Friday, September 22, 2017

In the Classroom: What a Great Idea!

Don’t you just love this photo?

Last spring, Fran Wilson (@mrswilsons2nd), a second grade teacher in Ohio, and her teaching partner Nicole Prater shared eight of my books with their students. The books had a range of text structures and features.

After the class discussed the content of a book, Fran and Nicole asked the children: “What do you notice about the writing craft the author, Melissa Stewart, used in a book?”

In some cases, this led to the class re-reading the book under a document camera. The teachers recorded the students’ observations. For example, in When Rain Falls, they noticed:
--italic type is used to label the habitats,
--the text was written as a journey,
--repetition was used throughout the book. 

When a child spontaneously announced that they could write a book like When Rain Falls, the whole class got excited. Fran seized the opportunity. She invited students to brainstorm new ideas for books with the same structure and writing crafts as the books they had explored. The children had lots of great ideas, including:

When Night Comes
When Spring Comes
When Leaves Fall
When the Sun Comes Up
No Bees, No Flowers
No Squirrels, No Oak Trees
Close Up on Monarchs

Each student chose a topic and began writing. During this process, they viewed the video mini-lessons on my website. According to Fran, this made the children “feel very connected to you and that they themselves were real writers too.”

When the drafts were complete, the children asked to type their manuscripts using google docs.  They decided to add real photos instead of drawing illustrations. This led to teach a lesson on how to search for photos, insert them, and include credit for the source of the photos.  

But the project didn’t stop there.

This weekend the Cincinnati (Ohio) Nature Center will feature the students’ books at their Great Outdoor Weekend event. If you live in the area, you may want to stop by and see their great work.

And if you don’t live nearby, look for the students’ writing samples and learn more about this great project in the “From a Child’s Point of View” column in an upcoming issue of the International Literacy Association’s Dragon Lode journal. You may want to give this project a try at your school.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wait, that’s Not Broccoli. It’s Chocolate Cake! Part 2

Last week I shared two academic articles with evidence that nonfiction in general and expository nonfiction in particular is more popular among primary students than most of us might think. Simply put, what the children’s literature community calls broccoli, many kids call chocolate cake.

Today I’m back with another study. It’s similar to the one I was interested in conducting myself (though the boy vs. girl angle wasn’t on my radar), but thanks to Ray Doiron, I don’t have to.

Doiron, Ray. “Boy Books, Girl Books: Should We Re-Organize Our School Library Collections?” Teacher Librarian. 2003, p. 14-16.

In a previous study, Doiron had found that students at his elementary school checked out twice as much nonfiction as fiction. For this study, he focused on just the books students were choosing to read. To do this, he eliminated data for books being checked out for school assignments.

Over 3 years, Doiron collected data for 10,000 library transactions among students in grades 1-6 and found that students checked out about 60% fiction and 40% nonfiction for pleasure reading. Boys chose nonfiction more than twice as often as girls.

In last week’s post, I asserted that the children’s literature community has a bias against expository nonfiction because people who choose jobs as editors, librarians, literacy educators, etc. connect more strongly with stories and storytelling than the general population, and I still believe that’s true. However, the results from this study as well as the studies I highlighted last week indicate that boys have a stronger affinity for nonfiction, especially expository nonfiction, than girls. Is this due to societal influences rather than an innate preference? Maybe, but that’s a topic for another day.

Here’s what I want to focus on right now: Since the children’s literature community is overwhelmingly female, I suspect that gender may be a contributing factor to the bias against expository nonfiction.

Once again, I encourage you to get the full article and read it. I’ll be sharing more research next week.

Monday, September 18, 2017

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Jenny Lussier

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)
My students could not stop looking at this one. The infographics are fascinating and when you add Jenkins' unique artwork, it makes for a very special book. We learned about what animals really are dangerous (not what we thought) and that there are a LOT of insects in this world. Really I could have picked anything by Jenkins. His books continue to be some of the most popular each year. 

Frogs by Nic Bishop (Scholastic, 2008)
Nic Bishop's book are extraordinary. My students and I cannot get enough of them because his photography is stunning. Coupling the amazing photos with interesting facts, these books are some of my favorites for getting kids to wonder and ask questions! One of my favorite pictures has a frog with a mysterious item coming out of his mouth. Many kids thought it was a tooth, but no, it belonged to a critter!

Plants Can't Sit Still by Rebecca Hirsch (Millbrook Press, 2016)
I love the slightly different take the author has on plants. When I first saw it, the book really connected with me because I had been fascinated (while mowing the lawn) by weeds that burst when you touched them and their seeds went EVERYWHERE! Amazing pictures too!

Toilet: How It Works by David Macaulay (David Macaulay Studio/Macmillan, 2013)
If you have kids who just have to know how things work, here you go. Castles, jet planes, toilets—all fascinating! I love Macaulay's books because they are illustrated, which is a little different. This new series is for a younger age level than Macaulay's previous titles, which I appreciate. 

Thunderbirds: Nature's Flying Predators by Jim Arnosky (Sterling, 2011)
Jim Arnosky continues to amaze me with his attention to detail and gorgeous illustrations. He packs so much information into this book and, of course, readers love the pages that open up to really give a sense of how big the predators are. 

Jenny Lussier is a teacher librarian for grades PreK-4 and formerly a fifth/sixth grade teacher in Regional School District 13 in Durham & Middlefield, CT. She has a passion for research, children’s literature, and technology and loves to share and learn with kids and adults! You can find her hiking, biking, gardening, and of course sharing favorite books wherever she goes.

Friday, September 15, 2017

In the Classroom: Reading Nonfiction Picture Books Aloud

Reading nonfiction picture books aloud can be tricky because they often contain significantly more words than fiction picture books. And even if the art is enticing and the writing is engaging and the information is fascinating, a picture book read aloud for K-2 shouldn’t last too long.

When I plan a nonfiction read aloud, I ask myself a lot of questions. What parts of the book should I highlight? Should I skip over anything? Would additional visuals or props improve the audience’s experience? Would using a document camera help? Sometimes I make the right decisions on the first try. But other times, the kids surprise me, and I make adjustments as I go along.

For Can an Aardvark Bark?, I thought K-2 students would be excited to make the animal sounds throughout the book’s main text. But I worried that reading the spreads that featured secondary text about four animal examples might be too much. I considered reading just the main text and pointing out the four exemplar animals shown, but that would mean skipping over a lot of cool information.
When I asked author Josh Funk (@joshfunkbooks) for advice, he suggested that I read just one or two of the examples.

“And kids can choose the examples,” I said, piggybacking on his idea. I was confident that this combination of strategies—making animal sounds and choosing animal examples—would make for a great read aloud. But I was wrong.

It turns out the K-2 students weren’t as enthusiastic about making the animal sounds as I expected. What captivated them was the information. They stayed quiet so they wouldn’t miss a thing.

Luckily, my other strategy—letting students choose the animal examples—was a huge hit. On pages where the vote was close, I read the two top choices, and everyone was happy.

What was my take away from this experience? I was delighted to discover that the thing kids liked most about the book—the fascinating information about how and why animals communicate—was the same thing that inspired me to write it in the first place. What could be better than that?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wait, that’s Not Broccoli. It’s Chocolate Cake! Part 1

Right now, the children’s literature community is enamored with narrative nonfiction—books that tell true stories. It receives more starred reviews and wins far more awards than expository nonfiction.

That's because most of the people who choose jobs related to children’s literature—editors, book reviewers, librarians, literacy educators, awards committee members—value and connect strongly with stories and storytelling. And it’s natural for them to assume that young readers feel the same way, especially when we hear things like “humans are hardwired to love story.”

But today, I’m going to disrupt your thinking.

For years, I’ve been questioning the idea that everyone loves stories. Based on my own experience as a reader and conversations I’ve had with children and educators, what I see is that some children are, indeed, naturally drawn to narratives. But others are more excited about ideas and information and would rather read expository nonfiction. Still others enjoy both expository and narrative texts.
My observations have led me to hypothesize that there’s what I call a narrative-analytical thinking continuum. The general population spans the continuum, but the children’s literature community is clumped at the narrative end.

I’m concerned that young analytical thinkers are currently being underserved because gatekeepers don’t appreciate the kind of books that these children enjoy. Simply put, what the children’s literature community calls broccoli, many kids call chocolate cake.

By last spring, I felt so strongly about this issue that I decided to take a sabbatical from writing and conduct a study of elementary students’ reading preferences. Because I had no idea how to structure or conduct a study, I dove into the academic literature. And that’s when my mind was blown.

The research already exists, and it’s powerful. Why don’t more people know about it?

Here are two examples:

Correia, Marlene Ponte. “Fiction vs Informational Texts: Which Will Kindergartners Choose?”Young Children, 2011, p. 100-104.

A K teacher who initially believed her students prefered fiction tracked their library checkouts for 19 weeks and found that the children chose more nonfiction than fiction titles 14 out of 19 weeks. One week they checked out an equal number of fiction and nonfiction books. Each week, more boys than girl chose nonfiction.

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.

190 first graders were invited to choose one of nine high-quality, well-illustrated picture books to keep forever. The books included five fiction titles and four nonfiction titles—one expository nonfiction, one picture book biography, one nonfiction poetry, and one hybrid nonfiction. The children viewed the books one at a time (so they weren’t influenced by their friends’ choices). Students could take as long as they wanted to make a decision and were encouraged to look closely at the books as part of the decision-making process.

What were the results? 84% of students chose a nonfiction book. 46% chose the expository nonfiction title, while only 3% chose the picture book biography. More boys (96%) than girls (69%) chose nonfiction titles.

What was the mega-popular expository nonfiction title?

I encourage you to get the full articles and read them. I’ll be sharing more research next week.


Monday, September 11, 2017

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Margie Myers-Culver

On March 7, 2017, author Melissa Stewart wrote a guest post for the Nerdy Book Club asking us to think about the value of expository literature. She concluded the post with a list of fifty titles. This school year, 2017-2018, she is hosting a series of posts asking teachers and librarians to list five expository titles. Expository titles inform, describe or explain. I decided to focus on the world of animals

The Big Book of Beasts by Yuval Zommer (Thames & Hudson, 2017)
Last year we were introduced to the fascinating world of insects and invertebrates in The Big Book of Bugs (Thames &  Hudson, 2016). In this companion volume, we venture into a marvelous collection of mammals. Each page turn will remind you of the familiar but is guaranteed to present something new and astounding. Sifting through extensive information, Yuval Zommer selects those details most likely to be remembered by readers. In a series of conversational statements, beginning with a question, we are given valuable insights into individual mammals and overviews of special areas.

Can An Aardvark Bark?  by Melissa Stewart (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2017),
For nineteen years author Melissa Stewart has been acquainting readers with the results of her passion for and meticulous research of all forms of science. In this most recent publication, she explores sounds made by animals in a variety of habitats. The rhyming questions she asks in one section, and then answers in another, elevates interest. For each sound, seven in total, she discusses five animals. At the close of the book Selected Sources and For Further Reading sections are shown. Melissa Stewart designed a Storytime Guide and a Teacher’s Guide to go with it.

Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You've Never Heard Of  by Martin Brown (David Fickling Books/Scholastic, 2016)
This upbeat, informative, and completely hilarious book, introduces us to twenty-three animals we rarely encounter in books. The manner in which Martin Brown weaves together facts and humor captivates and fascinates. For each one, Martin Brown provides a clever remark referencing a distinctive quality followed by a half to whole page discussion revealing the animals most intriguing characteristics. He also includes a sidebar with their size, what they eat, where they live, their conservation status, and an extra fact. At times, Martin includes an additional sidebar with other items of interest. He dedicates two pages to a glossary at the end.

Wild Animals of the North by Dieter Braun (Flying Eye Books, 2016)
No single day passes without observations of creatures in the wild. It can be as normal as birds flying from one place to the next or as surprising as looking out your window and seeing the local fox trotting down the sidewalk at dusk. We are most fortunate to be sharing this planet with beings who have adapted as best they can to their habitats. This book is a stunning visual presentation of eighty animals that live in North America, Europe and Asia. Woven into conversational paragraphs are items of interest to a wide range of readers.

What Makes A Monster?: Discovering the World's Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating (Knopf/Penguin Random House, 2017)
Most dictionaries define the word monster by using the word imaginary. Monsters are simply not real. Or are they? If you want to read a book, gasping at every page turn, this is a title you can't miss! Armed with knowledge of her subject and gifted for knowing exactly what readers need and want to know,
Jess Keating educates her readers like a master teacher. For each of the seventeen animals, she begins with an informative narrative paragraph. This is followed by local superstitions, feeding habits, a detailed explanation of unique traits, and more. She also includes information about the animals’ size, diet, habitat, and predators and threats.

Margie Culver can’t remember a time when she was not reading. With every turn of the page, her views, impressions, and understanding of the world--past, present, future, and fantastical--have increased. She’s been educated and entertained; had her heart broken and made whole again. She began her career as a certified teacher librarian in 1973, fostering life-long reading and adept gathering and use of information for her students and staff. In Margie’s words, “It has been the single best decision that I have ever made.” She writes posts about as many wonderful books as possible on her blog, Librarian’s Quest. You are welcome to follow Margie on Twitter @Loveofxena

Friday, September 8, 2017

Get Ready for International Rock Flipping Day

We all know that next Monday is the anniversary of one of the worst days in U.S. history, but it’s also International Rock Flipping Day—a time to celebrate all the critters that live under rocks as well as the natural curiosity that inspires us to take a closer look at the world around us.

All you have to do is go outside and look under a rock or two. Then record what you see by drawing, painting, taking photographs of what you see. You can also write down what you see. (If you live in a place where you might find poisonous creatures, like scorpions or snakes, under a rock, I encourage you to use a stick to flip the rocks.) When you are done, carefully return the rock to its original position.

It’s fun and easy, and you just might meet some pretty cool critters.