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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

My Point Exactly

This Seems to be my week for sharing articles from the New York Times. I trust you all say this article yesterday, about summer reading It will be no surprise to any of you to learn that a key difference in fall performance is that between kids who read during the summer and those who do not. That is no news. The study put that in terms of actual numbers, “Children who had received free books posted significantly higher test scores than the children who received activity books. The effect, 1/16th of a standard deviation in test scores, was equivalent to a child attending three years of summer school, according to the report to be published in September in the journal Reading Psychology. The difference in scores was twice as high among the poorest children in the study.” So nice to have data, but here is the big news for us — the book kids selected on their own? A biography of Brittany Spears — not Junie B. Jones.

Here’s what the article says, “One of the most notable findings was that children improved their reading scores even though they typically weren’t selecting the curriculum books or classics that teachers normally assigned for summer reading. That conclusion confirms other studies suggesting that children learn best when they are allowed to select their own books.” Well I have been saying this over and over and over again — summer reading lists are always fiction, fiction, fiction, fiction and more fiction. Great that this group included a bio of Ms. Spears — but imagine what kinds of results they’d have if the available texts included more sports selections, more more how-to, more secrets for catching fish.

Summer reading lists are a crime — because they are supposed to be for the entertainment of kids, but they are a reflection of the beliefs of adults about what “reading” is and should be. The Times article is clear — reading over the summer makes a difference, and kids will read, so long as we make available to them that which they would like to read, and, often as not, that will be nonfiction — so long as it is nonfiction that matches their interests, whether that be pop culture, as Brittany and her trevails, or sports, or, again — how to have more fun over the summer. I just cannot see how any summer reading list can defend itself while defeating its own purpose — which is to keep kids reading.


  1. Marc, you are so right about the importance of letting kids select books on the material that interests them, including (or especially) nonfiction. However, since schools are still going to issue summer reading lists, it helps to have a good youth services librarian work with the teachers to develop interesting and diverse lists that will really hit the mark with students. Librarians can champion books that will spark the love of reading, and the educators can learn about new titles and develop a deeper breadth of literature. Win-win on both sides.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    Susan: Of course — I was talking about this very article with a great educator and she said, “I can sell a child on any book.” That is surely true. The problem is that, unfortunately, we don’t have her, or you, or a good youth services librarian available to book talk every list. My concern is simply that nonfiction be there in the mix of titles — and a range of nonfiction, from pop culture biography to how-to summer activities. And to get there requires rethinking what a summer reading list is.

  3. Kathleen Odean says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Along the same lines, booktalking nonfiction is so easy to do and so rewarding. Practically all you have to do is hold up a book with a shark or snake or navy jet or Brittany Spears or a soccer ball on the cover, and it sells itself. Same for displays.

  4. Marc Aronson says:

    I’m sure you are right — after all, what are those books but “stuff kids are interested in” — so it should hardly be a surprise that they are, drumroll, interested in reading the books. Elementary, yes — and yet, the Times article had this air of incredulity — wow, the kids want to read about Brittany Spears! There really is this weird assumption that reading = fiction.