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Blogging On History, Science, and Education

Young Nonfiction Readers

Like almost everyone else, I love a good novel; the great ones provoke ideas and images that stick. But typically I read nonfiction, as do most Americans. In this increasingly complex world, it helps clarify and explain. Perhaps that’s why we have some incredible authors writing nonfiction; it’s the literary form of this Information Age.
Nonfiction tells stories that happen to be true. You know the aphorism: truth is stranger than fiction. Well it often is. The best nonfiction engages and absorbs readers while conveying information. So I was delighted to learn that the new Common Core curriculum emphasizes non-fiction reading and writing, especially for middle and high schools. If nonfiction books are chosen wisely, it should make school reading more pertinent, and no less eloquent, than it has been.
Among my personal treasures are letters from young readers. A surprising number of them say this, or something like this: “I like your books because the stories you tell are true.”
Of the children who enter first grade, many really believe that rabbits can talk. They have no problem dealing with witches and fairy princesses. But, as every teacher knows, around third or fourth grade something big happens. The world around them begins to intrude. By fifth grade the children I know are ready for real world books and real world issues. They are ready to do research, draw conclusions, and arrive at high order thinking. We haven’t paid enough attention to that need and we haven’t been doing well, or not well enough, in reading/writing pedagogy. Introducing good nonfiction, which means letting our students read nonfiction books by our best writers, WHOLE books not snippets, is a direction change that should help make classrooms vibrate.
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