Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: A Personal Vent About Nonfiction and Page Requirements

For those of you who know me well, in real life, you have probably experienced one or two of my rants about any number of topics. However, on this blog, I typically refrain from a long winded rant about anything. Yet, there is one topic that will get my blood pressure to rise. The dreaded nonfiction book report. 

A friend posted on Facebook
Last report of the year, non fiction oral book report- must be at least 150 pages. We like these 3 options but before we settle, any Middle Grade Non-Fiction recommendations out there?

My first reaction was...what grade are we talking about? Any particular topics? Are we talking about an 8 year old or a 12 year old? But what really jumps out is the page requirement.

And then the rant starts building within and spews forth. 

Let's talk adult nonfiction for a moment....

Language at the Speed of Sight by Mark Seidenberg (Basic Civitas Books, 2017) -
Total number of pages 384.
Print: tiny
Whitespace: very little

Reading this book, despite my already having a decent grasp on how people learn to read, is slow and laborious. I might not finish it. Maybe I will pick and choose chapters. It might take me weeks to work through this one. 

Now let's talk about adult fiction....

A Game of Thrones ( A Song of Fire & Ice, Book 1) by George R.R. Martin (Bantam, 2005)
Total number of pages 835
Print: small
Whitespace: little

On the other hand, an 800+ page fantasy adventure may be devoured in a few days. Double the number of pages as the nonfiction title but much easier to sit and read. 

Which of these could I probably get busy teachers to read over the summer? Though there might be some who would dive in and stick with The Language at the Speed of Sight, I would have better luck getting them to read the fictional title (or a fictional title).

The reality...if I asked a group of teachers to read something for professional development, I would have more luck with something like the book below.

No More Independent Reading Without Support by Debbie Miller & Barbara Moss (Heinemann 2013)
Total number of pages 87
Print: comfortable
Whitespace: Fair amount

This is a more comfortable and practical read and takes about 90 minutes. Yet it is the tenth of the length of the fictional novel. 

So, if as adults, much of our nonfiction that we consume is sometimes a half to three-quarters shorter than the fiction we read, why do we expect that children should read nonfiction with the equivalent pages of a fictional story? 

Let's go back to my friend's post. Turns out that the teacher was expecting third graders to read a nonfiction book that is 150 pages long. And this is where I start to sputter and go all crazy. 

Let's take a look at a children's nonfiction title:

The Great White Shark Scientist by Sy Montgomery; Photographs by Keith Ellenbogen (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016) 
Total Number of pages 80
Print: comfortable
Features: Variety of nonfiction text features, including photographs

Technically by the teacher's standard, the student would not be able to read this book for his or her report. Yet, the reading level of this book is really more for 5th graders and up. And the interest level for sharks would be high. 

Here are a few other titles...

The Great Leopard Rescue: Saving the Amur Leopard by Sandra Markle (Millbrook Press, 2016)
Total number of pages: 48
Print: comfortable
Features: A Variety of nonfiction text features, including photographs

When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses by Rebecca L. Johnson (Millbrook Press, 2014) 
Total number of pages: 48
Print: comfortable
Features: Variety of text features, including photographs

Even reading both of these book, which would be a challenge for some third graders, would not come close to the amount of pages that the teacher is requesting for her report. However, either of these books would be challenging, engaging and informative reads for a third or fourth grader.

From a publisher's perspective, books are printed in standard offset printing with page lengths in multiples of 8. So a picture book is typically 32 pages. Many of the current day, quality nonfiction for children 3rd to 7th grade fall within the 48 to 96 pages.  Much of the longer nonfiction that is 150-250 pages long are often not the right content matter or style for an 8 or 9 year old, even for those that are a bit more advanced as readers or who posses a better stamina. 

When a teacher makes a requirement like the 150 pages, s/he is greatly eliminating appropriate choices for most of his/her students and possibly creating a frustrating situation for the students. 

I have come to realize that teachers at schools where there are no librarians and little exposure to new nonfiction titles are unaware of the books that are out there and also unaware of how publishers format books for children. We need to continue to spread the word about the titles that we are sharing as part of this challenge. Stop by next week and check out Part II of this post, where I identify some of my favorite titles for 3rd and 4th graders that you can share with teachers. 

Artwork by Sarah J. Brannen @2017

Artwork by Sarah J. Brannen @2017

Don't forget to link up your nonfiction reviews