Monday, January 15, 2018

In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day . . .

Here are four brand new titles you NEED to add to your collection:

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford and James E. Ransome
Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

Can I Touch Your Hair: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship written by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Also
published by Carolrhoda Books

Friday, January 12, 2018

Five Kinds of Nonfiction Books, Teaching Strategy 1

Back in December, I published this post with my view of the nonfiction family tree, showing how it’s evolved and blossomed over the last couple of decades.

Because it received such an enthusiastic response, last week I published a follow-up post with sample book lists. It quickly became the second most popular post ever on this blog. Wow!

Since this is clearly a high-interest topic, I’ve decided to write two more posts, answering a Facebook query from school librarian Laurie Nawor: Could I suggest a lesson for teaching students in grades 3-7 the five categories?


Introducing the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction Children’s Books
To determine students’ prior knowledge and pique their curiosity about categorizing nonfiction books, divide the class into small groups and invite each team to gather a range of books on a single topic from the school library. After students have sorted the books into at least three categories that make sense to them, compare the criteria each group used.

Next, introduce the five kinds of nonfiction books. After sharing several books that fit each category, read aloud sections of books that are about the same topic but represent different book types. Here’s one possible text set:
Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose (narrative)

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart (expository literature)

Owls by Gail Gibbons (traditional)

Eyewitness Books: Bird by David Burnie (browse-sable)

Ask the students what they notice about how each kind of book shares information with the reader? Can they identify each author’s intent for writing his/her book? What are the similarities and differences across categories?

Finally, send the groups back to the stacks to gather a selection of nonfiction books on a new topic. Invite each team to sort the books into the five types—narrative, expository literature, traditional, browse-able, and active. Did they find examples of all five kinds of books? If not, can they explain why?
Next week, I'll share a lesson that reinforces what students learned during this activity.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Behind the Books: Writing STEM Picture Books, Part 1

If you take a look at the revision timelines I created for my books No Monkeys, No Chocolate and Can an Aardvark Bark?, you can see that they took 10 years and 7 years, respectively, to create.

Writing a picture book of any kind, fiction or nonfiction, takes time and effort. To succeed, writers have to be patient and they have to be passionate. For me, the passionate nonfiction writing that goes into expository concept picture books about STEM topics starts with . . . a question.

Feathers: Not Just for Flying began with one sentence in a magazine article: “Hummingbird eyelashes are the smallest feathers in the world.”

When I read those words, my mind filled with questions. Birds have eyelashes? And they’re made of feathers? Exactly how small are they, and what do they look like?

All these questions eventually led me to a bigger question: How else do birds use their feathers in unexpected ways? Feathers: Not Just for Flying answers that question by providing sixteen examples.

The seed for Can an Aardvark Bark? was planted in my mind during a family trip to Disney World in 2010. At the time, my nephew was 9 and my nieces were 7 and 5.

One day we decided to take a break from the rides and see some of the animals in the park, including some adorable cotton-top tamarin monkeys. The informational plaque on their cage told us where the monkeys live, what they eat, and the sounds they make. It said they bark.

My nieces and nephew were skeptical. And then, as if on cue, the monkeys started vocalizing. That night my nephew asked a great question: “Do you think there are a lot of different animals that bark?” Researching that question with him eventually led me to write a book about a wide variety of animal sounds.

As I look back at all sixteen of the picture books I’ve written, it’s clear that questions and curiosity are at the core of each one. How can you invite your sense of curiosity to come out and play? You'll find some great suggestions in this fantastic post author Jess Keating (@Jess_Keating ) recently wrote for Storystorm, a month-long story brainstorming event developed and hosted by author Tara Lazar (@taralazar).

Next week, I’ll be talking about a second characteristic of passionate nonfiction. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 8, 2018

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Shelly Moody

For the last two years, my colleague, Valerie Glueck, and I have coordinated a March Madness Nonfiction Picture Book reading event in our school. We decided to center our celebration around nonfiction, as we felt it was a neglected genre in classroom read alouds.

The goal of this event is to inspire curiosity, to build background knowledge, and to put outstanding nonfiction books in the hands of our students. March Madness has grown into a collaborative event for our entire school community that culminates in school-wide assembly (complete with a soundtrack and spotlights!) to announce the winner. It’s hard to capture in words the energy and excitement about books that March Madness has created in our literacy community.

Just as Pernille Ripp spends an entire year searching for books for her Global Read Aloud project, Valerie and I are fortunate to spend the year searching for nonfiction read alouds that we want to include in our tournament. Although there will be sixteen outstanding books in our bracket, here are five of my favorite expository nonfiction contenders for this year's celebration.

Can An Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, 2017)
Students at Williams Elementary School are fans of Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins, so there's no doubt that Can an Aardvark Bark? will be a favorite in this year's tournament. Readers will explore similarities and differences in animal sounds through this engaging text. In addition to the repeating question and answer format, Stewart’s captivating facts are well-paired with Jenkins incredible illustrations. This book will inspire curious readers of all ages to ask their own questions.

Give Bees A Chance by Bethany Barton (Viking/Penguin Random House, 2017)
We love reading aloud books that arm students with facts while encouraging them to reflect on their opinions. Give Bees A Chance will stretch students’ thinking about bees and hopefully encourage them to reflect on the positive aspects of this hard-to-love insect. The narrator of this text is hilarious and persuasive as he presents facts about types of bees, the history of bees, and the role of bees in transporting pollen in order to convince his best friend of the many reasons to appreciate bees.  

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin (Roaring Book/Macmillan, 2017)
Jason Chin will take our readers on a journey through the breathtaking Grand Canyon, introducing rock layers, plants, animals and the layers of the canyon in this beautifully illustrated text. Written with incredible descriptions and details, the book also compares the Grand Canyon from millions of years ago to today’s magnificent landform. Not to be missed are the endpapers and extensive backmatter. Readers will want to spend lots of time poring over the details and incredible illustrations in this book, which makes it an outstanding March Madness contender and nonfiction mentor text.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams (Roaring Book/Macmillan, 2017)
It's important to share books that inspire students to ask “What if...” If Sharks Disappeared confronts the impact of the loss of sharks on the ocean, animals across the planet, and even humans. Lily Williams presents her argument through an adorable narrator who shares information about sharks, food chains, and balanced ecosystems. This book will be great to pair in the bracket with the narrative nonfiction title Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating.

It's going to be tough to beat Pink is for Blobfish, our 2016 March Madness winner. Students will be thrilled to explore Jess Keating's newest collection of monsters found in nature. The layout of this book is supportive with headings to catch the reader’s attention, sidebars with organized information about each monster, and fact boxes containing captivating facts. Just as students loved Pink is for Blobfish, I know they will be excited to investigate shocking facts about monsters from all around the world as they determine for themselves what really makes a monster.  

Our March Madness bracket always includes biographies, as well as nonfiction about inventions, important events, or famous landmarks. Books that expose students to rarely discussed animals, people, and places often make the best read aloud selections. The final result of our reading tournament is more than a book champion. March Madness has energized our teachers to value informational texts as powerful read alouds to share with our students. Most of all, it has fostered curiosity about our world in our readers and connected our school community around a shared love of nonfiction books.

Shelly Moody is a literacy coach supporting teachers and students in grades K-5 in Oakland, Maine. She taught third, fourth, and fifth grade for fifteen years before moving into her coaching role three years ago.  In 2011, she was honored to be named Maine’s Teacher of the Year.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Nonfiction Family Tree, Book Lists

Before the holiday break, I published this post with my view of the nonfiction family tree, showing how it’s evolved and blossomed over the last couple of decades.
And I was blown away by the response! It quickly became one of the most popular posts EVER on this blog.

Thank you for all your enthusiastic comments on social media. Thanks for your questions too. I promised you answers, so here they are:

Q: Do all nonfiction books really fit neatly into one of these 5 categories?

A: Most do, but there are definitely books that cross categories, and that’s a good thing! So why have categories at all? Because as students try to make sense of the wide world of nonfiction, it helps to have general categories that are easy to understand. Then, as children become more sophisticated readers and thinkers, they can explore the exceptions. The idea of students debating the various ways a particular nonfiction title might be classified makes my heart sing.

Q: You could have created a model that’s more like a traditional phylogenetic/evolutionary tree. Why didn’t you?

A: I chose the arrangement you see above because I wanted to separate Active and Browse-able from Expository Literature and Narrative. People talk about commercial vs. literary fiction all the time. Active and Browse-able are commercial nonfiction, while Expository Literature and Narrative are literary nonfiction. As you can see, I've added those labels to the infographic.

Q: I know what traditional expository nonfiction is, but some of these other terms are new to me. Can you provide some exemplar titles?

A: Yes!

Browse-able Nonfiction
These books feature short blocks of text and they’re chock full of photos and text features. They’re a fact-loving kid’s dream come true. Readers can dip in and out or read the book cover to cover.

Little Kids First Big Book of Birds by Catherine D. Hughes  

The Discovery Channel’s Sharkopedia

Active Nonfiction
These offshoots of browse-able books are highly interactive and/or teach skills readers can use to engage in an activity. This category includes how-to guides, cookbooks, field guides, craft books, toy-book combinations that involve building a model, etc.

Minecraft: Construction Handbook by Matthew Needler  

Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes by Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl

Narrative Nonfiction
This category typically dominates kidlit awards because the books feel familiar and comfortable to people who have a natural love of stories and storytelling (most editors, book reviewers, librarians, literacy educators, etc.). Narrative nonfiction tells a true story or conveys an experience. It includes real characters and settings; narrative scenes; and, ideally, a narrative arc with rising tension, a climax, and denouement. The scenes, which give readers an intimate look at the events and people being described, are linked by transitional text that provides necessary background while speeding through parts of the true story that don’t require close inspection.

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton and Victo Ngai

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu

The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler

How the Cookie Crumbled: The True (and Not So True) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie by Gilbert Ford

The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter

Expository Literature
These high-quality books explain, describe, or inform in ways that appeal to many young readers. In fact, a recent study shows that more than 75 percent of students like expository books as much as or more than narrative titles, and 42 percent have a moderate or strong preference for expository nonfiction (Repanskey, Schumm, & Johnson, 2017).

These books feature captivating art, dynamic design, rich engaging language, and some of all of the following text characteristics: strong voice, innovative point of view, carefully-chosen text structure, and purposeful text format. You can find a lengthy list of expository literature in this Nerdy Book Club post, but here are some of my recent favorites:

Anything by Steve Jenkins (I might just be his biggest fan.)

A Beetle is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman and Isabel Greenberg 

Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer