Why Children’s Nonfiction?

By Ann Wilson, MLS, MAGirl wGlasses Reading_69332863

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.

young girl success_338482142Another 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.

Resources:

ACT National Curriculum Survey 2016

ASCD: Research Says / Nonfiction Reading Promotes Student Success

ASCD: The Case for Informational Text

ASCD: Too Dumb for Complex Texts?

GreatSchools.org: The Nonfiction Revolution

Smart Tutor: Why Nonfiction Reading is Important

AnnWilson

Ann

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.

Fake News & Libraries

By Fern Hallman, M.Ln., Collection Development Librarian

myth and reality word cloud

One of the hottest topics around right now is so-called “fake news,” the recent explosion of intentionally false or highly biased news. Many of these stories are fabricated and then packaged and distributed to look like legitimate news. Librarians are major players in the fight for REAL news and information literacy.

A recent Stanford Graduate School of Education study found that most students have a hard time distinguishing between credible and unreliable news articles. Some even have trouble distinguishing paid advertising from news reporting. Another study, by the Pew Research Center, finds that a majority of US adults are getting their news from their social media feeds, which certainly do not present all sides of a story.

Throughout history, various fabricated stories have been presented as truth. In the 1880s, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst practiced yellow journalism, using lurid stories and sensationalism to attract readers. For a long time, tabloids such as the National Enquirer have done the same for readers in line at the grocery store. The current combination of a divided electorate and rampant social media has led to the deluge of questionable reports.

Fake news can take several forms. Some stories are intentionally misleading, and are packaged in a way that makes them appear credible. Other stories, often called clickbait, are just intended to lead readers to a specific site. Many stories may seem to contain real facts, but the perspective may be biased. There are also sites that specialize in parodies or satire.

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), a leading organization for the library and information professions, has put together a simple graphic describing how to spot fake news. The first step in evaluating a story is to consider the source. Check to see if that story really is from a valid source, or if it is just someone using a similar name or URL. Read the whole story. Sometimes a headline will draw you in, but you will find there is more to the story if you dig deeper. Find out more about the author. Do a little checking to see what else they have written, and whether there is a reason for their point of view on a topic. When was the story written? Is this current “news” or a rehash of an older event? Is this a joke? Some stories from satiric websites go viral and certain readers may not understand or recognize the humor. And finally, determine the point of view of the story, and evaluate the role your own feelings are playing in your interpretation of it. It is not appropriate to call a story fake news just because you disagree with it.

Libraries everywhere are helping their users spot fake news. Many have assembled web sites and fact sheets on the subject, and are holding workshops and webinars. Here are some additional ideas. Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association recently gave this quote to Governing Magazine: “The authority of the president of the strongest country in the world needs to be protected. But we have to think about facts and information now more critically than ever.”

For more information on this timely topic, here is a great guide from the librarians at Hillsborough Community College:

http://libguides.hccfl.edu/fakenews/evaluatingsources

fern

Fern

Fern has worked for Brodart as a Collection Development Librarian since 1990. She also did a stint as a reference librarian in the CNN newsroom and is married to a newspaper librarian. Click here for more.