consider a book in terms of only the text access features. Sketchy, but they can provide a skeleton for the contents of the book. However, children may not always pay attention to these valuable features. They may not understand the purpose they serve, or they may expend all their energies on focusing exclusively on the text. We need to help them discover these "gems" and guide them in how to use them before, during, and after their reading. Through sharing high-quality informational books, we can show children the care with which authors communicate their passion for their subject while also making the information accessible and comprehensible to the reader.
From Sylvia Vardell's Children's Literature in Action: A Librarian's Guide, third edition. For more information visit Libraries Unlimited.