Start the year “book talking” nonfiction

I know a lot of us start the year by coaching students to self-select books for independent reading. A friendly reminder to “plug” choosing nonfiction titles, too. In the intermediate and middle grades, consider “book talking” specific titles students might be interested in reading. If you’re starting to assess primary grade students and putting together “book bags” for independent reading, include nonfiction books in the set you create for each student. (More on this in the next blog.)

Below are some of my favorites with suggestions for “book talking” as a way to get students to pick up these books. If you don’t have these titles, think about how my recommendations for “book talking/showing/plugging” can be used with titles you do have.

Notice that the books I highlighted are not “browsing types of books” – instead they are books that draw students into reading the text as well as checking out additional features. Sometimes books with a lot of photographs and features – like the DK variety – turn into opportunities for readers to just browse without gaining any learning or deep insight into the ideas in the book. If you do have books with a lot of features – like science or sports related, DK types of books, when you recommend these I would book talk how students need to do more than just look at the photographs. In other words, we want students to do more than kind of “look over” the information. So share aloud what you learned by examining not only the features but the running text as well.

Also there is a lot of nonfiction that I love – but I know students will not “just pick up and love”; I’d save these titles for a little later. For now, go for what will draw their interest.

Recommendations for fluent 2nd and then also 3rd-6th grade students –

nic bishop spiders

Any of Nic Bishop’s titles. You don’t even have to read or “book talk.” Just show the students a few of the photographs. Raise your eyebrows in wonder and fascination. And put the book on display in the classroom library.

sisters and brothers jenkins

Any books by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. I’d read aloud a the first sentence or so from a few pages of one of their books. For example, in Sisters & Brothers: Sibling Relationships Around the World, you might read aloud the first few sentences of several pages. One page with illustrations of several identical lizards begins, “New Mexico whiptail lizards have only sisters. There are no brothers, because there are no male whiptails.” Chances are, if you leave students hanging right there, they may want to pick the book up and read to see why there are no male whiptails!


Titles in the series by the Hatkoff family. Looking for Miza, Owen and Mzee, Leo the Leopard and so forth. Consider showing some of the photographs and reading aloud the first few pages. In Looking for Miza, there’s a beautiful up-close picture of Miza on the first page of the text – that you could place on a document camera, while you read aloud the first page. The second paragraph of the text presents the problem – the baby mountain gorilla Miza is missing. The last sentence in this paragraph (and on this page) states, “However, Innocent and Diddy (park rangers) were not the only one looking for Miza.” You could stop right there and leave the students hanging.

Recommendations for 4th-8th grade students. For some reason, I can’t just say “all titles by” when it comes to the older grades. Here are some individual titles I’d recommend “book talking.”

Titanic voices from disaster

There are a lot of books out there about the Titanic, but this is my favorite. I didn’t want to put it down. My husband was calling me to dinner and I told him I had to finish this book. When he said, “But don’t you already know how it ends?” I quickly replied, “But this is Deborah Hopkinson’s version!” What about just reading from the table of contents to draw students interest? Chapter One: Setting Sail, Chapter Two: A Floating Palace, Chapter Three: A Peaceful Sunday, Chapter Four: “Iceberg right ahead!”, Chapter Five: Impact!…, Chapter Eleven: “She’s gone” and so forth.

impossible rescue

The Impossible Rescue by Martin Sandler. Draw students in with the tone of your book talk. An example for this book – “Okay…seriously? This was a crazy, you-must-be-nuts attempt to rescue stranded sailors from the frozen Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast in 1897. If you don’t make it up to them with food and supplies, they will probably starve before the snow thaws. But would you walk over 1500 miles across the frozen Alaskan terrain to rescue these guys? Teach yourself how to dog sled? Learn how to herd reindeer in raging storms? Be okay with separating from your team and going part of it alone? And think other people could actually find a note you’d tucked between two pieces of wood and left stuck in the ground along the way?” This is the tone of the book talk I’d recommend for this title. If a student gets into this, they will not be able to put it down.

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These are also “can’t put down” books –

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by Swanson. Read aloud the first page of Chapter One that starts “John Wilkes booth awoke depressed…” or the first chapter if you have time.

Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert by Aronson. Read aloud Chapter One – the start of this tragic experience – just over a page. Warn students that Chapters Two and Three are background information about this mine and the history of mines. While I find value in these chapters, for the purposes of getting kids into books they can’t put down – they might reread Chapter One and then skip to Chapter Four.

The Nazi Hunters by Bascomb. Read aloud the prologue – sets the tone of mystery and adventure.

Okay…I could go on listing and thinking…my point is – a friendly reminder to “plug” nonfiction when you are coaching students to self-select books and read independently.  If you have other suggestions of titles that will draw students interest – please contribute to this conversation!

I’m thinking about you all as you start a new school year. Hope it’s smooth.



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