Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March is Reading Month, Tip #22: Read Some Nonfiction

Read some nonfiction!

As a classroom teacher, I was astounded by how expanding my nonfiction library changed the tone of my reading workshop. For some kids, nonfiction is their passion. I noticed that more boys were (intensely) on-task when nonfiction books were an option. Reading a variety of materials- or genre- is important. It's one way to find what interests you in the world and it can get you out of a reading rut.

Tony Stead's Is That A Fact helped me be a better nonfiction
writing teacher after I became a better nonfiction reader.
It's important to read different kinds of things.  Nonfiction and fiction require different reading strategies. Some nonfiction texts you would read straight through and others you would use the table of contents or index to find the pertinent sections.

A big a-ha for me was this: nonfiction conveys an idea and it can be well-written. It's not just a list of facts. Nonfiction is facts in a particular context. And well-written nonfiction can be gripping. (This realization as a reader-- sadly, not until I was an adult-- also drastically changed how I teach nonfiction writing.)

Also, with the proliferation in children's publishing in recent years, there are simply too many great options for nonfiction: authors like Steve Jenkins, Laurie Keller, Kathleen Krull, Anne and Lizzie Rockwell, Gail Gibbons, and Dan Yaccarino write innovative, idea-based non-fiction books. Nonfiction books can cover topics like concepts (ABC, 123, colors, opposities, etc), biographies, places, sports, animals, social issues, plants...the possibilities are endless.

Personally, I am doing my part. I just finished Peggy Orenstein's "Cinderella Ate My Daughter", which is a book that further examines her thinking from this NY Times magazine article, "What's Wrong with Cinderella?" in 2006. As always, she didn't disappoint. I had just finished a lighter fiction book and I have another heavy biography on deck, Cleopatra. My efforts to balance the kind of reading I do has led not only to a very fulfilling experience as a reader, but also to a greater professional understanding of reading and writing processes.

This experience as a reader has caused me to reflect on how important it is to get kids to expand the kind of reading they do. Reading different kinds of things builds reading and thinking "muscles" that help in other things you read.  I think it's like cross-training for readers.  And- just like a personal trainer- if I do this work myself, I understand it and teach it better than if I just bark what to do from a chair.  The only way I can teach kids to have a reading and writing life is to live one myself.

And to that- I say try some nonfiction,  It's not just for school anymore!

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