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Nonfiction Peas, Nests, & Hives

Monday has arrived. Time for a few nonfiction titles that you might overlook from Weekly Reader Publishing. When someone says Weekly Reader, what’s the first image to pop into your mind? Did you say those little classroom newsletters delivered each week? Sure, that’s what I recall from being a student and from teaching. I counted on Weekly Reader and its competitors to provide up-to-date news stories at the appropriate reading and content level of my students. I could count on learning something new each week and knowing that at least one child was inspired by something in the newsletter to look at his or her world through new eyes. I still believe strongly that children need to receive reading materials in their homes each week and month throughout the year.

Did you know that Gareth Stevens Publishing has now converged to offer three major brands: World Almanac, Weekly Reader Publishing, and Gareth Stevens? No longer can I picture Weekly Reader as temporary news, but now as serious hardcover contenders in the nonfiction publishing industry for grades Pre K–3 . Gareth Stevens focuses on nonfiction for grades 3–8. One of my favorite parts of the Gareth Stevens website is their resources for librarians including Research White Papers, a Guide to Leveled Readers, and State Standards Correlations. 

I’m hoping they finish updating the Weekly Reader publishing part so it is easier to search for particular series. In the meantime, you should really request one of their catalogs to look at some of the series out there leveled for younger readers. 

Two of the series meeting needs of my students are the "How Plants Grow" and "Where Animals Live" sets. While the "How Plants Grow" series covers the traditional "apple" title to meet the needs of my K-1 Johnny Appleseed unit each year, it also focuses on some other plants that are not frequently written about — corn, tulips, grass, pine trees, and peas. The first child who looked at the cover of the book How Peas Grow asked me what they were and how they got in there. The child could not believe her canned peas came from a pod with bumps inside. What is the world coming to? Our students need to actually touch more fresh fruits and vegetables to experience growing, living things. I’ll be bringing in fresh peas for that classroom this week! I just wish it were summer so I could take them out to a working garden.

These titles are written for the beginner reader so they are simple, repetitive with photographs closely linked to the text. They are designed to be read within an instructional guided reading group. Susan Nations, an author, literacy coach, and consultant in literacy development, worked with the publisher as the reading consultant. I’m definitely going to have these on hand for my K-1 classes.

My criticism of the How Plants Grow series: The web sites listed in the back are best used with adult supervision. The Birds Eye Frozen Vegetables Kids Activity Pages indicated in the list of Web Sites, doesn’t give a link. I found the pdf file here which is for the educator to use. The site listed ( is written for an educator to use with recipes, lesson plans, and coloring pages. I was not pleased with that section, but if I were going to the web with K-1st graders, I’d pre-choose sites anyway. 

Another criticism I had was that the books listed in the "For More Information" section had no copyright dates listed. While the students wouldn’t miss those, as a librarian I’d like to know before beginning to find these titles for teachers, the age of the books. Perhaps I am nitpicking, but I think these are easy corrections for the publishers to make and they do not detract at all from the student experience with the book. This remains a very good, easy to read nonfiction series on the life-cycles of plants.  

On to the "Where Animals Live" series and two titles by Valerie Weber. These contain more information on the Guided Reading Levels. For example, Why Animals Live in Nests indicates GR. J; DRA: 18, El: 17-18 and a Running Word Count: 794. Why Animals Live in Hives indicates GR: K; DRA: 20, El: 19-20 and a running word count of 794. In addition to the author’s work, these each have a reading consultant and a science and curriculum consultant. 

These are very useful titles. They FILL their 24 pages with far more facts and value than you’d expect. Having gone into a 3rd grade classroom where the teacher was trying to explain what a hive was, I know that students AND teachers need this title for more information. Just wait until you read aloud that bees seal the larvae into cells where they become pupae and then adult bees who actually chew their way out of the cells. Cool!

I learned much from both of those titles and believe I can make teaching about animal homes more exciting now than before. I intend to puchase the rest of the series involving Burrows, Caves, Shells, and Webs

The websites indicated in the back are more appropriate for this series. The titles listed for more information are also current, despite the lack of indicated copyright dates. I did go doublecheck them because I am obsessive.

So, Weekly Reader did surprise me with two series worthy of my limited funds. I can easily use these titles with the curriculum, they are accurate, and they meet the needs of the students indicated. Stay tuned to this blog and I’ll update you with other WR titles as I find useful series.