By Mary Ann Cappiello, Xenia Hadjioannou, and Melissa Stewart
We are fortunate to be in the midst of a golden age for nonfiction literature for young people. Today’s nonfiction pushes boundaries in form and function, and its creators write about an ever expanding array of topics. In these books, young people encounter well-researched and nuanced explorations of cutting edge scientific discoveries, underexplored moments throughout history and in our current time, compelling accounts of historically marginalized and minoritized communities and perspectives, and more.
As we advocated in our February 14, 2022, letter to The New York Times, #KidsLoveNonfiction! Indeed, several researchers investigating the reading habits and preferences of young children report that, when given the opportunity to self-select, the majority of children enjoy nonfiction as much as or more than fiction (Correia, 2011; Ives et al. 2020; Mohr, 2006; Repaskey et al., 2017). Yet, adults often assume that young people would rather read fiction, and are therefore hesitant to make nonfiction titles available to children or to devote time to exploring nonfiction with the young people in their lives.
As the school year begins, we want to remind all adults who are involved in the reading lives of children that:
To raise awareness of the potential of nonfiction books to empower young people by feeding their interests and creating pathways to their passions, we’ve created the flyer 10 Ways to Discover & Share Nonfiction with Young People this Fall. We hope it will find its way onto classroom walls, library displays, and home fridges and inspire teachers, librarians, parents, and all people who read with children.
Have a wonderful school year!
Correia, M. P. (2011). Fiction vs. Informational Texts: Which Will Kindergartners Choose? Young Children, 66(6), 100–104.
Ives, S. T., Parsons, S. A., Parsons, A. W., Robertson, D. A., Daoud, N., Young, C., & Polk, L. (2020). Elementary Students’ Motivation to Read and Genre Preferences. Reading Psychology, 41(7), 660–679. https://doi.org/10.1080/02702711.2020.1783143
Mohr, K. A. J. (2006). Children’s Choices for Recreational Reading: A Three-Part Investigation of Selection Preferences, Rationales, and Processes. Journal of Literacy Research, 38(1), 81–104. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15548430jlr3801_4
Repaskey, L. L., Schumm, J., & Johnson, J. (2017). First and Fourth Grade Boys’ and Girls’ Preferences For and Perceptions About Narrative and Expository Text. Reading Psychology, 38(8), 808–847. https://doi.org/10.1080/02702711.2017.1344165
Mary Ann Cappiello teaches courses in children’s literature and literacy methods at Lesley University, blogs about teaching with children’s literature at The Classroom Bookshelf and Text Sets and Trade Books, and is a founding member of The Biography Clearinghouse. She is a former chair of NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction K-8.
Xenia Hadjioannou is associate professor of language and literacy education at the Berks campus of Penn State University. She is vice-president of CLA and co-editor of the CLA Blog. She is a founding member of The Biography Clearinghouse.
Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 200 science-themed nonfiction books for children and co-author of 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books. Her highly-regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.
By Mary Ann Cappiello, Jennifer M. Graff and Melissa Quimby on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse
Over the last two years, we’ve enjoyed sharing excerpts from The Biography Clearinghouse website. We hope that our interviews with book creators and our teaching ideas focused on using biographies for a variety of classroom purposes has been helpful to the CLA membership and beyond. This month, we’re very excited to share something different - a voice directly from the classroom.
Melissa Quimby, a 4th grade teacher in Massachusetts, has written the inaugural entry in our new feature “Stories from the Classroom.” Melissa is the genius behind #MeetSomeoneNewMonday, a weekly initiative that has spread from her classroom to her grade level team to an entirely different school in just three years.
This initiative launched when Melissa decided to share her passion for picturebook biographies with her students through interactive read-alouds. They were hooked! As Melissa writes, “Over time, I molded this project in intentional ways, and it evolved into an adventure that focused on identity, centered marginalized and minoritized communities, and cultivated thoughtful, strategic middle grade readers.” What started as a way to share nonfiction picturebooks as an engaging and compelling art form developed into a more nuanced exploration of global changemakers–past and present. With their weekly reading of picturebook biographies, students grow as readers and thinkers and deepen their individual and collective sense of agency.
In the following excerpts, Melissa describes how she reveals each week’s notable changemaker to her students and shares some of her picturebook biography selections.
Monday Read-Aloud Routines
On Monday mornings, we gather together as a reading community. In an effort to build excitement, our reveal slide is projected on the board as students arrive. Some weeks, copies of the backmatter wait on the rug, inviting students to preview the figure of the week. This could be the author’s note, a timeline, or a collection of real-life photographs. Once all readers are settled, we watch a video to learn a little bit about the person in the spotlight.
Some weeks, interactive read aloud time happens on Monday morning immediately following the reveal. On some Mondays, it works best for us to huddle up in the afternoon. Occasionally, we steal pockets of time throughout our busy schedule to enjoy the biography of the week in smaller doses. When we read the text is not as important as how we read the text. The heart of this work truly lies in how we generate emotional investment within our students and how we help our students’ reactions and ideas blossom into new thinking about the world and ways that they can take action in their own lives for themselves and others. Sometimes, we simply read the biography to love it. In those moments, readers are silent with their eyes glued to the book, scanning the illustrations, wide-eyed when something surprising happens. Perhaps they whisper something to their neighbor, let out an audible gasp or share a comment aloud. Sometimes, we read to grow ideas. In these moments, readers are tracking trouble, considering how the figure responds to obstacles. They are ready to turn to their partner and reach for a precise trait word or theme and supporting evidence.
To read more about #MeetSomeoneNewMonday, including Melissa planning process with her grade level team and student responses, visit Stories from the Classroom on The Biography Clearinghouse website
You can also reach out to Melissa through her website (QUIMBYnotRamona) or Twitter (@QUIMBYnotRamona) to discuss how to implement #MeetSomeoneNew initiative in your classroom or school.
Inspired by Melissa’s picturebook biography initiative or done something similar? Share your ideas and stories with us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, chime in on Twitter (@teachwithbios), Facebook, or Instagram with your own #teachwithbios ideas and picturebook biography recommendations.
Melissa Quimby teaches fourth grade in Massachusetts. She is passionate about helping young writers improve their craft, and her to-be-read list is always stacked with middle grade fiction. Melissa shares her love of children’s literature on Teachers Books Readers and shares about her literacy instruction with the Choice Literacy community. You can connect with her at her website, QUIMBYnotRamona, or follow her on Twitter @QUIMBYnotRamona.
Mary Ann Cappiello teaches courses in children’s literature and literacy methods at Lesley University, blogs about teaching with children’s literature at The Classroom Bookshelf. She is a former chair of NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction K-8.
Jennifer M. Graff is an Associate Professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia where her scholarship focuses on diverse children’s literature and early childhood literacy practices. She is a former committee member of NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction K-8, and has served in multiple leadership roles throughout her 16+ year CLA membership.