Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - truths in nonfiction libraries, read alouds, and independent reading 10.09.19

Wednesdays I join Alyson Beecher from kidlitfrenzy and other
#kidlit bloggers to share wonderful nonfiction picture books.
The intention of today's blog post is to give professionals that work in the
education field new nonfiction reading material and ideas to use 
with students to promote a love of reading nonfiction materials.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but it's still something I know as truth.  We need to ensure that young readers have access to current, expository literature that is at appropriate grade reading levels and span a variety of interests.

Here's what I know to be true

  • Kids have to take tests.  Whether they are state tests or tests in classrooms, kids take tests.
  • Kids have to read the material presented in those tests.
  • This doesn't change as kids grow older.  They read and are tested on material in middle school, in high school, and in college.
  • The material and understanding and their demonstration of their understanding continues to grow more rigorous as they grow older.
And here's what I'm guessing to be true:
  • Kids don't independently read enough nonfiction.
  • Because of the lack of exposure, kids don't have the same reading stamina for nonfiction as they do for fiction.
  • The nonfiction we have in libraries may have current and outdated content.
  • We may often have biases in our own nonfiction and end up purchasing and choosing a certain type of nonfiction to read out loud and book talk most often - biographies or books that present nonfiction information but may have a narrator telling the story (please read Melissa Stewart's post here) or other narrative nonfiction texts (nonfiction that because of their narrative structure read more like stories).
  • Just like in their fiction counterparts, educators also need to be aware of what goes into nonfiction text levels and make sure readers have access to nonfiction leveled readers to practice their reading skills, especially at the primary and elementary level when developing reading skills.
I'm guessing with those statements there are some defenses that have been put up.  Before I go farther, I will make a few more statements.
  • I don't believe in leveled classroom libraries.
  • I believe levels are a teacher's tool.
  • I believe teachers of primary and elementary readers should have an understanding of levels and texts (please reference Jen Serravallo's book for this topic)
  • While I do not believe in teaching to the test, I do believe I need to make sure I am getting students ready for higher education and life.

Take a look at the books you are choosing for read alouds.
  • how many of them are expository?  How many of them are narrative?  How many of them are biographies?
  • Look inside the books.  Are there text features?  How do you read them and talk about them with your students?  How are you sharing headings?  If most of the texts you share read like a story and don't have text features, how will students know what to do when they encounter them?
  • If you are a primary or elementary teacher/librarian, do you know what a grade level text looks like?  It is sometimes surprising to see what readers are expected to be able to read.  If you don't know, find out the appropriate levels for your grade level and take a look through some of the books at that level.  Familiarize yourself with what they look like and what skills readers need to read these texts.
  • Understand expository nonfiction.  Take a look at this article by Melissa Stewart.
Take a look at what your students are reading during independent reading time.  While there should be choice during this time of day, encouraging students to also make nonfiction texts part of their choice will help increase nonfiction stamina and help them practice the reading skills they need to read nonfiction literature.  As students move into middle school, high school, and beyond they will need to know how to not only read nonfiction texts but be able to analyze and think critically about them.  Things you can do now:
  • Take a look at what they are reading - think about how you can encourage nonfiction reading during this time.
  • How are students responding to their nonfiction reading?  How are they using the skills you teach when they are independently reading?
  • Make sure you have a range of nonfiction books that encompass all the reading levels in your room.

Let's take a look at some books.  

A very popular read last year was:

Fur, Feather, Fin—All of Us Are Kin
Fur, Feather, Fin - All of Us Are Kin
written by Diane Lang
illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

This rhyming text taught us to look at the similarities that are found within the animal kingdom.  With its lyrical prose, this book reads like a story, even though all of the readers will walk away with a new understanding.  The text is engaging and the brightly colored illustrations pop in contrast to the stark white pages.  

Image result for fur feather fin book   

Image result for fur feather fin book

Another book that uses rhyming text to look at animals and their coverings:

Feathers and Hair, What Animals Wear
Feathers and Hair, What Animals Wear
written by Jennifer Ward
illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong

You can see the text is very controlled but is full of vocabulary and information.

Image result for feathers and hair what animals wear 

Image result for feathers and hair what animals wear

Compare these texts to a book that was published this year about the same subject:

Hair! by Marilyn Singer
Hair! Animal Fur, Wool, and More
written by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by Julie Colombet

This text looks at just the fur part of the animal - and mammal - kingdom!  The descriptive text, that often uses a question/answer format, has more information per page and requires readers to hold on to more information.  This book also uses captions told in talking bubbles by the two illustrated animals.  These captions add information to the main text.  Without practice reading and hearing texts like these read aloud, students will have difficulties managing these texts independently.

Image result for hair animal fur wool and more

All of these texts should be used in read alouds.  All of these texts should be offered in libraries for students to choose to read independently.  

Take a look at your own classroom library and the books you are using for read alouds.  Examine your own nonfiction biases and think about the books you have and use in your library/classroom.  Any changes to make?  

I'm always growing in my understanding of readers and all genres.  I am grateful for the many educators and authors whom I learn from on a daily basis.  Our thinking can always grow!


  1. It's a terrific post, Michele. Though I'm not in the classroom anymore, I know that students reading all kinds of books helps in their reading acumen. I hope that teachers read your post and take new action from it.

  2. Great points. Readers are all different and so it's important to expose them yo different styles so they can find the ones they enjoy.

  3. This is a fabulous post Michele. Years ago I looked into what was called the grade four slump. It turned out that primary teachers didn't use nonfiction in their classrooms and grade four is about when students have to read more of them. Thankfully more and more primary students are introduced to nonfiction text. There is so much great stuff out there now!