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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Its All Japanese to Me

The Ongoing Story of Facts

I did my second teacher night tonight, and it went very well. This group of teachers asked me to speak about boys and reading, and I told them about the discussions we have been having here about facts, identification, and story. I spent an hour or so talking, and they was a lively, engaged crowd. Then came time for comments. A reading teacher spoke up — one year he was dealing with a tough group, boys who just did not want to read. But it so happened that he and the school gym teacher were big soccer fans, and it was the year of the World Cup. The whole group made the World Cup its focus — tracking stats, analyzing teams, doing reports — for that period the boys were all active readers and writers — and precisely because no one called it "reading" — they were just getting info about a great subject.

Then a teacher who deals with Special Ed kids told a story about her own middle son — a confirmed nonreader. He just would not pick up a book. In fact the only thing with writing on it he would even look at was a Pokemon card. Her husband was upset. But she is a good teacher, and recognized reading, math skills, and high interest when she saw it. So she encouraged his Pokemon obsession. He went on Web sites, he read more, he learned that new cards were coming out, but the information on them was in Japanese, so he set out to learn the Japanese characters so he could be the first to find out about the new set. 

Finally, a librarian who works with 5th graders described a project with yet another set of poor readers — so below grade they only use picture books. But one she chose was about the Empire State building. Now they were hooked — which is the tallest building in the world now? Why? How is it built — they were off an running, reading about Dubai. 

Look, if some of those teachers disagreed with me, they probably would not have come up to me after the talk. I know this is a self-selected group. But these stories keep proving the same point, for some readers, especially boys who consider themselves nonreaders, facts, stats, whether about sports, or in game cards, or about buildings can lead to intelligent, engaged, reading — even to learning Japanesese. What more could you possibly want from a book?


  1. Mamamoose says:

    This reminds me of a public school reading specialist who told me 15+ years ago that her son didn’t like to read. She recognized the importance of getting him motivated and communicated to him via notes. He was getting interested in skateboarding so she read magazines to become familiar with his interests. When the boy wanted to purchase a skateboard, he had to do research prices and get back to her. When he became interested in a half pipe, she again offered to help him but he had to develop the plans to build it. Plans included the amount and cost of lumber ect. When his friends wanted to come over and ride on it she explained the liability. He was then challenged with writing a “waiver” and the boy could have his friends over. I am frustrated with those who undervalue Nonfiction. They tell us that you learn to read so you can read to learn, then give us fantasy. I discovered how I enjoy doing research, because of default. I see a lack of solid information even in the education system (administrators.) I work for doctors and wonder how many teachers would like the people who care for them when they become ill to over look the facts and inject “story”? They may have a new found value of Nonfiction. Maybe the subjective “story” vs. the objective factual resource would simply give them hope but no cure. I applaud you Marc for getting this info out. Keep it up!!! Oh,I should say I really learned a difference in reading styles when I took a database management class. It was like learning a foreign language. I knew how to use the finished product but had a desire to learn how to manage data. It was amazing, the teacher let anyone who wanted to add the class do so. It started with 45 students and only 15 completed the course. All earned A’s. It was all or nothing it seemed.