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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

I Can’t Get Over That Number

How About You? What Did 3.6 Mean to You?

For years I have been hearing that teachers in elementary school ignored nonfiction, and I experienced that when my older son was in first grade. And yet that Read Research article still shocks and upsets me. How can we complain that boys don’t read, how can we lament our children’s lack of knowledge about math, science, the world, how can we shake our heads about our test scores compared to other nations — how can we express all of these deep concerns about our school systems — and ignore this most obvious gap? If in the early years, the grades where kids get used to school, to reading, to assignments, their teachers avoid nonfiction books like the plague, of course our children will not know how to read them, use them, appreciate them, turn to them for ideas, pleasure, as well as answers.

I would think that these questions have special importance for school librarians — you have nonfiction on your shelves, you have kids who would like to read those books, and yet — the studies I cited the other day show — teachers are not featuring those books in class. Have you run into this problem? How have you handled it? What can an alert school librarians do to make up for what is not going on in class? When I went to the Deerfield library I was thrilled to see how they used displays to feature nonfiction (not my books, not the "here are some books by our visiting author" display that goes up and comes down). The display was about Alaska, the Klondike Gold Rush, the Iditerod — and I heard that they were having trouble maintaining it, because so many kids were asking to take out the books. So what experience have you had with displays, book talks, games to engage kids with nonfiction, even if teachers do not?

Can we come up with a list of "best practices" to share?


  1. Sending you those articles, Marc, was serendipity! I had only skimmed them to read later for a presentation and you did the analysis! Thanks, depressing as the 3.6 min. is. I printed out “3.6 (That’s the average number of minutes elementary students read NF informational books/day—yet that’s the kind of reading they will do the rest of their lives!)
    Help raise that number!” in huge letters on bright yellow card stock and distributed them at my sessions. Folks were grabbing them so maybe others want to spread the word.

    For young kids, there is a lesson plan on Animal Study: From Fiction to Facts to help kids analyze both genre and pick out correct facts on habitat, various areas after checking NF. Sounds like a useful idea for all levels in getting both students and teachers to move from fiction to informational books.

  2. ROSANNE Z says:

    I’m a little late commenting to this post. Our students compete in the National History Day competition and Science Fair. As a librarian, I’ve noticed that they are able to research just fine…they can find the information they need. But they seem to have problems interpreting what they are reading. In January I made it part of our weekly Library classes to begin each class with 10 minutes of reading on any non-fiction text of their choosing. They keep a log of important facts from each reading period. I suppose it is “assigned” reading in that they “have to” read, but I look at it as practice in reading non-fiction texts. It also has the added benefit of expanding their horizons by giving them the opportunity to explore a topic of interest to them. Plus, I get to catch up on my reading too. I also do themed displays and booktalks on non-fiction.

  3. Marc Aronson says:

    That difference between the ability to find information (Google) and to interpret it is crucial. I had not realized this until very recently, but as you point out, kids need to learn how to read NF critically.