Perhaps if you’re here, you’re one of those people who love nonfiction. Perhaps you’re the type of person who, when settling down to read a good book, reaches for a biography, a history, or something scientific.
Well, good for you.
I’m the type of person who can subsist entirely on a diet of fiction; I find that it’s difficult for me to focus my attention while reading a nonfiction work (I always say reading nonfiction makes me feel ADD), unless it’s got a substantial narrative thread running through it that makes it feel like fiction. Crossover nonfiction works are particularly interesting; Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon held me in rapturous attention. I never even entered the nonfiction part of the library as a child because, well, I just wasn’t interested.
“That’s the boring part,” I’d tell myself. I’d only go there if I absolutely had to. I preferred to read about things like hobbits, tesseracts, or talking lions. Stuff that can absolutely, positively never exist.
It wasn’t until I had a child that I appreciated the beauty of nonfiction literature written for children. I had a child (a boy) who appreciated narrative, but was drawn to nonfiction. He’d study books that had detailed cross-section drawings of engines. He’d ponder over visual dictionaries and encyclopedias, soaking it all in.
In fact, his whole approach to literature was different from mine. He seemed to need books to teach him real things, to answer specific questions, and he studied in them with an intensity that surprised me.
So, as any good parent does, she encourages what her child loves best. So now, when I go to the library, I inhabit the nonfiction section. My child and I set up camp in the midst of books about Star Wars spacecraft cross sections, the Apollo missions to the moon, the immune system, and penguins.
And I’ve realized that my child has taught me a a few lessons about reading and nonfiction that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Here goes:
1. People come to literature with different purposes. Some seek narrative, while others seek unmitigated facts. And that is ok.
2. Some children have an intense interest in a subject matter, and turn to nonfiction to answer their questions about that interest. In my case, there were times when we checked out every single book our library owned about fire trucks, the Apollo space missions, and various bridge designs.
3. There is a wide range in what’s considered nonfiction. It’s not just “boring” facts written with dictionary-like prose. There’s room for a ton of creativity here. There are beautiful photoessays about animals in nature. There are detailed renderings of engines and vehicles, which exist in reality or in the imaginations of science fiction. There are black holes that speak with cartoon bubbles, prompting us to think further. There are biographies with unusual illustrations or historical nuances.
4. Nonfiction is here to stay. Jonathan Hunt wrote a thought-provoking article about nonfiction, “The Amorphous Genre” in the May/June 2013 Horn Book, in which he discusses how the Common Core State Standards will emphasize nonfiction over fiction as a child progresses through the public education system. “[B]y the fourth grade, students will read a balanced ration of fifty percent fiction and fifty percent nonfiction for school reading assignments. As students age, this ration gradually begins to favor nonfiction until, by twelfth grade, they will be expected to read seventy percent nonfiction and thirty percent fiction” (31).
What have you learned about nonfiction literature for children? Or the differences in how we approach writing or reading nonfiction? I’d love to know!
All right, Julie. Enough postulating. Let’s get to the books, already! If you’ve blogged or written about nonfiction, click on here to enter a link to your blog post about nonfiction. I’ll post them on Tuesday!
If for some reason, this form does not work for you, feel free to leave a comment or send me mail at: instantlyinterruptible(at sign)yahoo.com
Tara at A Teaching Life writes about teaching literary essay forms to sixth graders, and which teacher’s aids have helped give her refreshing ideas for the task. Also there is a discussion of a beautiful story of a family of Hungarian Jews during the Nazi Holocaust, The Last Train: A Holocaust Story (2013) by Rona Arato.
Laura at Laura Salas: Writing the World for Kids shares Sy Montgomery’s biography of the scientist and autism advocate, Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World (2012). Laura says that after reading it, she really felt that she knew Temple Grandin personally. An added bonus: Laura will giveaway her autographed copy of the book to one lucky winner.
At Books4Learning, you will find a fun discussion of the No Backbone: Marine Invertebrates Series by Natalie Lunis (Bearport, 2007). Books in this series cover marine invertebrates such as squids, crabs, and jellyfish and feature large, vivid pictures.
You might know author/illustrator Mitsumasa Anno for his math books, but Myra at Gathering Books introduces us to two other gems: Journey and Medieval World. With great attention to detail, Myra looks at both, musing: “His books are structured like little puzzles with hidden codes that the reader is encouraged to uncover as one gets to analyze its threaded, multi-varied connections.”
Andromeda at A Wrung Sponge features a review and giveaway of Mary Holland’s Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer (Sylvan Dell, 2013). With eye-catching photographs, children can follow this cute fox kit, the runt of his litter, through his first summer.
Ms. Yingling at Ms. Yingling Reads pairs a novel about cheerleading (OMG: The Glitter Trap by Barbara Brauner and James Iver Mattson, illus. Abigail Halpin) with You’ve Got Spirit: Cheers, Chants, Tips, and Tricks Every Cheerleader Needs to Know by Sarah R. Hunt, illus. Lisa Perrett (Millbrook, 2013), a practical nonfiction book that gives tips and how-tos on all things cheerleading. Because after all, you may not be a cheerleader, but as a reader, you’re a cheer-reader!
Janet at All About the Books with Janet Squires introduces An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers by Natasha Wing, illus. Julia Breckenreid (Holt, 2009). Albers was part of the German Bauhaus movement in the 1920s; his studies and experiments with color continue to impact artists and designers today.
Amy at Amy O. Quinn has a review and giveaway of Turtle Summer: A Journal for My Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe (Sylvan Dell, 2007). This “delightful” scrapbook-style journal features lots of photographs, and interesting tidbits about loggerhead sea turtles. Readers will be curious to know that the journal is that of the young mother in Monroe’s novel, Swimming Lessons, but it can stand on its own as an informative nonfiction title!
Loree at A Life in Books reviews the creepy-but-fascinating Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature’s Undead by Rebecca L. Johnson (Millbrook, 2013). Reading into the wee hours, Loree couldn’t put this one down! Really: Did you know there are “… things … that can take over the bodies and brains of innocent creatures? Turn them into senseless slaves? Force them to create new zombies so the zombie makers can spread?”
Lynn and Cindy at Bookends review Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People by Susan Goldman Rubin (Abrams, 2013). From this comprehensive review, it sounds as if Rubin’s biography deftly presents this controversial artist’s political and aesthetic contribution to the world in a visually stunning way.
Jeff at NC Teacher Stuff reviews Seymour Simon’s Extreme Earth Records (Chronicle, 2012). Readers can step beyond their mundane lives and find out what life is like in different, more extreme places. In his book, Simon discusses what it’s like to live on remote places such as Antarctica, the island of Trisan da Cunha, and the Atacama Desert in Chile.
Jennifer at Jean Little Library reviews a fascinating picture book about python snakes, Python by Christopher Cheng and Mark Jackson (Candlewick, 2012). Jennifer thinks this would be the perfect book for a kindergarten or first grade class in a snake-themed unit.
Jennie at Biblio File reviews Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London by Andrea Warren (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), an official nominee for the 2013 YALSA Award for Excellence in nonfiction for Young Adults. Jennie discusses how Warren ties the author’s life to elements of his fiction, and the historical descriptions of life in Victorian England, including debtor’s prisons and workhouses.
Ami at A Mom’s Spare Time reviews Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball by David A. Kelly and Oliver Dominguez (Millbrook, 2013). This book will be fascinating for the baseball aficionado, but this true story will also appeal to anybody.
Anastasia at Booktalking introduces a new nonfiction book that she’s authored. Targeted towards young adults, Internship and Volunteer Opportunities for People Who Love All Things Digital (Rosen, 2013) will guide high school students through the internship and volunteer process in order to find meaningful career paths.
It’s true–most middle class American kids live lazy, indulged lives in which they’re not responsible for much. Catherine at Mrs. Little got great pleasure in reading …If you Lived in Colonial Times by satirist Ann McGovern. Kids today will be surprised to hear how their counterparts lived centuries ago. No ipones or ipads?! Impossible!
Tammy at Apples with Many Seeds reviews Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City by Hadley Dyer (Annick, 2012). Now that spring has finally sprung, our thoughts turn towards spending more time outdoors. This book will inspire urban children to garden, and will give practical advice for how to accomplish productive gardens within the bustle of a city.
Lisa at Shelf-employed reviewed Pluto’s Secret by Margaret and DeVorkin Weitekamp (Abrams, 2013). In this book, poor ousted ex-planet Pluto gets the chance to speak for himself. Find out how he was discovered, and how he feels about being relegated to dwarf planet status!
Thanks to everybody who contributed a blog post to this weekly roundup! I can’t wait to dig in to these new books.