Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stamina in Nonfiction Reading

by Brian Floca
Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, (September 3, 2013)
Review copy from the public library, but I have a feeling I'll be buying this one!

Don't you hate it when the perfect book for one of your social studies standards comes out the year after they change your standards? ARGH!

I struggled to find ways to make the Transcontinental Railroad accessible to urban 5th graders, most of whom had never traveled out of the state, let alone across the country by any means of transportation, and who had never seen a train, let alone a steam engine, up close.

Well, just because the Transcontinental Railroad is no longer in our social studies standards doesn't mean I can't use this book as a part of our nonfiction unit.

One of my goals for my students in this unit is that they will build stamina for reading longer and longer nonfiction. One of my goals for read aloud this year is that I'll actually DO what I've said I would do for years now -- integrate nonfiction read alouds.

This is the perfect book to support both goals.

We will study the endpapers -- the maps in the front and the diagram of a steam engine in the back -- using the document camera. 

The poetic text filled with the sounds of the train will draw us in and keep us going. 

We will read the notes in the back (even though there are a lot of small words on the page), maybe even doing a close reading to fuel a discussion of cause/effect, compare/contrast, and "what next?" (another goal for this nonfiction unit is that my students will find topics and authors that lead them from one nonfiction book to the next).

Here's a great video on the history of steam trains to watch before or after reading the book:


  1. I read this one in my Mock Caldecott unit to my students. They loved it!

  2. Great minds must think alike! I reviewed this book today too! I loved this book and really want to give it as a Christmas present. My boys are a little too old, so I keep trying to think of a kid who would enjoy it.

  3. What is a document camera?

    1. A document camera plugs into your computer so that the image projects to a screen. The camera is mounted on a stand so it looks down on books, documents, etc. A document camera makes it so much easier to share a picture book or graphic novel so that everyone can see all the details.

  4. Also, it is interesting you say you can use it for another unit. I wish our teachers had this kind of autonomy and authority.

    As I wrote here,

    my daughter's school (NYC public) is not letting teachers decide what books to teach. A Pearson-written curriculum requires certain books and that is the be-all and end-all. It's appalling.

    How much freedom do you have? What state do you teach in? I assume you teach public school?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. We teach in Ohio, in an urban/suburban public school district that is VERY (blessedly) pro-teacher, and which has not adopted programs for any subject in the elementary. Franki, in 3rd grade, is, at this point, implementing CCSS in every subject. Because of the gradual roll-out of CCSS in our district, I am (in 5th grade) still teaching the old standards because we have one more state test based on the standards. Next year, I'll be all CCSS, too.

    2. Thanks for your quick reply. I'm at a bit of a loss here for how to fight this but I will be sending a letter to the State Education Commissioner, Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio, and several other elected officials soon.

  5. I loved that book and bought it for my classroom. :-) I like your ideas on how to use it!

  6. You are indeed lucky, as are your students!

  7. I'll have to check this out, Mary Lee - we're in our non fiction investigation, too - post to follow!

  8. My son (now 16) was obsessed with trains when he was little. I wish we'd had this book years ago. It looks beautiful.


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