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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Nonfiction Reading As A Creative Act

Rosanne’s Post About Teaching Her Students to Read Nonfiction

reminded me of something I saw in those articles on 3.6. Not only is it that teachers are unfamiliar with NF, but students don’t know how to read it. I had skimmed over that, but I think there is something really important in that. My 7 year old son knows to scan the sports page, see the key info (did the Yankees win, did a favorite player do something good or bad), then he turns to the box score to get stats. I suspect that just about any kid who likes a nonfiction subject — sports to science to pets — has some degree of familiarity with that kind of reading: how do you find the nugget of fact, the stat, the bullet point information, you need. I like box scores too, and probably for many nonfiction readers of all ages, part of the pleasure is that you can glean discrete, concrete, information. We had a friend over the other day who is pondering what to do with her life savings in a bad investment market. She clearly had a similar eye for specific numbers — what rate of return could this produce versus that. 

But for me, the real fun, the real pleasure; actually, the true joy of nonfiction reading comes in interpretation. The other day I read an interview Roger Sutton of the Horn Book did with Russell Freedman. Russell kept saying that the duty of a nonfiction writer for younger readers is distillation, not speculation. He is a master of distillation — he has accomplished what he set out to achieve. But I don’t view interpretation as being the same thing as speculation. It seems to me that a mind at any age will have questions, thoughts, new ideas, hunches, impressions that are sparked by what you read. Nonfiction gives you the opportunity to apply that fundamental trait of the human mind to reality — to the past, the present, the future, the nature of things. Fiction lets you exercise the human need to imagine reality; nonfiction gives you the chance to interpret, explore, investigate reality. 

To put this in a different way, nonfiction reading at its best is active reading. You are absorbing what someone else has found out, but so that you can begin to learn, think, build something on your own. If students (and teachers) think of nonfiction reading as passive — taking in information — they miss at least half of the point. So the quesetion is (and this also came up in Roni Jo’s post), how can we help students to discover the active side of nonfiction reading?



    I’m wondering where Roger Sutton’s interview with Russell Freedman is published?

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    It was in the Horn Book, I don’t have the date — but at least some of their old articles are available online, try their website, which is

  3. MONA EDWARDS says:

    Ah! This is good. I’m a middle school Library Media Specialist. I think I will take the sports page in and have someone illustrate how they read it. After that, students can look at some preselected (awesome) nonfiction books and do the same. Thanks for the lesson!!

  4. MONA EDWARDS says:

    Still thinking . . . maybe I can get a teacher to give students their end of unit test before they begin the unit but after they have skimmed the chapter, reading all of the bold, different fonts, looked at pictures, read captions, etc. See how that turns out.

  5. Melissa says:

    There are some great and interesting NF historical reads out there. I’m just finishing up “Return to Middle Kingdom:, by Yuan-tsung Chen. Yuan-tsung Chen’s portraits have the power and subtlety of a master historical novelist, the book is a sheer pleasure to read.