by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
I have never considered myself a nonfiction reader. That may sound narrow-minded, but as a kid—and even today, honestly—I tended to gravitate toward the fiction section in the library or bookstore.
However, there were a few notable nonfiction exceptions.
The first one that comes to mind is the Landmark Books series. It features biographies and narrative stories about true historical events, and introduced me to larger-than-life American figures (who would become my fourth grade role models) like Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, Betsy Ross, and Julia Ward Howe.
In accordance with American history circa 1965, I checked them all out from the John Ward School library and read about frontiersmen like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone and major events such as the Revolutionary War.
Later, I would read and reread and reread Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Night by Elie Wiesel, and Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown.
As a high school and then college student, I got lost in The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam, and a few memoirs such as I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg and Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber. (These are pretty intense YA/adult reads. I honestly thought I Never Promised You a Rose Garden was a true story until this very day when working on this blog post!)
Probably because they are character-based stories, all these books read like fiction to me, even though (except for Rose Garden ) they were all published as nonfiction. And when I started working in children’s books in 1985, it was exciting to see all the new forms of nonfiction that were capturing students’—and publishers’—imaginations.
For younger readers, nonfiction books featuring vivid pictures have become increasingly popular for introducing new concepts, such as in David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work, Jerry Pallotta’s The Icky Bug Alphabet Book, and Mel and Gilda Berger’s True or False series and the more than 200 books for children they have published.
For older readers, there are books that explore other groundbreaking ways to present nonfiction topics, for example: the March graphic novels by Andrew Aydin and Congressman John Lewis; the novelistic biography Hidden Figures: Young Readers’ Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly; and the illustrated chapter book Lucy & Andy Neanderthal by Jeffrey Brown, which is fiction imbued with nonfiction facts.
To me, they all read like the very best stories. The fact that they are true and teach you something is just an added bonus.
Looking back, I realize I actually did a lot of nonfiction reading as a child without really thinking about it. (Maybe there is a bit of a “nonfiction reader” in me after all!) I suppose the moral of the story is that kids seek out stories that fascinate them, not necessarily specific genres.
Today, nonfiction for kids is flourishing, and many books embrace the strategy of weaving nonfiction topics into compelling narratives. This week’s Dollar Deal is a great example of it!
What if You Had Animal Ears!? written by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Howard McWilliam is the first book in an inventive nonfiction series that reviewer Deborah Stevenson called “a hilarious and instructive combination that makes it clear just how variable and individually suited this aspect of anatomy is.”
“You can use [it] throughout the curriculum, whether it’s informational text or social studies…the illustrations in the book keep the students engaged.” —Yesseline Cabrera, kindergarten teacher
The series draws readers in by asking them to imagine what life would be like if they had the same types of ears as the assorted—and fascinating—animals presented in the book. It is an inspiring and fun approach to learning.
The What if You Had Animal… series looks at the qualities of different animals’ teeth, eyes, hair, and more! The combination of wacky, full-color illustrations and compelling fun facts has quickly become a hit among teachers and students alike.
The blog team had a blast diving into What if You Had Animal Ears!? The Book Boys try out different animal ears in extreme weather. Kindergarten teacher Yesseline Cabrera shares the book with her students in Book Talks. We pose an important question to book creators Sandra Markle and Howard McWilliam in Behind the Scenes. And, predictably, we make our own animal ears in Cooked Up from a Book!
My friend and colleague David Vozar was similarly inspired to pose a “what if” question:
“I’ve always been told that I have small ears. This is something I almost never think about. However, after posing with different animal ears for the artwork of this post, I started wondering: What if animals had my ears?”
We hope this week’s Dollar Deal helps your students rethink their own status as nonfiction readers, and that they enjoy imagining their own animal ears! (Or, like David, postulating what it would be like if animals had their ears?)
If you have any questions or want to share stories about What if You Had Animal Ears!? (or anything else!), please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at JNBlog@scholastic.com.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs