Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Behind the Books: The Nonfiction Booktalk-Persuasive Writing Link

According to Common Core, students should know how to write persuasive texts. Writing and orally presenting book reviews is one way for them to practice this style of nonfiction writing AND learn to summarize and synthesize the nonfiction (or fiction) books they’ve read.

In the early elementary grades, children can focus on the topic of the book and the information they found most interesting. A sample might look like this:  

Ever wonder what happens to fish and frogs in winter? What about snakes, salamanders, woodchucks, and waterboatmen? Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart answers these question by giving readers a close-up peek at a hidden world. Soft watercolor illustrations show nineteen animals living in four different habitats.

But older students can highlight the nonfiction text types (survey, specialized, concept, biography/autobiography), styles (expository, narrative, persuasive), and structures (description, sequence/order, compare & contrast, question & answer, cause & effect, and problem & solution) I’ve been blogging about since October. The reviews can also include information about the author’s choice of voice and point of view. A sample might look like this:

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart is a circular narrative concept book with a calm, cozy, soothing voice and a third person point of view. Carefully-chosen words and soft, muted watercolor paintings show and tell readers how a variety of animals eke out an existence during chilly winter weather.

To write these reviews and then present them as booktalks, students will have to closely study the text and determine how the author crafted it. In the process, they will be adding tools to their own writer’s toolboxes.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Massachusetts School Library Association Conference Handout

The Power of Voice in Nonfiction Writing
Nonfiction voice options span a continuum, from lively to lyrical. A writer’s topic and the approach he/she chooses will dictate the best voice choice for a particular piece.

Great Books with a Lively Voice
Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart

Army Ant Parade by April Pulley Sayre

A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine

Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee

Deadliest Animals by Melissa Stewart

How They Choked by Georgia Bragg

I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat by Carlyn Beccia

It’s Spit-acular by Melissa Stewart

Lives of the Explorers: Discoveries, Disasters (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

Oh, Yikes! History’s Grossest, Wackiest Moments by Joy Masoff

Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee

See How They Run by Susan E. Goodman

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley (illus. Edwin Fotheringham)

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos

Thank You, Sarah by Laurie Halse Anderson

 

Great Books with a Lyrical Voice
Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Beneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston Hutts

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson

Lightship by Brian Floca

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre

 

Great Books with a Neutral Voice
Coral Reef by Jason Chin

Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins

Frogs by Nic Bishop

Move by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

My First Day by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Neo Leo by Gene Barretta

Now & Ben by Gene Barretta

Redwoods by Jason Chin

Timeless Thomas by Gene Baretta

Friday, February 27, 2015

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Behind the Books: Nonfiction Booktalking

Booktalking can be a great way to get students excited about the books available in a library or classroom collection. When booktalking a fiction title, you might begin by saying something like “it’s a paranormal romance presented from multiple points of view” or “it’s a contemporary realistic novel with an unreliable narrator.” These descriptions give students a general idea of what they’ll encounter without giving away the book’s plot.

Do you approach nonfiction booktalking in the same way? Probably not. Chances are you focus on what the book’s about. Sure, the topic of a nonfiction book is important. But so is the plot of a novel.

The reason we focus on a nonfiction book’s topic is because we don’t know how to do anything else. That’s because there’s no widely-accepted categories to provide a broad overview. But there should be, and I don’t think it would be that hard to come up with a system that works most of the time.

Earlier this school year, I blogged about nonfiction types (survey, specialized, concept, biography/autobiography), styles (expository, narrative, persuasive), and structures (description, sequence/order, compare & contrast, question & answer, cause & effect, and problem & solution). Over the last few weeks, I’ve been writing about voice and point of view. Why not use them as a starting point for booktalking nonfiction?

For example, if I were booktalking Bugged: How Insects Changed the World by Sarah Albee, I might say “it’s an expository survey with a chronological structure; a lively, humorous, conversational voice; and a second-person point of view.

Because Bugged is a book for middle-grade readers, it’s perfectly reasonable that students could have been introduced to all the terms I’ve used above, just as they’ve been introduced to the meaning of “multiple points of view” and “contemporary realistic novel.” My description of Bugged lets readers know that the book is full of fascinating facts explained in context and that it will be fun to read.

This sort of terminology can also be used in written book reviews to give potential readers a stronger sense of how the information is presented. Of course, the trick to the success of this approach is getting everyone up to speed on the terminology.

What do you think? Could it work?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Teaching STE(A)M with Kidlit

A couple of weeks ago, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) released four fantastic lists of multicultural children's books that showcase STEAM topics.

The lists were created for the organization's Diversity in Action Family Book Club program, but the books are all well suited for classroom use as well. Enjoy!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Behind the Books: Nonfiction Point of View, Part 2

This week I’m continuing my discussion of point of view in nonfiction writing. In second-person point of view, the author engages his/her readers by addressing them directly with liberal use of the word “you.”

When the author is writing with an expository style, the voice is usually lively and conversational. Examples include Bugged: How Insects Changed the World by Sarah Albee, If You Hopped Like a Frog by David Schwartz and my book Animal Grossapedia. Here’s a sample:

Snot. Poop. Pee. We humans think these gross, gooey, stinky substances are totally disgusting!
           But here’s a surprise: Some animals have a very different view of this yucky stuff. Burrowing owls collect poop. Desert tortoises use pee for protection. And camels puke on one another when they’re mad. Yep, it’s true.
           Want to know more? Well, ur-ine luck!

When the author is writing with a narrative style, his/her intent is to bring readers right into the middle of the action. The voice is often energetic and descriptive. Examples include Journey into the Deep by Rebecca L. Johnson, If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty, and Army Ant Parade by April Pulley Sayre. Here’s a sample:
 
If you awake in a tent
under a green canopy of trees
one morning in Panama,
and all you hear is your heartbeat
and a strange silence,
then you know they are coming.

While second-person point of view is becoming increasingly popular in nonfiction for kids, most titles continue to be written tried-and-true third person. I'll talk more about that next week.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Teaching Science with Kidlit

For the past few months, Alyson Beecher, the incredibly hard-working, dedicated, and passionate literacy specialist and curriculum coordinator for the Pasadena Unified School District has been working with the amazing school librarian and teachers at Jackson STEM Dual Language Magnet School to immerse grade 1 and 2 students in the lessons included in Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life, K-2.
Alyson created this fun animoto photo collage to document their work. Enjoy.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Behind the Books: Nonfiction Point of View, Part 1

Last week, as I was listing common characteristics of lively vs. lyrical voice in nonfiction writing, I mentioned point of view. This week I’m going to plunge more deeply into the topic.

Traditionally, first-person point of view was reserved for nonfiction books in which the author shared his/her own personal story. Examples include autobiographies like The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert or memoirs like Brown Girl Dreaming by Jackie Woodson and El Deafo by Cece Bell.

In recent years, however, authors have been experimenting. In Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci, published in 2010, author Joseph D'Agnese uses first-person point of view to show us the world as Fibonacci experienced it. Brad Meltzer’s very popular Ordinary People Change the World series includes such titles as I Am Amelia Earhart, I Am Abraham Lincoln, and I Am Rosa Parks in which the historic figures seem to tell very young readers (K-2) their own stories in very simple text.
 
Are these books really nonfiction? The Library of Congress says yes, but I'm not sure I agree. I really think of them as historical fiction. What do you think?

Next week, I'll take a look at the incredible power of second point of view in nonfiction. Stay tuned.