Chris Routh did a stellar job of coordinating and creating National Non-Fiction November 2022. We have a blog from her to remind us of the value of sharing non-fiction books as a read aloud.
Reading Non-Fiction Aloud
One of the most effective ways to develop students’ reading of non-fiction for pleasure is to regularly read non-fiction aloud to them.
While reading stories aloud is a routine occurrence in most classrooms and libraries as well as at home, the regular reading of non-fiction aloud is probably less common. And yet, the resulting enjoyment, impact and benefits are very similar. Sharing any book can result in discussion at the time, the possible development of a shared interest and a point of reference to return to in future conversations. Hearing a text read aloud allows the audience to immerse themselves in the language, and for newly independent or less confident readers it provides an opportunity to thoroughly enjoy and engage with the content. Being read aloud to can open doors to books that young readers may wish to seek out and read for themselves. It provides models for different ways of reading and writing, but most importantly here, it promotes and validates reading non-fiction for pleasure. The challenge is always going to beto identify great non-fiction books for reading aloud.
Shadowing information book awards provides an excellent way to keep up to date with some of the best non-fiction publishing each year. Awards like the School Library Association’s Information Book Award and the Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize also afford the opportunity for young people to participate in the judging, thereby giving them a voice and sense of ownership.
As a secondary school librarian, reading non-fiction aloud during library lessons, book club sessions and sometimes in assemblies seemed such a natural thing to do. Here are some of my personal favourites:
Originally published twenty-five years ago, Walk with a Wolf by Janni Howker and Sarah Fox-Davies is not surprisingly still available (Walker, 2015). This beautifully written and illustrated piece of narrative non–fiction invites the reader/listener to join a Canadian wolf as she walks, plays, runs, howls, hunts, rests and sleeps. The rhythmical text, which is perfect for reading aloud, is accompanied by additional bites of information on each double–page. I read this to Y7s during a research project about wolves as it provides an evocative summary of many of the characteristics and behaviours we had read or heard about from other more traditional sources of information. I also read extracts from The Ways of the Wolf by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Jonathan Woodward (Wren & Rook, 2017) which uses lyrical language and breath-taking paper-cut illustrations to explore facts about wolves and challenge our fairy-tale fuelled fears and misconceptions. In this case, my intention was to inspire the students’ own pieces of persuasive writing about wolves.
Of course, non-fiction can grab the reader/listener’s attention in many different ways. Dr Nick Crumpton’s tone of writing in Everything You Know About Dinosaurs is Wrong!(illustrated by Gavin Scott, Nosy Crow, 2021) is spot on for his intended audience, as we discovered when introducing the book to a local book group for 5-8s year-olds (though equally suitable for older children too). It’s all about how facts (about dinosaurs in this case), and especially the old facts, can sometimes be proved wrong when new discoveries are made. Each double page spread starts with a proposition, such as ‘dinosaurs are extinct’, which is then expanded on before being revealed as wrong. This is followed by evidence that ‘dinosaurs are all around us.’ A few members of our audience seemed to find the debunking of established knowledge very amusing – perhaps it was the way we read the text aloud – but it certainly caught their attention. As well as offering an opportunity for them to update their own expertise, it was also demonstrating how knowledge and understanding can change over time generally. Books that challenge what we think we already know are relatively unusual. Hopefully such books will help to encourage a more questioning and critical approach to reading information texts generally.
We know that young readers love books that make them laugh, and Andy Seed’s Interview with… series of books are both informative and funny. The Q & A format makes them perfect for reading aloud. In fact, the informal conversational style of delivery would work particularly well with two different readers/voices. There’s also a quiz at the end of each book to engage and challenge the readers/listeners. Andy is a passionate advocate of promoting reading for pleasure and has written about how factual books can help to get even the most reluctant children reading. https://www.andyseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/How-factual-books-can-get-children-reading.pdf Reading excerpts, enthusing and sharing is just one of his many tips. It’s no coincidence that Andy’s latest book Interview With a Kangaroo: And Other Marsupials Too inspired this year’s National Non-Fiction November competition(illustrated by Nick East, Welbeck Children’s Books, 2022). The entries received pay testimony to the impact of a well-chosen model on children’s own non-fiction writing and their enjoyment of reading, researching and presenting a topic of their choice.
My next suggestion is a very powerful and evocative piece of writing by a young man with a passion for the natural world. Amazingly, Dara McAnulty was only fourteen years old when he started writing Diary of a Young Naturalist (Little Toller Books, 2020), which went on to win the 2020 Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing and is now available in almost 20 languages. This is a book that many will want to read in its entirety, but its episodic account of the seasons makes it ideal for selecting extracts to read aloud – and particularly to aspiring teenage writers. Listen to or read this interview with Dara speaking about his identity as an autistic person, his award-winning book, and the great necessity of staying rooted in joy.
https://emergencemagazine.org/interview/finding-joy-in-the-unknown/ And Diary of a Young Naturalist is certainly an inspirational joy of a read.
Even though many traditional information books can be more formal in their tone and presentation – focusing on facts and explanations, and answering basic questions – the best non-fiction writers also convey a sense of their own involvement in and excitement about the subject. This is certainly true of Antarctica: The Melting Continent by Karen Romano Young and Angela Hsieh (What on Earth Books, 2022) – one of the books I chose to read from to promote reading non-fiction aloud to an audience of parents. Karen’s experience as a polar explorer and deep–sea diver, has given her writing an emotional impact which draws the reader/listener into the beautiful yet inhospitable world that they are about to explore together:
Suddenly a ray of sun broke through, then another. A patch of blue sky, then another. Within minutes, the ship chugged out of the low cloud into the most incredible panorama I’d ever seen: foaming aquamarine sea, floating icebergs layered with all the blues of heaven and earth, walled in by monumental white mountains that seemed to exhale sprites of icy wind. And – there! – the spouts of humpback whales, fellow migrants from the north. They’d come all the way from the equatorial waters to feed in Antarctica. And – there! – a flock of Adélie penguins ‘flying’ through the water, arcing like dolphins. Everyone broke out in smiles; I burst into tears: here at last! (p6)
Chris Routh, Coordinator National Non-Fiction November for the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, 2022