Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Reading and Reading Aloud Nonfiction

Recently, I wrote a post about Why I Believe Every Teacher Must Be a Reader! I was tempted to call this post Why I Believe Every Teacher Must Read Nonfiction! but as I thought about it, the issue is so much greater when it comes to nonfiction and nonfiction in the classroom. It is not just the issue of reading nonfiction, which is part of it, but also reading aloud and sharing nonfiction, and the types of nonfiction that we share with students.

As I shared in my previous post that if students were to love reading and grow as readers, then teachers need to read. However, nonfiction poses some new challenges to this whole equation. Most booksellers, librarians and teachers seem to prefer to read fiction. If you go to a teacher night at a bookstore, check out how many of the books are actually nonfiction? Usually, not that many in comparison to the number of fiction books listed.  If there are some nonfiction books mentioned, they tend to be more narrative in writing style and focus on history and social studies. However, there is a vast variety of quality trade nonfiction picture books and longer form books that will inform, and delight readers of all ages and these books are just waiting to be uncovered.

In order to share nonfiction with children, teachers need to be exposed to new books and allowed time to explore and read them.  With budget cuts impacting both the human resources such as children's librarians and physical resources in terms of purchasing new books, learning about these books is exponentially more challenging than it is to find out about new fiction titles.  Even when there is a librarian available, s/he may not know how to select quality children's nonfiction and may be dependent on what is presented by vendor sales reps who might be suggesting formulaic nonfiction series.  

Where does a teacher turn to in order to unearth the wealth of nonfiction that is out there?  What steps can you take to discover this world of children's nonfiction?

Tips for getting started with reading more children's nonfiction:

  1. Just like with fiction, set a goal to read more children's nonfiction. Even one new nonfiction book a week or a month will expose you to a world of new books. And you will be amazed by the richness and depth that can be found in the world of children's nonfiction these days. As you read, you will discover more and more books that will be a perfect match with children you work with and support instructional goals.
  2. Follow blogs like The Nonfiction Detectives or the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge (right here on Wednesdays) to learn about new book releases or to see how other teachers and librarians are incorporating nonfiction into their reading lives and classrooms.
  3. Explore new to you titles on lists like the Robert F. Sibert Award (ALA) list or the Orbis Pictus Award (NCTE) or NSTA's Outstanding Trade Books list to name a few.  The books on these lists are carefully considered and selected by committees who read widely in the area of nonfiction.
  4. Connect on-line with other teachers and librarians through things like GoodReads or Twitter (#nfpb2015). 

Five considerations for including nonfiction as a read aloud

1.  If you are hesitant to begin with nonfiction as a read aloud, look to narrative nonfiction stories such as biographies as a place to start. As one example, you can use a biography like Pablo Neruda Poet to the People by Monica Brown as an introduction to a fiction read aloud like The Dreamer by Pamela Muñoz Ryan. 

2.  Hybrid books that blend a narrative fiction story with accompanying expository facts can provide a teacher with the comfort of reading a story while introducing students to fascinating information, as well as different writing styles.  Nicola Davie's new book I (Don't) Like Snakes is a great example of this. 

3.  Expository nonfiction has been changing and high quality expository nonfiction is rich with descriptive language and engaging topics. Just pick up a book like A Nest is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston to see what I mean.

4.  Nonfiction can sometimes lend itself to shorter read alouds. If you only have a few minutes to read aloud, try something like Creature Features by Steve Jenkins. You can read 1 or 2 questions and their corresponding responses in the few minutes before lunch or during a transition point. 

5.  Finally, consider using nonfiction as mentor texts to explore writing styles and structures with students. Not only can this help students understand the craft of writing nonfiction but can provide student writers with outstanding examples of writing. Melissa Stewart's careful choice of words in Feathers: Not Just for Flying provide students with an exceptional model for writing simile. 

Check back next week for a list of some of my favorite nonfiction read alouds.  

Don't forget to link up your nonfiction reviews