November 20, 2017

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Reading Nonfiction for Pleasure | On Common Core


hat will be in your tote as you head out to the beach, a nearby lake, or your own front stoop this summer? Our bags are already heavy with Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things (Harper Collins, 2013), and Mark Bittman’s VB6 (Clarkson Potter, 2013), on his adventures as a part-time vegan. Then there’s Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power (Random, 2013), the fourth volume the author has written about Lyndon Johnson, this one weighing in at a hefty 700 pages, and Emile Simpson’s War From the Ground Up: Twenty-First-Century Combat as Politics (Oxford University, 2013), which Marc insists is a must-read, “to understand the long war that is likely to be before us for at least the next two decades.” Sure, all three of us will also be borrowing novels and short stories from our local libraries. But, like so many children and teens in schools across the country, we also enjoy reading nonfiction for pleasure.

How can we use the summer to provide kids with more opportunities to grow confident as nonfiction readers? Let’s start with the summer reading list at your school. What’s on it? Discussions about summer reading often surface the deep-seated beliefs about students’ reading habits that shape the choices teachers and librarians make throughout the year. Some educators require a specific list of books or a range of genres. Others allow children and teens to make their own selections. Each school has to grapple with balancing students’ interests and teachers’ expectations and make the decision that feels right for its community.

Regardless of what approach your school or district takes, we hope that your required or recommended reading lists include nonfiction. Unless you are in a year-round school district, summer is often the time students have the most freedom and flexibility with their schedules and reading. For avid readers, this is the time to follow their interests. For students who have not been exposed to a great deal of self-selected nonfiction, the summer reading list can point them in that direction and help them discover books they may not find on their own.

If you are recommending summer reading lists to your students and patrons, be aware that nonfiction is not represented equally on all of them. The American Library Association’s (ALA) Association for Library Services to Children’s recommendations are on three graded lists, each annotated, and include a mix of fiction and nonfiction. A great list based on children’s suggestions is the International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council Annual Children’s Choices. The Horn Book Magazine’s recommended reading list also includes fiction and nonfiction, while the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge recommends only fiction on its website.

If you are creating your own summer reading list, be sure to share the 2013 Orbis Pictus Award, 2013 ALA Robert F. Sibert Medal, and 2013 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award winners and honor recipients. These titles, along with the National Council of the Social Studies–Children’s Book Council Notable Trade Books and the 2013 National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Trade Books lists provide marvelous nonfiction offerings of interest to students.

But let’s not forget, for most students it’s the content of the book that will drive their selection, not the shiny award stickers on the cover, or the special display case you so carefully put together. Children choose nonfiction for many reasons. To convince their parents they are ready for a pet, they may select books about taking care of animals. If they’re interested in growing vegetables on their apartment balcony, they may read about container gardening. Some kids spend summers attending sports camps or playing baseball on a local team or in a nearby ballpark, and read up on techniques to improve their skills. Still others collect shells, explore the local pond, or go birding with their families. Some children build go-carts or craft, others are armchair travelers.

During the vacation season, and indeed throughout the school year, students need to see adults reading nonfiction for pleasure. They need to know that their parents and teachers and family friends enjoy nonfiction as a leisure activity, and they should see their own lives reflected in their reading choices whether selecting fiction or nonfiction. Let’s hope that this summer students are encouraged to choose nonfiction both for pleasure and personal enrichment.


Curriculum Connections

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.