Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Unimpressed Reader

At the NCTE virtual conference the week before Thanksgiving, author Angie Thomas said something that has really stuck with me:

“There’s no such thing as a reluctant reader, only an unimpressed reader.”

I love this idea, and it’s closely aligned with what I’ve been saying for years. The secret of cultivating lifelong readers is giving each individual child exactly the  books they want to read—not books we think they should be reading.

 

Much of my work involves advocating for nonfiction, especially expository nonfiction, because studies show that about 40 percent of kids prefer it because they read to learn. The best way to impress them and get them excited about reading is by handing them a book on a topic that fascinates them.

 

But as Ms. Thomas points out, for some children, the single most important criteria may be something different, such as seeing themselves in the pages.

 

And for still other students, the key that will unlock the desire to read is something else. Whatever that “thing” is—whether it’s a topic, an idea, a format (such as graphic novels), a character from a certain background or with certain attributes—educators and parents must help children name it. Then they must provide a steady diet of books that meet the child’s criteria.

 

In some cases, this is a big job, a monumental task, but it’s a challenge that must be overcome because the reading lives of the next generation is at stake.

 

Thank you, Angie, for reminding us all how to reach the hearts and minds of young readers.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Resources for Educators: Literary Nonfiction vs. Commercial Nonfiction

More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  

On Mondays this year, I’m going to be sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m going to focus on the Literary Nonfiction vs. Commercial Nonfiction article, which you can access by clicking on the Nonfiction Reading Resources icon.

This article explains and compares these two different segments of the children’s nonfiction market and the characteristics of the books in each category.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Where I’ll Be at NCTE

NCTE is one of my favorite conferences of the year, so it’s a shame that we can’t all be there in person. Still, I really appreciate all the effort that’s gone into creating a fabulous virtual conference

I hope you’ll join me and some of my nonfiction colleagues as we discuss the new anthology Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep at 2:00 p.m. ET on Saturday. I really believe it will revolutionize the way nonfiction writing is taught in K-12 classroom across the country.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

From Research to Revision, Ick! Part 9

On Wednesdays this fall, I’m sharing the process of creating my recently-published book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animals Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses step-by-step. (To learn about the whole process in one sitting or to share an age-appropriate version with your students, check out this new resource on my website.)

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been discussing the first stage of revision--how I revise on my own before sending my manuscript to an editor. You can scroll down and read that post. Today I’ll focus on revising based on my editor’s feedback. 

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Ick! is a blended book. It has some characteristics of expository literature and some characteristics of browseable nonfiction.


Like most browseable books, each double-page spread in Ick! functions as a distinct unit made up of various text features. The text features in Ick! include a main text, a main illustration and caption, a Stat Stack, an Extra Ick! factoid, and a sidebar that incorporates a sidebar and caption.

Originally, each spread also had a Math Matters sidebar. My editor thought these seemed a little too “educational,” so I suggested changing the name to Critter Challenge, but she didn’t think that was enough. We did some brainstorming and decided to rename them Putrid Puzzlers. Then I rewrote them to be more like puzzles or riddles that incorporate math. But at the next pass, the executive editor expressed the same concern—too “educational”, so we cut them completely. I was sorry to see them go, but of course, editors know best what will sell to their targeted market. 

Some of the other sections changed just a little, and others changed a lot. Here’s a typical example of comments from the book’s editor, Shelby Lees:

As you can see, she’s asked some great questions. They helped me really think through the process a turkey vulture uses to detect carcasses, so that I could explain it more clearly.  

And the revisions made to address her concerns. It’s as big improvement.

Here's the final spread:
In about six cases, the editor thought my original examples weren’t gross enough. She asked me to replace those spreads with something else. In one instance, we omitted the grasshopper, and replaced it with what is now one of my favorite animals in the book—the bone-eating snot flower worm. Isn’t that name irresistible?


And then, when the photos came in, we made some additional changes so the words and pictures worked well together. It took about 2 years of collaborating with my editor and other National Geographic staff members to get everything just right. In the end, I’m really proud of this book, and I think your students will love it.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Resources for Educators: What’s Blended Nonfiction?

More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  

On Mondays this year, I’m going to be sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m going to focus on the What’s Blended Nonfiction? article, which you can access by clicking on the Nonfiction Reading Resources icon.

This article discusses books that are a mix of two or more categories that make up the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction—active, browsable, traditional, expository literature, and narrative. 

Books that are a mix of expository literature and narrative nonfiction are especially intriguing because These books have something for everyone, AND they can help all children build critical reading skills.   

The expository sections of high-quality, high-interest blended books will captivate fact-loving kids, motivating them to tackle the narrative sections. Similarly, young narrative lovers will be drawn to the story-rich sections of blended books, inspiring them to do the work necessary to digest and comprehend the expository passages. These are the kinds of books that can help all students develop into passionate, lifelong readers.

Friday, November 13, 2020

It’s Time for the Sibert Smackdown!

The Sibert Smackdown is an activity intended to build enthusiasm for the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, which is given each year as part of the American Library Association’s annual Youth Media Awards. It focuses on picture books because they are more manageable to read in a school setting.

Here’s how it works. Students in grades 3-8 read the nonfiction picture books on your class’s Mock Sibert list. You can use the list I’ve compiled below or you can create your own list. My list includes titles that have strong kid appeal, will promote good discussions, and can be used as mentor texts in writing workshop. They reinforce the research techniques and craft moves included in most State ELA standards.  


Being Frog by April Pulley Sayre


Crossings: Extraordinary Structures for Extraordinary Animals by Katy S. Duffield

Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon by Kelly Starling Lyons


Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming


The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents by Kate Messner


Respect: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford


Saving Lady Liberty: Joseph Pulitzer's Fight for the Statue of Liberty by Claudia Friddell


Tiny Monsters: The Strange Creatures That Live On Us, In Us, and Around Us by Steve Jenkins


William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad by Don Tate


You’re Invited to a Moth Ball by Loree Griffin Burns

Will some of these books be named on Monday, January 25, 2021, when the Sibert Medal committee announces its winner and honor titles at the ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony? Who knows, but I do have a pretty good track record. 

You may also want to consider titles on the Mock Sibert list created  Anderson’s Bookshop, which includes picture books as well as middle grade titles. The last time I looked, they hadn't posted this year's list yet, but keep checking the link.

After reading your Mock Sibert titles, students choose their two favorites and use this worksheet, which you can download from my website, to evaluate and compare the books before they vote. The worksheet features a kid-friendly version of the criteria used by the real Sibert committee.


I also suggest using the guidelines developed by former Sibert judge Melody Allen. They are available herehere, and here.

I And I’d recommend reading this post, which describes how some educators have modified or enhanced the Sibert Smackdown! in the past. It's so important to create learning experiences that are perfect for your particular students. 

I’d love to hear how your students are progressing, and so would other participating teachers and librarians. Please use the Twitter hashtag #SibertSmackdown to share what you are doing.

Happy Reading!

Monday, November 9, 2020

Resources for Educators: What’s an Informational Book?

More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  

On Mondays this year, I’m going to be sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m going to focus on the What’s an Informational Book? section, which you can access by clicking on the Nonfiction Reading Resources icon.

This section includes an article about the various definitions of the term “informational book/text,” a description of the term “informational fiction,” and information about the term “pseudo-narrative,” which refers to informational fiction narrated by a made-up character, such as an animal or an inanimate object.

I hope you’ll take a look at these resources.