Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Try It, You'll Like It

Everywhere I go lately, I run into--or at least trip over--conversations about Common Core State Standards.  While opinions on the initiative's implementation vary, one thing seems inevitable: with a recommendation that 50% of the texts for grade school students and 70% for high school students be informational, teachers will be seeking out more nonfiction books for their classrooms.

"What Common Core Means for Publishers," an article from the July 16, 2012 edition of Publishers Weekly, quotes author Sy Montgomery:
"I think nonfiction has been overlooked for so long.  Kids themselves have believed that nonfiction books are just big books of boring answers."  (p. 16)
When I was a kid, I certainly felt this way.  My textbooks were boring, and I read other nonfiction primarily to find boring answers for reports (probably also boring) that I had to write.  For years I derived little pleasure from my nonfiction reading.  About five years ago, that changed when I started reading some of the newly published nonfiction titles, and found that I actually enjoyed them.  These books were not the boring books I remembered from my childhood, but books with fresh perspectives, interesting details, engaging narratives, and well-chosen photographs and illustrations.  More than just facts strung together to create sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, these books told stories, explained phenomena, and opened worlds.  In fact, for the past few years, several of my favorite children's books have been informational ones.
  • Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge (2009).  This narrative about the role children played in the fight for the right to vote is excellent, and boy, does Elizabeth Partridge know how to choose photographs that pack a punch.
  • Nic Bishop: Lizards by Nic Bishop (2010).  We love anything by Nic Bishop at our house.  (Okay I have a hard time reading Spiders, but that is just because I am squeamish.)  For the photographs alone, I would love this book. The great descriptive text is an added bonus.
  • The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin (2010).  This is history nothing like the one paragraph I remember reading in my textbook about Benedict Arnold--riveting.
  • The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani (2010).  A picture book about the brothers who invented fluorescent paint, this book actually uses Day-Glo colors for the eye-popping illustrations 
  • Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell (2011).  This picture book looks at Jane Goodall's passion for her research by focusing on her dreams as a child.
  • Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet (2011).  Impressive for the fact that it inspired me to watch the parade on Thanksgiving (well, some of it anyway), this tells the inspirational story of how the puppets in the Macy's Parade came to be.  Beautiful illustrations enhance the clear, straight-forward text.  
  • Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming (2011).  2011 was the year I fell in love with books that I didn't want to like.  I don't like parades, didn't think I would like a picture book about Jane Goodall, and certainly was not interested in reading about Amelia Earhart.  But this book about Amelia Earhart won me over.  Candace Fleming alternates the story of Earhart's life with the search for her after her disappearance, creating tension in a story that was hard to put down.
2012 is turning out to be another great year for nonfiction.  Look at just some of the recently published titles.
  • Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Mar)
  • Nic Bishop: Snakes by Nic Bishop (Oct)
  • A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, illustrated by Michael Carroll (Feb)
  • Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies by Marc Aronson (Apr)
  • Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy (Jul)
  • Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose (Jul)
  • Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal-the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (Sep)
  • The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Adventure by Martin W. Sandler (Sep)
There is not enough time in my day to read all the promising books this year.

Some of my children prefer factual books to fiction.  Without any encouragement from me, they choose to read stories that actually happened, look at photographs of fascinating--yet real--animals, and read about scientific discoveries.  But persuading those who are a little reluctant to pick up a nonfiction book should be easy (or at least easier) with all the great books being published now.

And I guess I'm going to have to finally admit that I'm a big nonfiction fan.


  1. I love, love, love Nic Bishop! His pictures are fantastic. I have really been enjoying the non-fiction picture books, too. Balloons over Broadway and Me, Jane are favorites at our house.

    Who can argue with non-fiction that almost feels like fiction? (By the way, I thought Amelia Lost should have been better recognized last year. It was terrific.)

  2. Begrudgingly, I admit that I have been enjoying them also. I loved Amelia Lost and Balloons Over Broadway.

  3. I really loved Balloons Over Broadway! Who knew parades weren't just about commercialism?