TRC Read to Kids

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Just the facts, please! Using nonfiction books in your Read-Aloud

Usually, when folks think about reading aloud to a child, they think of favorite story books:  Madeline, Where the Wild Things Are, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. In a word, fiction. But nonfiction is wildly popular with kids. It feeds their need to know why and how and who. It helps kids make connections between fictional situations and the real world.

Nonfiction opens up so many options not available if you stick only to fiction. A large part of a library's collection is devoted to nonfiction, including science, history, math, poetry, folklore and fairy tales, biography, how-to books and atlases and almanacs.  Ask your children’s librarian for nonfiction titles about your Read-Aloud topic and you’ll be amazed at what he or she pulls off the shelf.

Publishers have created some excellent nonfiction series. The Let’s Read and Find Out series has more than 190 titles in an accessible, illustrated picture-book format. Its Stage 1 titles are appropriate for preschool- and kindergarten-age children. Their Stage 2 titles are written for kids ages 5 to 9. The Scientists in the Field series combines stunning photographs with engaging text that explores both science and what it is like to be a scientist. This series is appropriate for the 8- to 12-year-old crowd. DK publishes oodles of nonfiction in picture-book and early-reader formats with glossy photos and short catchy text. Their DK Readers and Eyewitness books will have titles appropriate for all ages at your Read-Aloud.  Chances are, whatever topic you have in mind, DK has published a book about it. 

Some of our favorite nonfiction authors include Steve Jenkins, Gail Gibbons, Seymour Simon, David Macaulay and Russell Freedman. Their books are carefully researched, well written and beautifully illustrated.

The design of nonfiction books is likely to be more complex than fictional picture books. You'll even find nonfiction titles in graphic novel fomat--always a hit with the kids. Innovative design can make nonfiction books more engaging for kids, but it can also make them more challenging to read to a large group. If you choose a nonfiction title to read aloud with a large group, be sure to choose one that has a simple narrative format instead of a reference-book format. For reading in smaller groups or one-on-one, feel free to use a title with more text or a reference-book format. Depending on the design of the book, you might need to read it differently than you’d read a fictional picture book. For example: instead of reading the book from front to back, use the index and table of contents to jump around and answer kids’ pressing questions. PBS's Reading Rockets website provides great tips for reading nonfiction with kids in this article. 

Nonfiction can add so much to a Read-Aloud:  depth, variety and fun.  Try it, you'll like it!

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