Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Behind the Books: Does Story Appeal to Everyone?

In recent years, narrative nonfiction has been getting a whole lotta love in the kidlit community. Editors eagerly acquire it. Awards committees proudly honor it. Teachers and librarians enthusiastically buy it. And yet, studies clearly show that not all kids appreciate it the way we might expect them to.

As an adult, I might read a review of a book or hear about it from a friend. It sounds good, so I buy it or check it out of my local library. I also read all kinds of blogs with thoughts straight from the author’s head and heart—no editor at all.

But most kids don't have access to any book they want. There are gatekeepers between them and the books they read. Lots of them. And as passionate and well-intentioned as those gatekeepers are, their own ideas and biases can prevent some children from finding the kinds of books that will help them develop into life-long readers. Gatekeepers vote with their wallets. The books they buy affects not only what titles end up in a child’s hands but also what books are published in the future.

I worry that the collective biases of the kidlit gatekeepers are weighted in a particular direction.

Think about it. Most editors and children's librarians and literacy educators are naturally drawn to stories and storytelling. They're what I call narrative thinkers.
But there is a whole different way of interacting with and experiencing the world. Analytical thinkers are straight-line thinkers—scientists, engineers, mathematicians, computer programmers, accountants, plumbers, electricians, carpenters. Logic, not emotion, rules in the land of the analytical.
Analytical thinkers love expository nonfiction—from car repair manuals and The Guinness Book of World Records to National Geographic Readers and books by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page—because they're chockful of what fact-loving kids love best: ideas and information. These kids read with a purpose—to learn about the world and its possibilities and their place in it. That’s what they want more than anything.

Research shows that these kids aren’t drawn to story in the same way that narrative-thinking kids (and adults) are. They don’t crave an emotional connection with the main character in a novel or a central figure in a picture book biography. They want the data, and then they will interpret it for themselves. They appreciate books with elements like patterning, analogies, metaphors, and calculations.

I strongly believe that analytical thinkers are currently being underserved by the children's literature and literacy education communities. We need to honor them by:

—appreciating the value of existing books that meet the needs of these students

—purchasing more books that will appeal to them (even if they don’t appeal to us)
—creating more books that will fuel their passion for reading. Isn't that what WE want more than anything?

Caswell, Linda J. and Nell K. Duke. “Non-Narrative as a Catalyst for Literacy Development.” Language Arts, 1998, p. 108-117.
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.

Updated in January 2016 to replace the outmoded terms left-brain and right-brain thinkers with narrative and analytical thinkers, which I now prefer.

Updated January 2018 to add references.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Having Fun with Common Core: Text Structures, Chronology

At grades 4 and 5, CCSS for ELA in the Reading Informational Text #5 focuses on Text Structures—chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution.

Craft & Structure #5

Grade 4

Grade 5

Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.

Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.

Chronology text structures are easy to find—just look at some biographies or history books. Some good choices include:

Balloons Over Broadway byMelissa Sweet

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba andBryan Mealer

The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth by Kathleen Krull

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton (illus. Tony Persiani)

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley (illus Brian Selznick)

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino

Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli (illus Kadir Nelson)

Marvelous Mattie by Emily Arnold McCully

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

Pop: The Invention of Bubble Gum by Megan McCarthy

Rocks in His Head by Carol Otis Hurst

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass (E.B. Lewis)

Those Rebels, John & Tom by Barbara Kerley (illus. Edwin Fotheringham)

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley illus. Edwin Fotheringham)

Life cycle books are also a good choice. Here are some of my favorites:
 Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights by Debbie S. Miller

Family Pack by Sandra Markle (illus. Alan Marks)

Little Lost Bat by Sandra Markle (illus. Alan Marks)

A Mother’s Journey by Sandra Markle (illus. Alan Marks)

Waiting for Ice by Sandra Markle (illus. Alan Marks)

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Hatchlings: A Guide for Reptile Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Joeys: A Guide for Marsupial Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos
What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos
Where Butterflies Grow by Joanne Ryder (illus Lynne Cherry)

The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre (illus Patricia J. Wynne)
I’ll talk about other kinds of text structures next week. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Fun: Gross Out!

Everyone knows bees make sweet, syrupy honey, but do you know how? It’s pretty gross. Trust me, you might want to stop reading. Here’s the process:

1. A field bee sucks up nectar from dozens of flowers.
2. Back at the hive, field bee vomits the nectar and a house bee swallows it.
3. Little by little, the house bee regurgitates the sugary puke and rolls it around in her mouth. As the mixture warms up and mixes with bee spit, it thickens into honey.

For more gross facts about our animal neighbors, check out   Animal Grossapedia. But be sure not to read it right after lunch!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Behind the Books: More Voice Change Game

Last week I presented you with a challenge. I asked you to rewrite a passage from Under the Snow using an excited, playful voice. How did you do?

Here’s a fantastic sample written by a fourth grader from Massachusetts:

"Would you believe that ladybugs spend the whole winter packed into stone walls—thousands of them crammed into one crack.

And that’s not all. There’s all kinds of secret stuff happening in the winter world. Wood frogs can freeze solid and still survive. Turtles lie in the mud and hardly breathe.

Wow, I’m going to go outside and take a look around after school."

Now that’s one kid who understands voice!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Having Fun with Common Core: Nonfiction Text Features

I’ve written about nonficiton text features before on Celebrate Science, but since I’m taking the standards in order, I wouldn’t want to leave out CCSS for ELA Reading Informational Text #5.

Craft & Structure #5


Grade 1

Grade 2

Identify the front cover, back cover, and title page of a book.

Know and use various text features (headings, tables of contents, glossaries) to locate key facts or information in a text.

Know and use various text features (captions, bold print, subheadings, glossaries, indexes) to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently.

Grade 3

Grade 4

Grade 5

Use text features and search tools (e.g., key words, sidebars, hyperlinks) to locate information relevant to a given topic efficiently.

Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.

Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.

The kindergarten goal is pretty easy—identify the front cover, the back cover, and the title page. Most kids are already learning this in the early elementary grades. They’re also learning to identify the author and illustrator and learning the role of each person in the book-making process. That’s something we never really learned when I was in school.

At grades 1-3, this standard focuses on identifying and understanding the purpose of text features.It’s pretty hard to find a single book with all the text features your kiddos are supposed to know, but my A Place for . . . books are a good place to start.

The image above, which you can download from my website as a slide for yoru Smartboard, highlights the text features in A Place for Frogs. The other books on butterflies, fish, birds, and bats have most of the same features.

And in just a few days, I’ll be adding a new book to the series. A Place for Turtles will be released on March 1. That means that there will soon be a book representing all the vertebrate animal groups—reptiles, mammals, amphibians, birds, and fish.

My website also features some activity sheets that you can use to reinforce what students are learning about text features.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

An Open Letter to John Schu, Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, and Travis Jonker

Dear John Schu, Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, and Travis Jonker, and anyone else who wants to chime in,

Because I have tremendous respect for your passionate efforts to match the right book with the right child, I have a question for you. Okay, several questions.

It seems to me that most teachers and librarians feel quite comfortable matching readers and books of fiction, but much less confident about putting the right nonfiction book in the hands of a particular young reader.

During school visits and conferences or via email, educators ask me for advice about how to do this—more now than ever as Common Core becomes a way of life. I try to offer suggestions, broad guidelines or tips for “selling” the nonfiction books that I love, but I never feel like I’ve helped them as much as I want to.

We know that many elementary kids love collecting and sharing facts. They are drawn to the Guinness Book of World Records, for instance. But what would you recommend as a next step for these students? What kinds of nonfiction picture books would also fascinate them? What upper elementary or middle grade nonfiction is most likely to grab their attention? Or is there a gap in what we offer kids? Do we need a bridge, a stepping stone between the browsable fact books and rich, complex long-form nonfiction? If so, what might that bridge book look like?

Here’s another question: As an adult, I love some of the wonderful narrative nonfiction that is currently getting all the buzz in the kidlit world, but do kids love it? Do kids read it for pleasure or only if it’s a school assignment? And does making it a school assignment mean that children are bound to see these books as broccoli and Brussel’s sprouts rather than chocolate cake?

Forget all the gatekeepers. What are the best nonfiction books from a young reader’s point of view and how can we give them more of that?

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Melissa Stewart

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: How did the first pterosaur learn to fly?
A: She had to wing it.

Q: How did Archaeopteryx get the worm?
A: It was an early bird.

Q: Why did Gigantosaurus eat raw meat?
A: It didn’t now how to cook.

Q: What did the baby mammal say to its mom?
A: Got milk?

Q: Why were woolly mammoths banned from the beach?
A: They kept walking around with their trunks down

Looking for more super silly jokes from long, long ago? Check out Dino-mite Jokes about Prehistoric Life.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Behind the Books: The Voice Change Game

Ready for another voice game? Try using parts of the calm, soothing text from Under the Snow to write a piece with an excited, playful voice.

In the heart of winter, a deep layer of snow blankets
fields and forests, ponds and wetlands. But under the
snow lies a hidden world.

Dozens of ladybugs pack themselves into a gap in an
old stone wall.

Voles spend their days tunneling through the snow.

A wood frog nestles in scattered leaves on the forest floor. It can freeze solid and still survive.

Buried in the mud, a frog and a turtle wait out the winter.
They never move and they barely breathe.

Next week I’ll share a piece written by a very clever fourth grader when I asked his class to do this exercise.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Having Fun with Common Core: No Changes Necessary

Today we are going to look at two books by April Pulley Sayre. Both can be performed as Readers Theater-style group reading activities with few or no changes. And in the process, students can learn science concepts as well as address CCSS for ELA in the Reading Informational Text #4. Add a discussion of the main topics and supporting ideas of these books, and students can also satisfy CCSS for ELA in the Reading Informational Text #1 and 2.

The poetic text of Vulture View (Holt) makes it ideal for reading aloud, and it’s easy to get your whole class involved. Here’s a short sample from the beginning of the book:

The sun is rising.
Up, up.
It heats the air.
Up, up.
Wings stretch wide
to catch a ride
on warming air.
Going where?
Up, up.

During the very first reading, invite students to participate in the repeated phrases “up, up” and later “No, no” and “Down, down.” During subsequent readings, individuals students can take turns reading the non-repetitive lines and the whole class can continue to participate as a chorus for the repeated phrases. The result will be lovely, teaching students by example the qualities of beautiful language. And, of course, in the process, they will also learn about the lifestyle and feeding habits of an intriguing scavenger.

Bird, Bird, Bird: A Chirping Chant (NorthWord) is a energetic, romping compilation of sixty-three North American birds. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Puffin, pelican, roadrunner, rail.
Barn swallow, tree swallow, quail, quail, quail.
Bluebird, blackbird, bobwhite, brant.
Oystercatcher. Ovenbird, cormorant.

The fun, silly, tongue-twisting verse begs to be read aloud, and students will love competing to see who can read the text fastest and with the most precision. This activity works well when students pair up. It can be a whole-class activity when specific sections are assigned to individuals or pairs of students.

After students have mastered the chant, they can turn to the back of the book to learn more about each bird. Encourage students to find out which species live in your area and watch for them during the appropriate times of year.

If Bird, Bird, Bird: A Chirping Chant appeals to you, check out some of the author’s other chant books. They include Go, Go, Grapes: A Fruit Chant and Rah, Rah, Radishes: A Vegetable Chant.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Fun: Gross Out!

Ever pooped on your food? Of course not, but wolverines do it all the time.

Ever bathed in pee? No way! But it’s the Siberian chipmunks best defense.

Just imagine eating your mother’s vomit. Gross, right? Believe it or not baby jackals and penguins do it every day. Yuck.

Hansel and Gretel left a trail of bread crumbs in the woods. But that didn’t work out so well, did it? Maybe that’s why packrats depend on a trail of pee to guide them back home.

For more gross facts about our animal neighbors, check out Animal Grossapedia. But be sure not to read it right after lunch!