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January 17, 2009



I think that inviting kids to draw what they heard their parents read them is a great way of getting them involved with reading, especially for kids who love to draw.


I was one of those girls who read a lot of nonfiction as a kid. I checked out all sorts of simple nonfiction books, because I was interested in learning about the world and finding out things we weren't learning in school.

However, as I've grown older the nonfiction books that are more at my reading level (because let's face it, reading those little kid nonfiction books isn't as intriguing as it once was) are wordy and horridly boring. When I read them, I think, "Couldn't the author have told me all of this in one paragraph, talking about the subject instead of around it?"


I never read nonfiction, either... but I just zipped through a non-fiction, The Magician's Book. I was way surprised by how much I liked it, so go figure.

Enna Isilee

I like non-fiction, but generally I just like to browse the books. And, it also has to be a subject that I'm very interested about (though sometimes that doesn't even work. I struggle with non-fiction because even topics I like bore me). I recently purchased a book entitled: WHAT'S MATH GOT TO DO WITH IT? by Jo Boaler, I began reading a copy of it at my library, and thought that I HAD to have a copy of my own so that I could peruse at my leisure. I love finding new and unique ways of seeing mathematics (strange from a reader/actress, I know, but I am just as right brained as I am left). Whereas I read a book entitled HOW TO READ LITERATURE LIKE A PROFESSOR which was all about the symbolism that can be found in novels and literature and I was BORED TO TEARS.

In summation: non-fiction is hit and miss with me.

Meg Lyman

I think it's important to point out that non-fiction is not meant to be read the same as fiction (i.e. cover-to-cover). I had to be taught in college (a graduate teaching class) that non-fiction is for the purpose of presenting information. That once that information is comprehended there is not a need to continue reading if there is not interest. I think it is important for teachers to teach students to read non-fiction so they don't feel bogged down by thinking it must be read like fiction.


A friend of mine had to pick a book from each genre that the teacher focused on, read it, and do some assignment with it. I think that was a great way to combine letting kids pick books and still exposing them to all different kinds of literature (they didn't do non-fiction). I think that's really important to teach children because part of the fun (and part of the "point" I guess you could say) of reading is to be exposed to different worlds and different points of view. When kids have to read specific, assigned books, they grow bored. If they get to pick all of their books, they often pick the same kind over and over again.

Reading is such a vast resource for so many of our faculties. I think it's great that that father encouraged his children like that, and I wish more parents would do the same.

Nathan Hale

Awww! You beat me to it! I was gonna post Max's Yellowbelly to MY blog. I'm gonna do it anyway.


"I live for stories, so non-fiction has always been a challenge."

Non-fiction doesn't include stories? Compelling, stranger-than-fiction, heartbreaking, resonant, surprising, you-can't-script-it-this-way, earthy, gritty, romantic, non-fiction stories?

I love fiction too, but non-fiction stories exist and are delicious.


I love fiction, and I love non-fiction even more.

"I live for stories, so non-fiction has always been a challenge."

But non-fiction can be stories! That's why I am attracted to it (mostly history). Non-fiction, history at least, can tell a story just as riveting, just as bold, just as romantic as fiction stories. To me, Non-fiction has one element that fiction doesn't - it's real and it all happened. If one wrote some things that happened in history in a book, people would say "How ridiculous!" or "That would never happen." But it did! Take John Adams and Thomas Jefferson dying on the same day, Jefferson at about one and Adams at about four. And it wasn't just any day - it was July 4th. If that was fiction, you'd say it's crazy. Seeing as its non-fiction, the story keeps getting crazier! Adams' last words were Jefferson lives... I love that type of story because it's real. I can go deep and delve into their lives if I want more about Jefferson, and more about Adams. Stories are key to non-fiction. Absolutely key. A non-fiction book without a story is absolutely horrid to me.

And on the opinion of how to get kids to love reading non-fiction, I'm flabbergasted on how to get kids to love it. As you go along in school, the textbooks become dryer and dryer until you can't possibly stand to read them anymore. I think non-fiction has to be taught in a more fun and exciting way in the classroom. Also... options for all reading levels should be available. I remember in elementary, taking those little hardback books that only had facts about the people, but none of the spirit of their letters or the struggles of their lives. Reading a book on Susan B. Anthony, I remember reading how she attempted to vote, but the author treated it simply as a fact, not building up to the point like a fiction book would. That's the problem, as I see it. Non-fiction, popular at least, not academic, should be written somewhat similarly to a fiction book with feelings and emotions. Academic non-fiction has a place and a time, and can be just as interesting. Take Edith Gelles' Portia: The World of Abigail Adams. It is a scholarly book, but just as intriguing and heartbreaking (when it's over, you just want MORE!) as any popular history.

So that's my very long opinion. Non-fiction rocks just as much as fiction.


I've never enjoyed non-fiction because it's so hard to find nondry examples. However, as I read this, I realized I read nonfiction almost daily - how often do you google something to find out a fact, or a how to, or a recipe, or an example to show someone. I usually enjoy reading about those things. This made me realize two things: one, maybe I do like nonfiction when it's short and to the point, and two, that if you are the one looking for it, you're more likely to enjoy it enough to read it.


You make an interesting point, Felicity. I think that's the problem most fiction-lovers have with nonfiction (myself included); nonfiction books tend to present the dry facts, not the stories behind them. I like to learn, and certainly I have plenty of questions about history, but I look at a page in my history book talking about all of these battles of some war, and my mind pretty much shuts down. I'd far rather read a story (be it fiction or no--I'm just more likely to pick fiction because it's a safer bet) about someone who lived during that time period. And I think people don't realize how much you can throw facts in when you're caught up in a story, and learn from them. Fiction kind of helps that along. Writers can fill in the blanks, but still preserve the heart of what really happened. In historical fiction, that is. Nonfiction's probably much tougher, because there's so much missing information.
Hopefully this makes sense. I get so muddled with all this thinking, you know. :)


Ok, that blog is the best thing ever! I'm going to use it as an example at my next parent meeting at school to show parents how to talk to their kids about reading!

As for non-fiction, I don't read much as an adult, but in my classroom I try to expose my students to as much as possible. We use National Geographic for Kids in the classroom, and I have a pretty good selection of non-fiction books that are kid friendly. This month I've completely focused on non-fiction, and the kids love it. We read a little book about slugs and snails the other day, and they thought it was the coolest thing. Then, we read about kites and they all wanted to make fighting kites! It's so great to see them getting excited about non-fiction.

Vicarious Reader

I read everything up until I was about 8, then I stuck with school materiel, mostly. Finally, at the ripe age of 10, I started reading everything. It opened a surprising number of doors to me, which continue to follow me now, at the age of 14. I have been exposed to numerous other worlds that had only previously existed inside someone else's head; to me, that is an enormous privilege. I still love the occasional picture books, and non-fiction, but fiction continues to sustain the unplumbed depths of a (relatively) young imagination.


Two thoughts: one on the four-year-old end and the other on a 26-year-old mom's end.

My four-year-old is in love with alligators. When we go to the library, he types the word "alligators" into the computer and we chase down whatever picture books they've got--including nonfiction. It's been great to read a book about how alligators and crocs are different, how big they can get, etc, next to a fun book about an alligator adventure.

On my end, I agree with the folks who've said nonfiction needs to tell a story, too. Two I've enjoyed were Seabiscuit and Apollo 13, the second of which I taught to an English class of remedial high school juniors. It seems like suspense is a big key. Not necessarily murder-mystery-level suspense, just ordinary I-wonder-how-it'll-work-out suspense. Nonfiction has to make use of that as much as fiction to be riveting, I think. That's why textbooks are so dry, as someone noted. I love watching the History channel, especially when I can't remember or don't know how something worked out, because they are so good at building up the suspense even though the ending is already set!


I seem to know more about history than many folks I know, and it's really all from historical novels, most of them for kids. Not that I take everything in the novel as Truth, but if the book interests me, I'll say, "Hmm, I wonder if that incident really happened" and go look it up. I'm betting I'm not alone in this.

shannon hale

Meg--this is a good thought. Some non-fiction is meant to be read like a novel, such as the books Nikki mentioned (Seabiscuit, Apollo 13). But other books are more sources of information than entertainment. Reference books, guides, etc. (is there terminology I'm forgetting here? sub-genres of non-fiction?) For these kinds of books, I think Meg has it right on. Life-long readers tend to be ones who have learned the art of skimming, paging, searching.

Mary Ann, I wonder if this is something teachers like you already know, teaching students how to pull out the information they need from a text? If it's information they're curious about, so much the better.

Laura Z M

I love your Yellowbelly and Plum picture, Max! Great job!

I've been thinking about this whole reading-for-information thing, and I don't think it's a side issue, but rather the heart of what literacy is all about. Now, I'm not bashing fiction. I love fiction. I live and breath for stories. Neither am I limiting reading for information to non-fiction: histories, biographies, science magazines, etc. What I'm talking about is functioning in society. I love what you said, Shannon, a couple of posts back, that the goal is to have people "confident in reading and literate enough to navigate this world."

Although literacy does not appear to be a major problem in the United States (fewer than one percent of the adult population is considered illiterate--meaning that they cannot read or write at all), according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 14% of the adult population would be considered "functionally illiterate," meaning that they lack the skills to perform many basic every-day tasks, such as understanding a bus schedule, looking up programs on a TV guide, or reading instructions on a medicine label. And 43% aren't able to follow a map to a specific location, summarize a magazine article, or recognize an author’s purpose. Only 13% of the adult population is considered "proficient" in complex literacy activities (such as comparing viewpoints in two articles or synthesizing data and making inferences).

We've got to turn people on to reading ANY WAY WE CAN, whether it's fiction, non-fiction, picture books, comics, genre books, or audio books. We can't be fussy about it. There is no room for intellectual snobbery.

Carl Sagan wrote, "Frederick Douglas taught that literacy is the path from slavery to freedom. There are many kinds of slavery and many kinds of freedom. But reading is still the path."


I love these discussions about reading, they're so interesting! So what do you think about re-reading books? I had thought it was completely normal (I have a core set of books that I reread at least once a year), but when I mentioned this to my older brother he thought I was crazy. He said that he'd rather spend his time reading new books than ones he's already read. I re-read books as a comfort thing, when I need something to cheer me up. And to make up for the things I lack in my life, i.e. I'm a teenage girl with no romance in real life! ;)


My sons, and most little boys I know, love NF. I never read any as a child. I thought it was utterly boring. But the kids' NF published in the past 5-10 years is really good. How about the You Wouldn't Want to Be a ____ series? Or Great Ancient Egypt Project You Can Build Yourself? Or any number of Dorling Kindersley books with gorgeous illustrations on a variety of subjects? We enjoyed a NF book on the history of ice cream once. And my son just checked out a very fat book on world history that is full of pictures, maps, diagrams, and comic strips. And, not strictly NF (since it isn't true), but all those Dragonology, Piratology, etc. books are also meant to be read like NF.

I think the key is to find modern stuff about topics kids are actually interested in. I don't know what age Mary Ann's students are, but at least in the younger grades, there are kids who really want NF, and feel frustrated and thwarted because to them, reading stories is every bit as boring as NF is to some of the rest of us.

Variety, variety!

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I love watching the History channel, especially when I can't remember or don't know how something worked out, because they are so good at building up the suspense even though the ending is already set!

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