When Helping Kids Find Books They Love, Don’t Forget Nonfiction
By Bridget Heos
When I was a kid, I had a habit of snooping. I think I would have been one of those amateur detectives except that nothing good ever happened in my neighborhood, meaning nothing bad. While snooping around on my brother’s bookshelf, I found that he had inscribed in an early reader about Jackie Robinson, “This is the greatest book I’ve ever read!” Other favorite books of his included a story about germs and a biography of St. Luke the physician. I guess even then I was interested in what kinds of books people liked.
When I started taking my oldest son to the library, I soon realized that he loved nonfiction, too, and as a matter of fact, wanted nothing to do with fiction. That meant there would be no weepy-eyed readings of The Giving Tree or The Velveteen Rabbit, which I had imagined would conclude every day of motherhood. We would be reading about turtles. And then dinosaurs. And then insects. Then tide pools. And finally mammals. As it turned out, I kind of liked these books. Pretty soon, as a freelance newspaper and magazine writer, I asked myself who was writing these books, and learned that they were written by freelance writers like me. That’s how I became a children’s book writer.
My son now reads both fiction and nonfiction, but much of the fiction he reads is based on fact. Meanwhile, my middle son prefers Guinness Book-type books, as well as picture book biographies. Only my youngest son prefers fiction. My husband also tends to read about half nonfiction—in the form of sports biographies. I read about half and half, as well. So about three-fifths of our household reading time is dedicated to nonfiction.
I think it’s important, as parents or teachers, to figure out what kinds of books kids like, and to know that many kids prefer nonfiction (and often nonfiction about one topic in particular, animals, for instance, or fighter planes.) Without the option of the books they really want to read, they may be labeled nonreaders or reluctant readers.
I think we’re all reluctant readers to some extent. I’m a reluctant reader of Pokémon handbooks. I dread reading them to my children even though reading to them is my favorite part of the day. I hide Pokémon handbooks so that I don’t have to read them. If every book I had the option of reading were a Pokémon book, I would not read. I think that’s how a lot of people feel about books they don’t like.
When trying to find books that kids DO like, be sure to include lots of nonfiction options. You may be surprised by how many “reluctant” readers turn out to be voracious readers. And if you are a nonfiction reader yourself, I encourage you to share this enthusiasm with the kids you know, so that they can see that being a voracious reader includes being a devourer of facts.
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