Friday, November 16, 2018

NCTE Handout: Giving Fact-loving Kids a Voice: Using Expository Nonfiction as Mentor Texts

Description: You may not love expository nonfiction, but many of your students do. It motivates fact-loving kids to read and write, and it can help ALL students develop informational writing skills. In this session, five highly-regarded educators share creative ideas for using finely-crafted expository nonfiction children’s books in writer’s workshop.

Here is a list of the books we discussed:
Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle by Cheryl Bardoe (Charlesbridge, 2015)

Born in the Wild: Baby Animals and their Parents by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2014)

Can an Aardvark Bark? By Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane, 2017)

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen (Charlesbridge, 2014)

Forgotten Bones: Uncovering a Slave Cemetery by Lois Miner Huey (Millbrook Press, 2015)

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson and Gennady Spirin (Holt, 2013)

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman and Isabel Greenberg (Greenwillow Books, 2017)

If Polar Bears Disappeared by Lily Williams (2018)

Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown (David Fickling Books, 2016)

Look at Me! How to Attract Attention in the Animal World by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page (HMH Books, 2018)

Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Thomas F. Yezerski (FSG, 2011)

The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson and Gennady Spirin (Holt, 2015)

Otters Love to Play by Jonathan London and Meilo So (Candlewick, 2016)

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith and Wendy Anderson Halperin (Peachtree, 2012)

Red Alert! Endangered Animals Around the World by Catherine Barr and Anne Wilson (Charlesbridge, 2018)

Rodent Rascals by Roxie Munro (Holiday House, 2018)

Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep by April Pulley Sayre and Steve Jenkins (Holt, 2016)

Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre and Late Endle (Charlesbridge, 2008)

Water Land by Christy Hale (Roaring Brook, 2018)

Wonderful Winter: All Kind of Winter Facts and Fun by Bruce Goldstone (Holt, 2016)
Alyson Beecher is an educator and school administrator. She works with Glendale Unified School District in the Early Education and Extended Learning Programs. She has worked as a Special Education Inclusion Teacher, Special Education Administrator, Elementary Principal, and District Curriculum Specialist. She loves reading and getting books into the hands of children and hosts the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy. She serves on the American Library Association's Schneider Family Book Award Committee. Twitter: @alysonbeecher

Mary Ann Cappiello is a professor at Lesley University.  Along with Erika, she is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets, Teaching to Complexity, and a forthcoming book with Stenhouse Publishers. She blogs at "The Classroom Bookshelf," a School Library Journal blog and has been on NCTE's Orbis Pictus Committee since 2015. Twitter: @MA_Cappiello

Erika Thulin Dawes is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University, where she strives to equip teachers with a passion for children's literature and a wealth of creative strategies for using books in the classroom. Having worked as a classroom teacher, a reading specialist, and a literacy supervisor, she knows that great teachers and great librarians inspire lifelong readers. Erika is co-author of Teaching with Text Sets and Teaching to Complexity: A Framework for Evaluating Literary and Content-Area Texts. Twitter: @erikadawes

Stacey Shubitz is an independent literacy consultant and a former elementary school teacher. She's the author Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts and the co-author of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. Her next book, Welcome to Writing Workshop, will be published by Stenhouse Publishers this winter. She has blogged at Two Writing Teachers, a blog solely devoted to the teaching of writing, since 2007. Twitter: @sshubitz.

Terrell Young is professor of children's literature at Brigham Young University. He has published numerous articles and has coauthored or coedited several books including Deepening Students' Mathematical Understanding with Children's Literature . Terry currently serves as the president of the United States Board on Books for Young People. He has served on numerous book award selection committees, including the Newbery Medal.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Mara Rockliff

When my daughter was ten, I brought home an award-winning documentary about a high school jazz band competition. My daughter played trumpet, and I thought she’d be inspired seeing older students play. Instead, I watched her face fall as we both slowly realized that the filmmakers had totally excluded girls. Only boys were interviewed; when a band played, the camera cut away from girls and focused on the boys. In our town, school bands had at least as many girls as boys. But in this film, girls who played jazz simply did not exist.

That film failed to inspire my daughter, but it did inspire me—to dig into jazz history and write Born to Swing: Lil Hardin Armstrong’s Life in Jazz (illustrated by Michele Wood, Calkins Creek, 2018).

Lil was an amazing pioneer. At a time when jazz bands only hired women as “canaries” (singers), she pounded the piano for the hottest jazz band in Chicago. She was a composer, too, who wrote and arranged hit songs like “Brown Gal” and “Just for a Thrill.” And it was Lil’s sophistication, influence, and drive that turned her husband, Louis Armstrong, from an unknown trumpet player into a legend of jazz.

The musicians who played with Lil (and for her—she was a bandleader, too!) spoke of her with admiration and respect. But when the history of jazz was written, Lil became a footnote to her famous husband. No one seemed to care about her own remarkable career.

Our kids need Lil Hardin Armstrong. Girls learning to play an instrument need to know that they belong, that they’ve always belonged, that before there was a Miles or a Charlie or a Dizzy, there was Lil. And boys need to know, too, so they don’t grow into men who make a movie that erases girls.

Speaking of making movies, our children also need to know the story of Alice Guy Blaché, star of Lights! Camera! Alice! The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker (illustrated by Simona Ciraolo, Chronicle, 2018).

Alice was not only the first woman filmmaker, but one of the very first filmmakers, period. Decades before the first Hollywood talkies and Technicolor, she made movies that had sound and color, as well as special effects.

To make her movies more exciting, Alice would blow up a pirate ship or crawl into a cage with a tiger. She convinced her actresses to jump from bridges onto moving trains. She tied up an actor, smeared the ropes with food, and sent in live rats to gnaw him free.

Alice Guy Blaché was a celebrity. But once again, when the first film histories were written, Alice’s name disappeared. Credit for her films went to her male assistants, or even to men she’d never met, men who had never directed a film. Our kids need Alice Guy Blaché because, for every woman directing a major feature film in Hollywood, there are TWENTY-TWO men.   

Along the same lines, why do we remember Harry Houdini, but not Adelaide Herrmann, who was the Queen of Magic long before Houdini was the Handcuff King? I felt compelled to write Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic (illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, Candlewick, 2016) because Addie was a superstar who needed recognition.

Like Lil and Alice, she was strong, hardworking, capable, adventurous, fun-loving, and full of personality. (Unlike them, she could make candies rain down from the sky and catch a fired bullet on a china plate.) Addie made it to the top, even though she had to do it, as they say, “backward and in high heels.” Our kids need Addie Herrmann because women stage magicians are still a tiny minority, even though learning to do magic tricks is something girls love just as much as boys.

We can tell our kids, “Girls can do anything!” but we also need to show them how much women have already done. Children who love movies, music, and magic need heroines like Alice, Lil, and Addie, because when women are written out of history, we’re written out of the present and future too. That’s why I’m passionate about writing them back in.

Mara Rockliff is the author of many lively historical picture books (even some about men!), including Cook Prize winner Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France (illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, Candlewick, 2015). Here she is baking gingerbread for her book Gingerbread for Liberty! How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution (illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, Houghton Mifflin, 2015). She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and online at

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Three "D"s: A Simple Framework for Evaluating Sibert Medal Contenders, Part 3

For the last 2 weeks, Melody Allen, a retired librarian who served on the 2007 Sibert Medal committee, has been sharing the kid-friendly guidelines she developed for evaluating nonfiction books based on the ALA’s official criteria. Scroll down to read about Delight and Design. Today, she will discuss the third and final "D"—Documentation.

Fans of Grand Canyon, 2018 #SibertSmackdown
Why is documentation important? Because it gives readers confidence that the text is accurate. Members of the Sibert committee often seek out subject experts to provide feedback on the content of the books they are considering. For example, I consulted a ballet school director, a university professor whose research area was the Civil Rights Movement, zoo staff, and a state parks ranger trained in fighting forest fires. You probably won't do this with your students, but there are other ways of evaluating the content of an informational book.

Like the first two "D"s (Delight and Design), Documentation has three major components.

—Sources used

—Attribution of quotes

—Additional backmatter resources

Here are some questions students can use to decide whether an author used well chosen, credible sources:

—Is the author an expert in the topic he/she is writing about? Check the bio on the book jacket to find out.

—If not, has an expert vetted the book? That person will usually be listed on the copyright page or in the acknowledgements.

Quotations can add authority to a book or show that there are different points of view on a topic. If a book has quotations (including dialogue), the sources should be credited at the end of the book. As students review quotations in a book, they should ask themselves:

—If the book has dialogue, is it documented or was it invented?

—Is the person being quoted presented as objective or biased, i.e. representing a specific point of view on an issue?

The amount of backmatter in a book is not as important as its relevance to the topic and value to the reader. The following questions can help student evaluate a book’s backmatter:

—Is there a timeline?  A glossary?  An index?  If not, should there be?

—Are there suggestions for further reading and recommended websites and organizations related to the subject? 

—Is there an author’s note? An illustrator’s note? If so, do they include valuable information about their research and creative processes?

—What does the backmatter add to the experience of reading the book?
If a book provides solid Documentation, is well Designed, and Delights the reader with clear, engaging presentation, then it could be a contender for Sibert Medal. And that means it would be a good choice for the Sibert Smackdown or other Mock Sibert programs.

Interested in giving The Three "D"s a try? Here’s the handout I created for students.

Melody Lloyd Allen is a retired librarian who worked in public libraries and schools, and for 30 years, as the state children’s services consultant in Rhode Island. She also taught at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College, and the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College. She served on the Caldecott Medal Committee twice and once on the Sibert Medal Committee.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Applewild School Handout: 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Rethinking Informational Reading and Writing

Most children’s literature enthusiasts are naturally drawn to stories and storytelling, including fiction and narrative nonfiction But up to 42 percent of elementary students prefer expository nonfiction. This session breaks down the five categories of nonfiction children’s books, offers tips for updating book collections, and provides strategies for integrating a variety of nonfiction texts into reading and writing lessons.
I’ve written about the 5 kinds of nonfiction on my blog:

I’ve discussed the 5 kinds of nonfiction in this video created for Colby Sharp’s vlog:

Narrative vs. Expository Sample Texts

Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley and Nic Bishop (Scholastic, 1999)

Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart (Enslow, 2011)

Citations for Articles about Student Preference for Expository Nonfiction
Caswell, Linda J. and Nell K. Duke. “Non-Narrative as a Catalyst for Literacy Development.” Language Arts, 1998, p. 108-117.

Doiron, Ray. “Boy Books, Girl Books: Should We Re-Organize Our School Library Collections?” Teacher Librarian. 2003, p. 14-16.

Hynes, Myrna. “‘I Read for Facts’: Reading Nonfiction in a Fictional World.” Language Arts, 2000, p. 485-495.

Mohr, Kathleen A. J. “Children’s Choices for Recreational Reading: A Three-Part Investigation of Selection Preferences, Rationales, and Processes.” Journal of Literacy Research. 2006, p. 81–104.

Repanskey, Lisa L., Jeanne Schumm, and Jacqueline Johnson. “First and Fourth Grade Boys’ and Girls’ Preferences for and Perceptions about Narrative and Expository Text.” Reading Psychology (2017. P. 1–40.

Characteristics of the 5 Categories and Activity for Students

Using Expository Literature as Mentor Texts

Nonfiction Smackdown!

Upper elementary students read two nonfiction books on the same topic. Then they evaluate and compare the two titles, recording their thinking on a worksheet that other students can use to help them make book choices.
Sibert Smackdown!
Similar to Nonfiction Smackdown!, but books are selected from a list of picture books contenders that I compile on my website. The worksheet uses a kid-friendly version of the criteria considered by the real Sibert committee. Several librarians have also used their own creative ideas to record students’ thinking, such as Padlet, Flipgrid, posters, and voting forms where students write the rationale for their choice.
March Madness Nonfiction
Inspired by the annual March Madness basketball tournament, students participate in a month-long, whole-school activity to select their favorite nonfiction title. Can be combined with the Nonfiction Smackdown!

“March Madness has not only created an energy and excitement for read aloud; it has also exposed students to more nonfiction. [It has been] a springboard for discussions of text features and structures, vocabulary and author's purpose.” –Instructional Coach

“I like that these nonfiction books really make you think about things for a while and then sometimes your thinking changes.” –Fifth-grade student

Same Structure, New Topic
Students read a selection of my books and chose one to use as a mentor text. They created a book that emulated the structure and style of my book but presented information about a different topic.

Choosing Presentation Style
Students read mentor texts with a range of presentation styles, including narrative nonfiction, expository articles, infographics with expository text. Then they choose one style and use it to present information on a topic of their choice.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Deborah Heiligman

Tom Wolfe, the journalist who died earlier this year, said that every writer has a word or a phrase that is that writer’s theme. Wolfe’s was, not surprisingly, “status.”

About ten years ago, my husband heard him say this at a talk, and asked me, do you know your theme? I didn’t have to think about it; I answered immediately: “Only connect.” It’s the epigraph to the E.M. Forster novel, Howard’s End.

For me, life is all about connecting to other people. When I look back at my books—my “books from the heart” and books on assignment, or projects too good to turn down--I realize that I always write about connection.

Sometimes I write about connections between people and animals (most notably so far in three fiction picture books I’ve written about my Golden Retriever, Tinka) or people and plants (a middle grade biography about Barbara McClintock published almost 20 years ago, and a current picture book project about her). The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdős, is about the connection of a boy with numbers. His connection with numbers led him to connect with people.

But usually I write about connections between people. In my last two YA nonfiction books, that connection is right in the title: Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith and Vincent and Theo: The van Gogh Brothers. It was the process of researching and writing the books that gave me a deep understanding of the connection between those pairs.

Why is “only connect” my theme? I’m a people person through and through. I got that from my mother, through both nature and nurture. Her favorite activity was people-watching.

From the time I was very young, I’d sit next to her—in a restaurant, a hotel lobby, on a beach—and people-watch. She’d point out someone to me, discreetly, and we’d try to figure out that person’s story. We’d suggest names and nationalities to each other, wonder about everything about him or her. My mother had a curiosity about everyone, a curiosity born from love for people—and story.

My mother had a lot of friends, and she made friends with strangers, getting to know them and their stories.  I watched—and learned.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the beginning of my life as a writer.

My mother died when I was just 34. A few days later, a neighbor I didn’t know ran across the street to tell me about my mother, how much she would miss her. She said, smiling, tears running down her face, I always felt seen by her. Yes. That was my mother.   

As fate would have it, I had to write a book, on deadline, right after my mother died. That book, From Caterpillar to Butterfly, was reminiscent of the very first book I checked out of my elementary school library, What is a Butterfly.

I had a vivid memory of my mother reading that book to me, on my childhood bed. And so I researched and wrote, grieving. I told the story of a classroom of children watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly, based on my son’s preschool class. But I was really writing about my mother, her life, and her death. That book is about my connection to her, and my letting her go. I’m sure nobody realizes it, but it is.       

My father died five years after my mom. Cleaning out the house, I found multiple copies of Writers Digest, with notes in my mother’s handwriting. What? I asked her best friend, and she told me, Oh yes, your mother always wanted to be a writer. My mother never told me that, not even after I had published my first book. I guess she wanted me to have my own dream, not hers.

But she’s the one who gave it to me, I now realize. Her death, just as I was coming into my own as an adult, affected me greatly. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. I think that’s another reason I love writing about connections. My primary connection was terminated before I was ready, and I think I try to make up for that every day, with how I love, and what I write. 

Deborah Heiligman is the author of 31 books, most of them nonfiction. Her most recent, VINCENT AND THEO: THE VAN GOGH BROTHERS, won the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for nonfiction, the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for nonfiction, and a Printz Honor. Please visit for more information.


Friday, November 2, 2018

The Three "D"s: A Simple Framework for Evaluating Sibert Medal Contenders, Part 2

Last week Melody Allen, a retired librarian who served on the 2007 Sibert Medal committee, began sharing the kid-friendly guidelines she developed for evaluating nonfiction books based on the ALA’s official criteria. Scroll down to read about the first criterion (Delight) and view the handout Melody created for young Sibert judges. Today, she will discuss the second "D"—Design.

Students in NewYork (left) and Illinois (right)
taking part in #SibertSmackdown activities
After students decide that a book Delights them, they should take a closer look at the Design, which has three components.

— Organization

— Graphics

— Layout

An informational book should be organized to aid the reader in understanding the subject. This can mean breaking the text into chapters and subsections with guiding headings.  It can also mean choosing a text structure that conveys the content in a clear and interesting way. Here are some questions that can help students think about organization:

—Does the book’s organization help you? 

—Does the book start with familiar or basic information and then add new information? 

—Is there a dramatic opening that shows you the relevance of the topic? 

—Can you locate bits of information using a table of contents, headings, and an index?

Graphics play an important role in children’s nonfiction, often conveying or reinforcing content in critical ways. Here are some questions that can help students evaluate the visual elements that accompany the text:

—Are graphic images captioned and well placed near the text that they illustrate? 

—When the illustrator chooses to use black & white, color, collage, photographs, or other styles, do these choices enhance the images and clarify the information being described?  For example, sometimes black & white drawings are clearer than a photo with a distracting background (a drawn leaf vs. a photo of trees). 

—Do illustrations avoid gender stereotypes and reflect a diverse society? 

—Does the inclusion of features such as maps and diagrams support visual learners?
Like graphics, layout plays a significant role in nonfiction books for children. It is often complex and multi-faceted. Many informational books are rich in text features or include several layers of text, offering children multiple points of entry and ways of accessing the content. The following questions can help students as they consider a book’s layout:

—Is the layout confusing or distracting? 

—If there is a “character” who guides the reader or makes commentary (often humorous), is this a fun way to maintain involvement with the book?
Next week, I’ll be discussing the third "D"—Documentation.

Melody Lloyd Allen is a retired librarian who worked in public libraries and schools, and for 30 years, as the state children’s services consultant in Rhode Island. She also taught at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College, and the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College. She served on the Caldecott Medal Committee twice and once on the Sibert Medal Committee.