January – for me anyway – has been all facts! I am knee-deep in nonfiction right now and absolutely loving it. Truth be told, I’ve always loved informational books (think: historical fiction).
When I was tutoring, I loved using nonfiction picture books and easy readers because the format allows kids to explore without having to remember story arcs or characters. Here’s what sharing nonfiction has taught me …
Kids actually read more text because they want to learn more about what’s in that picture.
Readers retain more because they would absorb a specific fact or select set of information.
Fidgety readers could move all around the book – read page 10 before page 3 – and not “miss” anything.
To paraphrase our friends at Reading Rainbow, there is no end to what we can learn in a book. Readers of all ages can enjoy a nonfiction book, if for no other reason they have pictures to look at. To demonstrate that idea, I thought I’d share two books from Rourke Educational Media and show how they can be used with readers of different readiness levels.
As you can see from the reading and interest levels, this book is meant for independent readers. There is lots of text and big words that young readers may not understand or be able to decipher. Younger readers will be lured by the cute seals, arctic fox, and colorful photography.
Left to explore the book, they can get a lot out of it just by looking at the pictures and reading the photo captions and the “Chew on This” insets. Sitting with a child, parents and caregivers can either read or paraphrase the more detailed information.
Although this book is for an elementary audience, the reading level is at the high end of that group. There are concepts (like ISO codes) that young students wouldn’t understand; but the book is peppered with “Interesting Fun Facts” that are simple, one-sentence pieces of trivia about money around the world (like why the 2-dollar Canadian coin is called a toonie).
There are so many topics you can talk about using this book as your starting point. Pull out a globe and it is a chance to introduce children to other places in the world. Diverse school populations open doors for students to bring in samples of money from their homeland, or maybe what things cost … which leads us to math. That fabulous picture of US currency (above) could help a first or second grader learning about money see the items side by side, front and back.
The great thing about books that cross reading readiness levels is that they have a great shelf life. What started as an interest in looking at cute seal pictures in first grade becomes a handy resource for the ecosystems project in fifth!
For my money, there is nothing more magical than the moment someone realizes they are reading “all by myself.” Their face lights up as though they just got the best gift ever.
Truth be told, they did … just ask any of us who are passionate about literacy and who love to read. Finding those just-right books to engage and encourage new readers is so important. It is also why the Aggie and Ben series by Lori Ries is one of my favorites. For perspective: these are the books you turn to after you’re child has mastered Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems.
Ben, our narrator, and his adorable dog Aggie grab the interest – and hearts – of his listeners right away. A boy-and-his-dog story is timeless, yet each one is fresh, with humor and that surprise ending. They are similar to Elephant and Piggie, but for the reader with a little more vocabulary who is ready for a more complex story.
These are illustrated, short chapter books that could also double as short stories. Although it can be helpful to read the chapters in order, you don’t have to. More importantly, each book in the series stands on its own, so they don’t have to be read sequentially. Although this is billed as a book series for kids in Kindergarten through Second Grade, the stories are perfect for reading with young listeners not yet ready to read, as well as mixed-age audiences. They also offer a nice way to introduce the chapter concept to that audience.
On The Reading Tub you can read the reviews our families wrote for Aggie and Ben; Three Stories (2009 review), Good Dog, Aggie (2009 review), and Aggie the Brave (2010 review). Rather than republish those reviews here, I wanted to draw out the key thoughts about each book from the parents and kids who read them. Although we didn’t review Aggie Gets Lost, I’m guessing the sentiment would be consistent with what we HAVE read.
Aggie and Ben; Three Stories Charlesbridge, 2007
When Dad takes Ben to the pet store, he must decide what kind of pet he wants: a A bird? a mouse? a cat? No, a dog. Aggie. Once Aggie is home, she and Ben are inseparable. Ben follows her every move and Aggie follows Ben everywhere. Aggie has a lot to learn, and Ben is happy to teach her … even when he hears a growl in the dark.
Our daughter immediately saw herself and HER dog in the stories. Since that first time when we read the book together, she has picked it up herself to read.
The author effectively not only speaks with a child’s logic, but has their sense of humor, too. The illustrations fill most of the pages, helping to keep the text to a minimum.
The image-to-text balance makes it enticing to read the whole thing in one sitting.
Parents who want to talk about the responsibility of owning a pet could (with a little stretch) find the stories helpful.
Good Dog, Aggie
Charlesbridge, 2009 Ben is trying to train Aggie, who just flunked out of obedience school. When he says sits, she runs; when he says run, she runs. Aggie doesn’t want to sit or stay, and she is causing trouble. Finally, Ben decides Aggie is just not a good dog. He takes Aggie and his little red ball to the park only to learn that she has her own way of deciding when she wants to sit.
Ben is a boy who is easy to relate to. Aggie is adorable … and made even more so by Ben’s attempts to train her. Anyone who has tried to train a dog will empathize with Ben’s frustration.
This is a text-heavy easy reader, but there is plenty of white space and the chapters give natural stopping points to talk about prediction and review what has already happened.
This is a good transition book for kids who need a paragraph or two of text but aren’t ready to move away from illustrations.
Aggie the Brave
Ben and his mom are taking Aggie to the vet to be spayed. Aggie is scared; Ben is brave … until he learns that he’ll be going home without Aggie. Ben hopes that by going to bed in the afternoon tomorrow will get here faster and they can pick up Aggie sooner. Ben is happy, but sad. Now Aggie has to be a “quiet” dog for two weeks. No running around. How can Ben help Aggie be brave now?
This story, in particular, will resonate with any family who has a pet going to the vet for surgery and/or overnight. Ben is an “all kids” character who is brave (but then not), happy (but then sad), and always compassionate.
Aggie is a dog, but the experiences are equally apropos for cats or other animals who go to the vet. This is great for sharing with young kids, kids learning to read, or older siblings reading for you.
The main theme of the book is what happens at the vet, but there are lots of things to explore: Ben’s feelings (and Aggie’s too), how Ben finds ways to help Aggie feel better, and friendship. This would be a good book for helping kids understand empathy and compassion.
As you might guess, the families who read and reviewed these books have one recommendation: Aggie and Ben is a must-have for book series for building reader confidence.
As I mentioned last week, reading with your kids – even when there are many years between them – can be enjoyable for everyone to share together. Sometimes it may be about the book, but every time it is an opportunity to connect with your kids and connect them with each other!
With homework looming most days, it can be very hard to find time to be together and remind the kids that reading is for enjoyment, too. Even a ritual like reading a [insert: poem, chapter, picture book, comic strip] at the table one morning or evening a week is great. It is your tradition, so do what works for you!
In The Read Aloud Handbook (now in its Sixth Edition!) Jim Trelease emphasizes that as readers, we have a listening level and a reading level. In Hey! Listen to This! (an article on his website), he re-emphasizes this point.
A consistent mistake made by parents and teachers is the assumption that a child’s listening level is the same as his or her reading level. Until about eighth grade, that is far from true; early primary grade students listen many grades above their reading level. This means that early primary grade students are capable of hearing and understanding stories that are far more complicated than those they can read themselves.
What does that mean? Well, you don’t have to read only picture books with simple messages or text. Young audiences can be enticed to enjoy text-heavy picture books and chapter books alike. There are a number of genres that naturally lend themselves to reading to mixed-age audiences, including …
Nonfiction. More specifically, nonfiction picture books, also called “informational picture books.” One of the best ways to hook kids of any age on reading is to give them some nonfiction books. They may be straight-up factual books, or they may be stories that have lots of facts in them (think: historical fiction for example). The great thing about informational picture books is that they have something for everyone. These are books that invite exploring, so whether you read all of the text or just talk about the illustrations, you’re in for an enjoyable, shared read.
Poetry. Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein write poetry that is meant to be read aloud.
Their poems are very “graphic,” allowing readers to “see” what they describe, and they often have a nonsensical quality that strike kids’ funny bones.
Humor. Despite the dictionary description, defining “funny” is a matter of personal taste. Still, a good laugh is something we all enjoy. As a parent, you understand the types of humor your kids enjoy … and you can decide what types of things you want to share together.
Books with lots of dialogue. “Dialog books” aren’t a specific genre, but a lot of short chapter books use conversation among the characters to tell the story. There are usually only a few characters (often school-aged kids and an adult or two) so it is an opportunity for everyone to take a role and read together.
These are by no means the only genres. On her website, storyteller Mary Hamilton offers a handy checklist that describes reading interests for various ages, from preschool through high school.
When you are selecting a book the whole family can enjoy, what types of books do you pick? If you have a family – or classroom – favorite, be sure to share!
Mom reading with kids: Family Story Minute by Sean Dreilinger on Flicker. Copyright. Some rights reserved.
Collage of nonfiction picture books: University of Maryland News photostream on Flickr. Copyright. Some rights reserved University of Maryland Press Releases.
Bookshelf with poetry books. Thingamababy Awesome Wall photostream on Flickr. Copyright. All rights reserved.
Roscoe Riley by Katherine Applegate. Book cover image by Mr. Biggs photostream on Flickr. Copyright. All rights reserved.
Reading aloud is not only a great way to model reading, it can be lots of fun … especially when you add voices and noise and bring the story to life.
With “little kids,” reading aloud seems the natural thing to do. They can’t read the words on the page, so you do it for them. Once young readers become independent, though, we sometimes forget that they still enjoy – and can also benefit from – listening to you read. But who has time to read with each child every night? “Not I,” said the exhausted parent.
We need one book for sharing with everyone. But picking the right book can get tricky. The 9-year-old doesn’t want to hear “baby” books, and the preschooler isn’t ready for some of the subjects nor can they sit still that long! Finding books that interest your 4-year-old AND your preteen may be easier than it sounds.
Don’t give up on picture books. Librarian Pam Coughlan points out in a PBS Booklights post that sometimes those pre-teen protests are a surface reaction. See: Reading Aloud: Picture Books Rule! (MotherReader, March 2009). After the requisite “that’s for babies” teens will still sit and listen to a picture book. They may even surprise themselves with how much they enjoy their little brother’s reactions. The secret bonus: you are modeling reading for them so they can read to their brother later!
Chapter books need pictures, too. Illustrated chapter books are helpful because young audiences often need the images which engage their interest while you read pages with a lot more text. In general, the chapters in these books are short, making it easy to read in small spurts and over consecutive nights.
Mix it up. Sometimes you have enough time – and the kids’ temperaments are in sync – to read something that each child likes, and you can share a picture book and a chapter or two from a longer story. On those days when your energy is low, just pick one. The kids will understand … and be happy not to miss the chance to spend quality time with you.
Regularly sharing a book as a family will not only let you reconnect and renew a love of stories and books. Who knows, as everyone becomes readers, maybe everyone will want a turn!
Toes and a book: Public photo on Flicker.com. Copyright All rights reserved by Tina Cockburn Photography, tcockburn2002.