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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Three point six %, I Mean that 3.6!!!!!

I Was Unfair to Caroline In Passing On Her 80% Without Checking It, But

Mary Bowman-Kruhm (who has been giving us her Work In Progress about Kenya) sent me two articles with some astonishing numbers. Do yourself a favor and read: "There Is More to Reading than Fiction!" in the April 2007 issue of Teacher Librarian, and "Choosing and Using Information Trade Books" in Reading Research Quarterly, V 40, # 4. They both cite a study by N.K. Duke in Volume 35 of Reading Research Quarterly that says that in the elementary school classrooms the author observed, only 3.6 minutes out of every day was spent on reading and talking about nonfiction books. Thus while over 80% of the fourth graders surveyed in the first article said they liked nonfiction, in that same library, the ratio of fiction checked out to nonfiction was 2-1, 65 to 35.

So the kids would like nonfiction if they knew more about it, if their teachers featured it, if it got its fair share of class time. But because their teachers avoid it, the kids are not aware of it, or find it daunting. The two articles also give some terrible numbers on how often fiction is displayed or featured in libraries versus nonfiction. 

The good news is that the two articles clearly show an increasing awareness of nonfiction among librarians and teachers. The bad news is they show how neglected it has been. OK friends, it is time to wade into battle — to carry the banner high, to show fellow teachers and librarians that the change is here, the shift is on. I feel like members of NOW who used to wear buttons showing how much less women were paid for doing the same jobs as men. I think we should all wear 3.6 buttons, hand them out, and win people over to the cause.

3.6! That is a portrait of ignorance and neglect; it must change.


  1. Myra Zarnowski says:

    Many of us are familiar with that mind-blowing statistic from Nell Duke–students read nonfiction for 3.6 minutes a day. For more ammunition about the importance of nonfiction, see the Spring’08 issue of Harvard Educational Review which clearly shows that specific disciplinary related instruction in nonfiction is necessary and needs to begin in the elementary school.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    Thanks, Myra, for pointing to the current issue of HER — abstracts of all the articles are available on the web, just search by the name of the journal.

  3. Alana Abbott says:

    Just a quick question: does this include text book reading (all of which I would consider nonfiction)? When I was in elementary school, only one out of my six classes featured fiction (though several of my teachers would read aloud from a novel after lunch). I also remember being encouraged to read books on animals for our science classes (or books of experiments), biographies for history classes, etc. Granted, things may have changed quite a bit in the last twenty years–but I can’t help but wonder from the statsistic what is being counted as nonfiction, or if the teachers are expecting the nonfiction reading that they assign (we have students coming to our public library for nonfiction titles they are assigned constantly) to be read out of class.

  4. Marc Aronson says:


    I have invited Dr. Duke to come here to talk about her work and she has agreed. She’s finishing up her semester, but I will pass you question on to her.