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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Facts and Coins

My younger son has crossed that magic moment when he can read and so is now confidently exploring his school library shelves. We’d read him plenty of books on his apparent interests — planets, the body, the brain, inventions — but now he can take the lead himself. What does he want to know? — he has fallen in love with coins, thus he wants to know when they were minted, thus who was president, thus how many states were part of the nation when those specific pennies and dimes and quarters were new. Facts — assembling them, and then placing them into a coherent order — just as he must know the power rankings of endless Pokemon characters and their variations — give him endless pleasure.

Because this is new, it is easy to watch the steps — a new item of information where previously he did not know anything. A next bit, which now means he needs to arrange two moments in time, two coins, in a sequence. A sequence which then means change over time — gaps he needs to fill in. With each new discovery comes a growing command — he begins to understand America as a changing place that experienced war (“why were there silver coins during World War II?”) famous leaders (“what were pennies before Lincoln was on them?”), a past that was different from the present (“what was it like in 1967?”)

I collected coins when I was a child, so all of this is familiar to me. But the larger point is not about numismatics. Rather it is to remember that for some young learners facts are the most wonderful stepping stones to knowledge. And that when we so often say, “it is not just facts” (as if “facts” were a “just,” a minor league accomplishment), when we praise books for story, we forget the wonderful stage of reading, and learning, when you are taking possession of the world — one learned unit of information, one fact, one date a state joined the Union, one old coin, at a time.


  1. Myra Zarnowski says:

    That is precisely the point that is too often overlooked. Children like learning information because they need it to think with. How many times do we need to rediscover this? See Walter Parker’s famous phrase–“knowing and doing.” That’s how children learn. They feel a need to know about something and then they apply their new knowledge to make sense of the world.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    perfect — and what can be more fun than to find out something that you want to know, and then to discover how to extend that bit, that fact, into a sentence, a paragraph, a larger insight into the world. And that is why I see NF as pleasure reading — all this is fun, it is pleasurable, it is not “good for assignments,” it is pure joy.