Thursday, September 12, 2013

Moving Beyond "Interesting Facts"

I have noticed over the past few years that one of the most popular books in our nonfiction library is Weird but True! 5: 300 Outrageous Facts by National Geographic kids.  It is a book filled with 300 weird facts and kids become totally immersed, wanting to share lots of things they discover. I can see the fascination with these books and I love that they get kids reading nonfiction, but I have noticed that more and more nonfiction books for kids are merely lists of disconnected facts with accompanying photos.  Kids who are drawn to books like this are also drawn to books like Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Books which invite skimming and scanning for interesting facts.  After spending 4 years as an elementary librarian, I saw the impact of being stuck in this kind of reading as students skimmed and scanned and often had misinterpretations because they were merely looking for "cool facts". These books might be a great starting point but if our kids stick with reading only these kinds of nonfiction books, they probably won't grow as nonfiction readers.

I know that the jump from WEIRD BUT TRUE to The Snake Scientist (Scientists in the Field Series) isn't going to happen without some transition. I also know that our young readers don't have as much experience with nonfiction as they do with fiction. So, it's our job to put quality nonfiction--booksbthat move them as readers--in our classrooms.   I have a great collection of nonfiction but as I watched my students over the last few weeks, I realized I don't have much that will help my WEIRD BUT TRUE readers transition to more complex books. The jump from WEIRD BUT TRUE to other nonfiction books in the classroom seems to be a bit too big.

See, this always happens. My husband doesn't quite understand. But, no matter how many books I begin the year with, there are gaps. There are kids who need different books than those I have. So again, I am on the lookout to fill those gaps. Right now, I am on the lookout for books that might be an easy transition to get these readers reading a bit more than isolated facts.  I know they are not going to go for a book with too much text so I have to be purposeful in the books I suggest. This week I found two at Cover to Cover that I am hopeful will engage a few of these fact readers.

101 Animal Babies by Melvin and Gilda is not a book I'd normally pick up because it looks similar to WEIRD BUT TRUE. It is a Scholastic book that looks like lots that are out there. But when I opened this one, it looked perfect for a few reasons.  Each page features a baby animal with 2 photos of the animal.  Accompanying each set of photos is a 9-10 line paragraph about the animal. The font is big and fun enough so as not to be alarming and the text is not so long that it will intimidate readers.  Kids will find very cool facts within the text but the facts are embedded in a paragraph. And the paragraphs are all related in that they are all about animal babies. So lots of natural comparing/contrasting of facts will happen.  This book does not need to be read cover to cover which is another plus for kids transitioning to longer, more complex nonfiction.  I also thought this would be a great intro to the ZOOBORNS blog and might invite some online reading as well.

The other book I picked up (thanks to Beth at Cover to Cover) was Bone Collection: Animals by Rob Colson. The cover of this book will invite readers in as lots of cool skeletons sit on an old journal-type cover.  Each  two-page spread in this book focuses on an animal but the pages work together in that one page focuses on a skeleton and the next page shows a similar animal (not in skeleton form) and how other similar species compare to the featured skeleton.  Each page is filled with short paragraphs of text. Some pages also include photos, notes, labels, etc.  A table of contents and index allow kids to jump in where they want so they don't need to read this book cover to cover. However, the introduction lets the reader know that the book is set up to see similarities and differences between animals and then moves us to the human skeleton where we can see how much we have in common with other animals.  So this book has lots of ways for readers to enter--they can look for cool facts by reading the short pieces on a page or they can put info together by reading a few consecutive pages. Lots of opportunities to push a little further as nonfiction readers.

I'll continue to share more of these transitional nonfiction books as I find them! I'd love to hear about titles that I can add to my collection so let me know if you know of any.


  1. Our middle school librarian is getting ready to place an order so I emailed her to add those to the list. Thank you for sharing, Heather

  2. Generally not a nonfiction reader, so I always appreciate new titles for our nonfiction readers.

  3. As someone who writes nonfiction for kids, this is very, very helpful. Please do continue to share your thoughts on transitional nonfiction!

  4. Yes, I've been ruminating on the same thing for the past few years. I think it's in part about gradually developing reading stamina with nonfiction, the way we do with fiction.

    I also think its requiring choice-driven nonfiction reading in 3rd through 7th grades. So many times, these teachers switch to 'reading to learn' so they cover content standards in social studies and science with their nonfiction reading units.

  5. I couldn't agree more. I have my classroom filled with "cool fact" books because my 5th graders simply love these books. However, it does not teach them the reading skills they need to be successful non-fiction readers. In my classroom I have started using websites like and Both of these websites offer non-fiction reading articles about tons of topics. Wonderopolis is filled with interesting articles on things kids "wonder about. It has a wonder of the day that they can read daily. is great for finding topics in science, social studies, or current events. My kids love these sites. I also found that when I use a theme (Ancient Egypt, Titanic, Medieval time) the kids will continue to read up on the topics throughout the year. I would love to continue to hear ideas and tips on how to transition kids to more non-fiction reading that counts.

  6. I find sharing these titles with my students in little stolen moments helps - I use a lot of Steve Jenkins' books to do this. The Time for a Bath, Time to Eat and Time to Sleep titles are great. I can share a page at a time and then model how I can read more about what I am really interested in at the back of the book where more information is located. His book My First Day is also great for this. I then put these titles out in the classroom and children spend time with them. I am also reading 101 Animal Secrets - think it is the same series as one you have featured here - we read a page or two a day and use as a jumping off point for discussion or more research. I so hear you on the gaps in the library - always. I wrote about my nonfiction book buying and book gap areas here:
    Thanks for this post! Off to look for the book about skeletons!

  7. "My husband doesn't understand..."

    Your comment made me laugh as I spent this afternoon stuffing book receipts into the receipt file that I never look at again until it is time to dump everything into the recycle bin when the year ends. Just yesterday, after receiving my first Scholastic order, I placed a second order and then jumped into my car and headed to Schuler Books (love those independents!) to grab more of the titles I had not been able to order. You see THIS year I need a lot more Babymouse and Lunch Lady, and there were a few new nonfiction titles to add, and then I found Diesen and Santat's hilarious Picture Day Perfection, and this week is picture day at our school, so that was a must, and then today, Ava asked about pet stories, so I might need to go back to Schuler's tomorrow, and while I'm there I'll probably grab 1 or 2 more Babymouse, and you do not even want to see my Amazon cart.....sigh.


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