Sharing Nonfiction with New Readers

Welcome to 5 Great Books! Every Wednesday I share five books on a single topic for children learning to read. This week I’m taking part in the 2010 Share a story~Shape a Future literacy tour. Since I’m also the creator of Nonfiction Monday, I was invited to write about nonfiction for new readers.

When my son was two years old, he told me he didn’t want to read baby books anymore. He wanted to read real books. So we moved from the picture book shelves at the library to the nonfiction stacks. That’s where dinosaur books were.

Most of the books he wanted to read were much too old for him. (In those days they didn’t have many young nonfiction books.) So we looked at the pictures and talked about them. I read him the picture captions and when he asked questions about things that weren’t explained in the caption, I told him about the information in the book.

The 80/20 Rule

I read once that 80% of the public library’s collection is nonfiction, and yet for young readers we so often focus only on fiction books. At the same time, we watch lots of nonfiction on television.

The Best of Pro Football by Matt Doeden

Entire channels are devoted to nonfiction topics. Look at the cable lineup: The History Channel, the Discovery Channel, the Home and Garden Network, the Weather Channel…

Tornadoes by Mari Schuh

Most magazines for adult readers are also nonfiction. It’s rare to find a fiction story in a magazine today. Instead there are profiles of famous people, health and beauty articles, recipes and decorating tips, and articles about how to stretch your dollar.

How Many Pennies Make a Dollar? by Rebecca Wingard-Nelson

Demystifying Nonfiction

Why are we so reluctant to allow the very young to read nonfiction? I think it’s because nonfiction sounds like it is difficult to read. Let’s demystify nonfiction.

A common misconception is that fiction is story and nonfiction is information. This makes it look like an either/or choice, when in fact the two often overlap.

In historical fiction (stories set in the past) writers must accurately represent the time they are writing about. This requires research, and that involves factual information. Historical fiction is both history (fact) and story (fiction). Young readers learn new information about the past as they read the story. This is why parents and teachers find the Magic Tree House books so appealing. History is taught in a story.

Thanksgiving on Thursday
by Mary Pope Osborne (Author) and Sal Murdocca (Illustrator)

Narrative Nonfiction

Nonfiction is also told as a story. This is called nonfiction narrative. That long name may be unfamiliar, until you realize it’s just another name for the six o’clock news. Narrative nonfiction is a “news story.” The stories on the TV news are often short, but some news stories, like the show Dateline, go deeper and as result, feel more like a story. It’s news, and that’s about facts, but what interests us is the story aspect, the WHY. We want to know why these people did what they did. We want to go behind the scenes, and find out more.

The Obama Family in Pictures by Jane Katirgis

Expository Writing

My two-year-old son wasn’t looking for story. He was looking for facts. (I’m sure you know little boys like him.) He wanted to know more about dinosaurs. He wanted know how to say their names. He wanted information about their sizes. He wanted the stats. Writing that explains something is called expository writing. If you’re looking for information about a topic, you’re looking for expository writing. For all those little boys who love facts and stats, these are the books you want to find.

The Pebble First Guide to Dinosaurs by Sally Lee

Procedural Books

For artists and athletes, there is another type of book you will find on the nonfiction shelves, the procedural book. These books show you “how to” do something. Cookbooks are procedural books, and so are books that show you how to ride a bike or hit a baseball. If your child wants to learn how to do something, you find these books in the nonfiction stacks. You’ll also find TV shows and TV channels devoted to procedurals as well. Look at all of fitness shows and home decorating programs. You may not think of them as nonfiction, but that’s what they are.

What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? A Green Activity Book About Reuse
by Ann Alter

Persuasive Writing

There’s one more thing on TV that is a great example of the fourth type of nonfiction writing, television commercials! TV commercials use what we call persuasive writing. They’re trying to convince you to do something. You do this as well when you ask your child to brush his teeth or clean his room. Books about healthy habits and how to save the planet are using persuasive writing. These books are also found in the nonfiction section.

Let’s Recycle by Anne L. Mackenzie

Nonfiction is Real Life, Written Down

Most of your child’s day is inside a book in the nonfiction stacks. Nonfiction is real life, written down. Today there are lots of simple nonfiction books for new readers. Nowadays, they are easy to find. Just look for the skinny books!

Don’t be afraid to take your child into the nonfiction stacks. Use the five finger test to see if your child can read the book by himself. If the book is too hard, borrow it anyway to read aloud to your child during your 20 minutes a day. (Remember the Daily 5!) Talk about the pictures. If your child is eager for information, encourage that and read to him. Pretty soon, he’ll be reading these books to you!

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25 responses to this post.

  1. Anastasia, this is a great post and one to share with teachers and librarians! Thanks! You will also appreciate Marc Aronson’s post today about the excitement of reading generated by new non-fiction books:

  2. There’s something for everyone here! The more genres of books children read, the more they’ll be able to connect the dots of life. They’ll become better writers, too. Thanks, Anastasia!

  3. Thank you for this most helpful post. You are great at simplifing writing for children here and in your book.

  4. My daughter’s school really pushes the non-fiction books and I think that is awesome! Twice a week she comes home with a new book to read and more likely than not it’s a non-fict selection. This week we read about camels and sunflowers.

  5. I’m pleased to say that in the UK there is now a fantastic selection of non-fiction titles for younger readers. Reading schemes in schools also offer brilliant texts. It’s so important to get a balance!

  6. Thanks Anastasia for this categorical breakdown of nonfiction. There were some classifications that I had never considered, such as persuasive nonfiction. You have done a nice job organizing this and providing samples of books with each category.

  7. Anastasia;
    With two young grandsons I can testify that facts… are of great interest to them. Last Sat. when we went to the library they wanted books on how to play baseball – the rules- etc. and books about animals. I think one problem is so many teachers are women and to stereotype, we are into story. I know that as a teacher I read far more fiction than non fiction to my various grade levels. Now as a writer I write non fiction and historical fiction .
    Keep up the good work! Kay

    • Posted by asuen on March 10, 2010 at 7:31 pm

      Yes, it is interesting how it changes over the years. I’ve always read a lot of nonfiction, but that seems to be unusual at the elementary school level. I’m glad your grandsons are reading it, too.

  8. What a wonderful post. You have addressed a lot of important issues.

    I can relate to having a boy who wants information :-)

  9. I love that you bring up this issue because, in fact, real life is just as much of a story as fiction, more often than not! That is why it is crucial for us educators to be examples of noticing [and telling!] the stories that get missed in the mad dash of daily life as it so often happens . . .

  10. I think there’s a persistent misconception that nonfiction is “hard” and not so suitable for young readers as fiction. That has its roots in the past, when nonfiction for kids typically had dense text and was not written to engage a young reader. Nowadays, with publishers making great use of white space, text boxes and wonderful graphics, and writers using many fiction techniques, things are so different.

    And the other thing I love about nonfiction? Sometimes, dads are far more comfortable sharing it in a read aloud. That means youngsters get special read-aloud time with dad too!

    • Posted by asuen on March 10, 2010 at 7:33 pm

      Yes, nonfiction books have changed a lot over the years, and that’s a good thing!

  11. WOW!!! This is an amazing post and has really opened my eyes! I love how you have related these books to other things we may see or do in everyday lives. Thank you so much!! I’ve definitely learned a lot in this one!!

  12. As a mother of two boys, I totally agree that boys love to read nonfiction. Thanks for the explanations of the different types of nonfiction, and the very clear definition of “narrative nonfiction”.

    BTW–I constantly refer to your “Picture Writing” book. Do you plan on revising it soon?

  13. For me some of the stumbling blocks to picking up more non-fiction are (1) my experience that illustrations in non-fiction are not as inspiring and imaginative in fiction book and (2) the text often doesn’t have the same page turning quality. When I find a book like Brian Floca’s moon book then I’m thrilled as both illustrations and text are spellbinding, but such books don’t seem to be in the majority in our library non-fiction section.

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