Monday, November 20, 2017

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Kurt Stroh

I’m very honored to have been asked to contribute a post to Melissa’s blog. When thinking about five expository books that I wanted to highlight, I went back and forth between the five most circulated expository texts in my library last year and the five expository texts I was most excited to share with students this fall. Because I couldn’t quite choose, I decided to do a combination of the two...the three most circulated expository titles and the two expository titles I am most excited about right now! (Win-Win!!)

Top three circulated expository texts for the 2016-17 school year.

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)
Combine animals and “world record” style information displayed in visually appealing and varied charts, graphs, and tables and you have a recipe for a book that will be well-loved by kids. The excitement level and conversations prompted by this book are incredible.

Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating with illustrations by David DeGrand (Knopf/Penguin Random House, 2016)
A whole new way to see pink, Jess Keating’s book grabs readers from the minute they see the cover (Ewww!) Photographs, descriptions, and facts are included in each spread showcasing some of the world’s most interesting creatures while dispelling the myth that all things pink have to be soft and pretty.

Snakes by Nic Bishop (Scholastic, 2012)
Nic Bishop’s books are always loved by my students. The amazing photography gives students an “up close and personal” look into the world of snakes. In addition to the interesting facts provided, students are captivated by the large, detailed color photographs.

The following two expository texts are new books that I’ve been excited to share this year.

Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, 2017)
This playful, rhyming text is sure to delight children as they explore the various sounds made throughout the animal world. Jenkins’ signature artwork is combined with Stewart’s text, that in addition to sharing the variety of sounds animals make, explains the reasons these animals might make these particular sounds. This book is sure to be a hit with young animal lovers!

What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating, illustrations by David DeGrand (Knopf/Penguin Random House)
The second book in the World of Weird Animals series, Keating and DeGrand return with another book sure to create excitement for young science lovers. This time the book focuses on animals that appear to be “monsters” and even an animal that appears to be sweet is actually somewhat “monster-like.”  Each spread includes stunning photographs, interesting facts, and cartoon drawings.  

Kurt Stroh is a teacher-librarian from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Now in his 28th year of teaching, Kurt feels privileged to share his passion for reading with his students. You can follow Kurt on Twitter at @strohreads or on his blog Kids Talk Kid Lit. (

Friday, November 17, 2017

Out and About: My NCTE Schedule

Friday, November 17
2:30-3:00 p.m.      Book signing, Simon & Schuster, Booth 401

3:30-4:45 p.m.       The Secret of Crafting Engaging Nonfiction
Panel with Candace Fleming, Deborah Heiligman, and Tanya Lee Stone, moderated by Alyson Beecher, Room 230

5:15-6:00 p.m.       Book signing, Peachtree, Booth 300

Saturday, November 18
10:30-11 a.m.        Book signing, SCBWI, Booth 433

12:00-2:30 p.m.    Children’s Book Awards Luncheon

4:30-5:00 p.m.       Book signing, Stenhouse, Booth 615

Sunday, November 19
12:45-2:00 p.m.     What Exactly is Expository Literature?
Panel with Steve Jenkins, Lita Judge, and Jess Keating, moderated by Terrell Young, Room 229

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Overlooked Benefits of Expository Nonfiction

Today, I am excited beyond words to feature a powerful post by award-winning author Jess Keating. Thank you, Jess.

As a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, I experience a lot of variety when it comes to readers. Some kids prefer stories and narrative, while others embrace facts and figures. Both are equally valid, but as a society, we often send the message that stories and storytelling are the key to connecting with others. How do we connect with friends or share parts of ourselves? We tell stories. It’s something we’ve been doing since the dawn of humanity.
But what about the kids whose strengths don’t connect them like this?
When we portray narrative as the most powerful way of connecting to each other, we’re leaving out a lot of kids. To dig into this, we need to look at the hidden benefits of expository nonfiction. To avoid generalizing kids and their tastes, I’ll use myself as an example.
I was a “nonfiction” kid. STEM-focused. Analytical. I loved facts and figures, and clear diagrams labeling what something was, how it lived, and so on. Don’t get me wrong—I loved stories (and still do!). But stories aren’t as easy to share, especially when you’re learning the ins and outs of your social world. If you’ve ever seen someone fumble the punch line of a joke (or done so yourself!), you know that even short narratives have their dangers. Some kids intuitively grasp narrative and become storytellers from a young age. But what about the rest?
In contrast, expository nonfiction is easy to share. And when something is easy to share, it has incredible social benefits.
Think of how you feel when you’re attending a cocktail party, or some function where you don’t know a lot of people, but want to make a good impression. That’s what it’s like every day for kids, especially at school. The stakes are high. They want and need to connect socially, but for those STEM-focused, “facts and figures” kids, narrative is easy to botch. It can also require long stretches of time, uninterrupted. Yikes.
Enter expository nonfiction, to save the day. Well crafted expository nonfiction is all punch line:
“Did you know sea cucumbers breathe out their butts?”
This is a fact I share with many kids, and their response is instantaneous: they love it. But more than that, it becomes immediately apparent that they want to share it. It’s neat. It’s fun. It’s just edgy enough to sound cool. For those kids, this simple, goofy fact is more than a fact: it’s social ammunition. It’s a doorway to open a conversation, make an impression with another kid, or catapult to a belly laugh with someone.
It’s a way to express some part of themselves, or their personality, that’s handy, simple to share, and extremely adaptable. Different kids will embrace different subjects, and that’s perfect. There should be enough expository nonfiction to fit every kid’s personality and interests.
By giving kids quality expository nonfiction, we give them access to more than just facts: we give them confidence. Confidence to start a discussion or join in on one. Confidence to connect with someone who has a similar mindset. A solid tidbit that embodies a kid’s personality can be just as engaging as a new outfit, fancy shoes, or a well-timed story shared around the lunch table.
As a child, I felt a rush of excitement when I learned some new fact or figure. That fact was mine. I owned it. I couldn’t wait to share it, and more than that, I felt like I was participating in real science, just by knowing something and passing it along. It’s a remarkable feeling for a kid.
Confidence is great, but what else? We’re also sending another important message when we share expository nonfiction with students. We’re telling kids that facts alone can be enough. No window dressing, no intros or poignant endings. We’re saying that facts can be wondrous enough to be meaningful. Truth, at its core, is more than enough and deserves our attention.
This might seem like a small point, but consider that this is how many kids see the world. By not focusing enough attention on expository nonfiction, are we tacitly telling kids who connect with it that their strengths and perspectives don’t matter?   
By invalidating or underestimating expository nonfiction, we also invalidate and underestimate the kids that speak this language: the language of facts, figures, statistics, and patterns. Every kid should feel like the lens through which they see the world is valid, and better yet, exciting. Expository nonfiction validates kids as seekers in their world, and encourages them to pursue their goals (particularly in STEM fields). It shows kids that their worldview is valuable, and just as worthy of attention and interest as that of any other kid.
Another hidden benefit of quality expository nonfiction lies in its essence: with it, we say that some things are knowable. To an adult, this isn’t that big of a deal. But think back to when you were a kid. How much of your life was really knowable? With friend dramas, teachers, parents, difficult school subjects, and the stressors of life, what could you depend on no matter what? Suddenly, a solid truth feels like a hug.
Life can be tough and uncertain for a lot of kids, and solid facts and figures can provide a foothold in an otherwise rough climb. With STEM-focused expository nonfiction, we’re showing kids that something can be trusted and learned through a reliable method. Chimpanzees use tools. Earth orbits around the Sun. Every known thing builds a picture of reality that can help stabilize a tumultuous inner world.
Not all kids will relate to this, but for those who do, there’s a quiet confidence to be found in knowing how trees release oxygen for the rest of us to breathe. Expository nonfiction can be a social tool, a validating perspective, and an emotional balance.
I meet expository-loving kids every day. Sometimes they’re quiet. Sometimes they’re class clowns. But all of them deserve to feel like their strengths and world view are valuable. Representation matters, in all facets of the word. By including expository nonfiction on our bookshelves, we’re one step closer.

As a zoologist turned middle grade and picture book author, Jess Keating has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. She is the author of the acclaimed ‘My Life is a Zoo’ series, as well as the award-winning and quirky ‘World of Weird Animals’ series, which kicked off with Pink is for Blobfish.
Her first picture book biography, Shark Lady, was published this year. Jess has a Masters of Science, a love of nerdy documentaries, and a pile of books threatening to take over her house. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Stacey Shubitz

I recently discovered five new expository nonfiction texts that teach young readers while delighting their ears with carefully-crafted words and dazzling their eyes with stunning illustrations.

Can an aardvark BARK? by Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, 2017)
I’ve come to appreciate the question and answer text structure for nonfiction books. Can an aardvark BARK? goes beyond the simple Q&A structure in that it poses a question and answers it on one page spread, then devotes a second page spread to providing additional information. This means any child who is interested in animal communication will learn a lot about the ways animals use sounds to get their message across from this text.

Hidden Dangers: Seek and Find 13 of the World’s Deadliest Animals by Lola M. Schaefer and Tymn Armstrong (Chronicle, 2017)
As a mom, I’ve come to put the phrase, “it’s more afraid of you than you are of it,” toward the top of my vocabulary. However, I’ve never really explored why animals pose a certain danger with my daughter. This book gives young readers a sense of why animals may rattle their quills, raise their tails, or charge at humans. There’s a wonderful spread in the back matter called “Be Prepared,” which helps young explorers understand what they need to bring with them when they’re exploring in nature.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams (Roaring Brook/Macmillan, 2017)
I have a longtime fear of sharks, but have newfound respect for this animal because of Williams’ text. It’s an informative look at the significance of sharks in our world and lets readers think about the consequences of sharks disappearing. Despite my fear of sharks, this book helped me appreciate these predators.

Lesser SpottedAnimals: The Coolest Creatures You’ve Never Heard Of by Martin Brown (Dave Fickling Books/Scholastic, 2017)
I’m one of those people who enjoys discovering new animals anytime I go to a zoo or aquarium, or take a hike, which is probably why this book appealed to me. Brown teaches readers a bit about some obscure animals, shares interesting facts, a detailed illustration, and basic stats (e.g., size, what they eat, where they live, and status) on each page spread.

Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water around the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm (Blue Sky Press/Scholastic, 2017)
This post would’ve been all about animals if it weren’t for my recent discovery of Bang’s newest science book on one of our most precious resources—water! For any reader who has wondered how water makes it into their glass or why some areas have more rain than others, this book is a must-read.

Stacey Shubitz is an independent literacy consultant, an adjunct professor, 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. She blogs at Two Writing Teachers and can be found on Twitter @sshubitz.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

AASL Handout: Innovative Activities for Teaching Nonfiction Reading and Writing

Author-educator Melissa Stewart shares ideas for helping K-5 students develop information literacy skills as they read award-winning nonfiction books and produce their own informational writing. Attendees will go home with creative ways to support ELA curriculum standards as well as the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Lerner.

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

Real Reviewers!
Upper elementary students read nonfiction book reviews on Goodreads. Then they read a nonfiction book of their choosing and write book review, using the Goodreads reviews as a guide. After a round of proofreading, student type the reviews into the school district’s library catalog (

Read aloud and briefly discuss a picture book every day of the school year. Display book covers, so it’s easy to refer back to them for comparison to new texts (theme, text structure, voice, writing style). They can also be used as mentor texts during writing workshop. You can work with teachers to get them started and make book recommendations or you could adopt a classroom.

Text Feature Posters
After reading a variety of age-appropriate books, K-2 students use the text features in those books as models in creating their own text feature posters.

Choosing a Topic
Ideas are all around us. I can get inspired by things I read, things people say to me, or things I see or experience myself. For me, the challenge is keeping track of the ideas, so I have one when it’s time to begin a new book. I have an idea board in my office, and I use it to remind myself about ideas I’ve had.

Teachers could have an idea board in their classroom or they could encourage students to write their ideas down on the last page of their writer’s notebook. ABC Brainstorming can work too. Other ideas include:
A Wonder Wall
An Idea Jar

Why Students Copy Their Research Sources and How to Break that Habit
Why do students copy rather than expressing ideas and information in their own words? Because they haven’t taken the time to analyze and synthesize the material they’ve collected so that they can make their own meaning. In other words, they haven’t found a personal connection to the content, and that’s a critical step in nonfiction writing.


Team Notetaking
Pairs or small groups participate in collaborative note taking on paper or using google docs, so that struggling students can access the thought process of more advanced students. This activity also reduces copying from sources materials.

Sources Students Can't Copy
Encourage students to use a wide variety of source materials, including some that it's impossible to copy, such as personal observations, webcams, and interviews. To facilitate interviews, your school can develop a list of adults in the school community with knowledge in particular area.

Create a Visual Summary
When students take the time to represent their notes visually as infographics or other kinds of combinations of words and pictures as part of their pre-writing process, they will find their own special way of conveying the information. And using that lens, they can then write a report that is 100 percent their own.

Use Thought Prompts
Invite students to synthesize their research and make personal connections by using some of the following thought prompts:
—The idea this gives me . . .

—I was surprised to learn . . .
—This makes me think . . .
—This is important because . . . 

Struggling with Structure
While writing Can an Aardvark Bark?, I experimented with 4 different text structures over a 4 year period before the manuscript was accepted for publication. The timeline on my website shows the details of my process through a series of 8 video, which take about 11 minutes to watch. The timeline also features  downloadable version of 4 rejected manuscripts, so students can see what changed over time.


Text Structure Swap
After reading No Monkeys, No Chocolate, upper elementary students make book maps to get a stronger sense of the architecture of the main text’s cumulative sequence structure. Then each child chooses one example from the text and rewrite it with a cause and effect text structure. The third and fourth links are for worksheets that guide a similar activity based on the content in Can an Aardvark Bark?

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.

A Feel for the Flow/ Colorful Revisions
Typing out a mentor text can help students get a fee for the flow. They can study how the text was constructed by highlighting various elements with different colors. They can use a similar technique to look for ways to improve their own works in progress.


Radical Revision!
First graders write a piece of nonfiction. When the students are in second grade, teachers share the No Monkeys, No Chocolate Revision Timeline on my website and ask the children to revise the piece they wrote in first grade. Both drafts are placed in a folder, and students revise again in third, fourth, and fifth grade.

Authentic Illustration
After K-2 students write nonfiction about a topic of their choice, children in another class at the same grade level illustrate the text. Then the original writers review the artists’ work and write a polite letter asking for any necessary changes. This activity mimics the process nonfiction picture book authors go through when they review sketches created by an illustrator.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Out and About: My AASL Schedule

Friday, November 10
10:00-11:00 a.m.     Book signing, Penguin Random House booth #314
                                 A Seed Is the Start

12:00-1:00 p.m.      Book signing, Publisher’s Spotlight booth #101
                               A Place for Bats
                               Can an Aardvark Bark?

Saturday, November 11
10:40-11:40 a.m.      Innovative Activities for Teaching Nonfiction Reading and Writing, North 129A

12:30-1:00 p.m.        Book signing, Authorpalooza Booth
                                 Beneath the Sun

2:00-3:00 p.m.          Connecting to STEM: Science Books for Kids, North 125A-B
Moderating panel with Brooke Bessesen, April Pulley Sayre, and Katherine Roy

4:30-5:15 p.m.       Author Meet & Greet

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Connecticut Reading Association Handout: Integrating Science and Language Arts

Discover how to teach science and language arts simultaneously by building engaging, inquiry-based K-5 science lessons around pairs of award-winning trade fiction and nonfiction picture books. Even if you are science shy, you can create lessons that will ignite your students’ natural curiosity and make them eager to learn about world around them.

“Studies show that scientists spend 60 to 70 percent of their time reading, writing, and communicating. Literacy is an authentic part of science.”
—Bill Badders, Past President, National Science Teachers Association

Why Use Children’s Books?
—Hands-on lessons aren’t always feasible or effective, especially for teaching life science.
—Books motivate, engage, and delight children.
—Students can collect “data” from books and use it in minds-on activities.
—Many teachers are more comfortable using books than kits.

Understanding NGSS PEs
K-LS1-1. Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.
Practice: Analyzing and interpreting data
Crosscutting concept: Patterns can be observed and used as evidence.
DCI: Animals need food to live and grow. Plants need water and light to live and grow.

Why Pair Fiction & Nonfiction Books?
—Appeal to broad range of students.
—Increase and enrich data sets.
—Create opportunities for comparison and synthesis of information and ideas.

To Choose Fiction Titles
1.    Know your grade level PEs.
2.    Keep them in mind when you read a new book or re-read an old favorite.

Here Are Some Popular Books that Align with NGSS PEs
2-LS2-2. Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.

3-LS3-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence that plants and animals have traits inherited from parents and that variation of these traits exists in a group of similar organisms.

3-LS2-1. Construct an argument that some animals form groups that help members survive.

5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.

You can find more examples on my pinterest page. Look for the board called STEM/NGSS Text Sets.

The lessons in Perfect Pairs provide a model that you can adapt. The lessons:
—Start with a Wonder Statement
—Feature a 3-step Investigative Process:

1. Engaging Students—what students’ appetite to the topic with a fun or surprising activity
2. Exploring with Students—read the books and gather information in tables or other graphic organizers
3. Encouraging Students to Draw Conclusions—students synthesize the information and do a minds-on activity that reinforces the science concept.

You can use the perfect pairs model to create great sci-lit lessons even if your school district doesn’t use NGSS. The program allows you to use books you love to create lessons that will support any set of science standards.

This video features students in Pasadena, CA, engaging in this style of learning.

Here are some more examples: