Be a Nonfiction Book Whisperer – Please!

Anybody read The Book Whisper: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Miller, 2009)? Miller reminds us that one of the best ways to teach reading is to provide space and time for students to do a LOT of reading of high-quality texts. She challenged her students to read 40 books in a year and they rose to meet and exceed her expectations. As many reading workshop advocates do, Miller leans heavily on good fiction to draw kids into becoming lifelong readers. Mainly because that’s what we’ve always read and found interesting, right? WAIT A MINUTE! (Okay…my colleagues and friends know what I’m going to say next!) There’s so much good nonfiction out there right now and so many benefits to students who read them. Tons more than when I was growing up and nonfiction came in three colors – black, white, and gray. The trick is knowing the books out there and then knowing these books well enough to excite students into reading them.

This has been my mission lately – finding these books. A new “go to” author for me is Sally M. Walker. “Go to” means she’s reliable as far as appeal, authority, and accuracy.

blizzard of glass

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 (Walker, 2011) would be a “I-can’t-put-this-down” book for 4-5th grade readers and an easier read for older proficient readers. Walker has woven together the experiences of several families on December 6, 1917 when two ships collided in Halifax Harbour. One of the ships was full of munitions (headed to Europe for the war) and the explosion obliterated the towns of Halifax and Dartmouth, killing 2,000 people and wounding hundreds of others. To put this in perspective – this explosion was the biggest in human history prior to dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. I immediately thought of Walker’s description of the explosion and aftermath when I heard about the explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas. I think reading this book actually helped me understand the devastation that has happened in West and remember that we shouldn’t take for granted the presence of dangerous substances in our every day lives.

their skeletons speak

Their Skeletons Speak (Walker & Owsley, 2012)  would be good for late middle school to early high school readers. LOVE this book because it’s a well, written blended text – narrative and non-narrative. The narrative tells the story of the accidental discovery of Kennewick Man, a 10,000 year old skeleton and the journey of this skeleton through the court system, numerous federal agencies, and research labs. Owsley is a researcher and scientist in the field of Paleontology and has clearly weighed in on the descriptions of current techniques for dating skeletal remains as well as determining the person’s diet, whether they were buried intentionally or not, what they might have done for a living and so forth. Really, really fascinating information – especially how technology is growing so fast we can determine even more than we did just a few years ago. A central idea is that skeletons have a story to tell and we need a village of specialists/experts to reveal the details of this story. I’m going to blog on this particular book again sometime soon and include excerpts for close reading.

Okay…any “go-to” authors out there you know students will want to read?

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6 thoughts on “Be a Nonfiction Book Whisperer – Please!

  1. Lori Gehrke

    My 5th grade boys love reading historical fiction by Lauren Tarshis, author of the “I Survived…” series. She is also the editor of Storyworks Magazine (Scholastic) and writes many of it’s non-fiction articles which definitely keep the boys’ interest.

    Reply
  2. Marie

    My son’s first grade teacher had a set of Jerry Pallotta’s “Who Would Win” books that pit two animals against each other based on their characteristics. My son learned quite a bit about many different animals and was very engaged because of the format of the books. I think these would be a good introduction to nonfiction in the lower grades.

    Reply

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