By Ann Wilson, MLS, MA
Though Common Core has largely been placed on the back burner, one of the standards that still resonates in the education and library worlds is children’s nonfiction. The CCSS developers noticed that far more fiction was used or encouraged in the classroom, at the expense of nonfiction. As educators scrambled to align curriculum to CCSS guidelines and “correct” this imbalance, publishers rushed to produce more “common core compliant” nonfiction. This prompted the question, “Why nonfiction?” Why indeed…
In an article titled “The Five Kinds of Nonfiction” in School Library Journal (May, 2018), Melissa Stewart notes that many people who become children’s librarians or literacy educators favor stories and storytelling, want to promote this literature, and assume that children naturally gravitate toward stories as well. This may not be true, however, as research shows that children love to learn about the world around them. Many prefer ideas and information over making an emotional connection to a text. These children would prefer books about dinosaurs, firefighters, arts and crafts, outer space, sports, pets—anything that interests them. Satisfying their needs with quality nonfiction books increases their love of reading, motivation, curiosity, and confidence to handle progressively complicated texts.
Another benefit to nonfiction reading is the acquisition of background information to build on later in life. As students read more and more content-specific texts through their educational years and into college, they are able to build upon this knowledge and apply more critical thinking skills. Ironically, a 2016 ACT study on college and career readiness found that less than half of the graduating class met the ACT Reading Benchmark. The increasing emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education to meet the demand for well-trained employees in these fields demonstrates the need for classroom teachers to teach students how to handle complex texts. Librarians assist by providing high-quality, inviting, motivating, and challenging nonfiction.
On a practical level, consider your own reading habits. To unwind after your workday, you might kick back and enjoy a light romance or mystery novel. But where do you turn when your dog comes home from an unfortunate tangle with a skunk, you want to plan a vacation to an exotic location, or you need financial advice on sound retirement investments? You turn to informational texts for the answers you need for your personal daily living. You probably even have a small collection of nonfiction materials: newspapers and magazines (Consumer Reports annual buying guides, perhaps?), even cookbooks or an owner’s manual for that new appliance. Consider how much informational reading many of us do at our jobs. How many emails, memos, or instruction manuals do we read daily? Sometimes we are required to stay current in our profession by studying new ideas, trends, or techniques. As citizens of a global community, how do we grapple with complex ideas like global warming, mass shootings, immigration, human trafficking, or tax reform?
Consider this: without the ability to comprehend complex informational texts, our children don’t stand a chance as adults. As librarians, let’s point them in the direction of the quality children’s nonfiction they need.
Ann Wilson started working for Brodart, where she is affectionately known as The Sourceress, in 2000. Ann draws from her high school/public library career experience to feed sources and choose key titles for our selection lists. Click here for more.