Back then, it was always called nonfiction, and was in the dusty part of the library. The books almost never had pretty jackets, the text was dense, and the photos were in black and white. At least in my library, which had very few new books (and I don't remember ever seeing a librarian).
Now, though... the topics range every interest. Books are engaging and inviting. There are many different kinds of informational text to suit every mood. (Don't believe me? Check out the Family Tree of Nonfiction Text.)
Last year, I participated for the first time in the Sibert Smackdown, an activity I found on Melissa Stewart's blog, Celebrate Science. In this project, students closely examine a selection of informational texts and consider their merits according to a rubric based on the selection criteria for the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, giving annually by the American Library Association. You can see the criteria here.
My students LOVED this. They were able to use the knowledge they had learned about informational text and be experts... much like the people who were actually on the selection committee!
They learned the importance of reading the back matter (not to mention what back matter was).
They learned that there are many different types of informational text, and that authors have to choose carefully so that their text structure and organization matches their purpose and audience.
In Giant Squid, they also learned to be careful of the gatefolds!
They also learned that sometimes surprises lurk on the back of the dust jacket. The kids discovered this sweet surprise before I did! I don't always take the dust jackets off, but the kids do. (Thank you to the designers of The Secret Subway for this!)
This year, I've decided to do this project again. I paid close attention to bloggers and reviewers whenever they posted about nonfiction in order to make sure I was reading as many really great books as I could. As you've probably noticed from previous mentions, I'm a big fan of Melissa Stewart's blog, and I also looked to Allyson Beecher at KidLit Frenzy. Whenever they posted books that were new to me, I got them from my public library and started buying the ones I thought were contenders for their Mock Sibert/Sibert Smackdown lists. Having that year of experience doing the project last year informed my decision making for this go-round. I bought WAY more informational books for my classroom library - so much so that I am now completely out of space for new books. But in the end, it paid off. I did not have to buy a single book when the lists came out. I had all of them!
Here are the books my students will be examining this year:
- Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markle and Nancy Carpenter
- Give Bees a Chance by Bethany Barton
- Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Hallmark
- Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
- Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Weschler
- How the Cookie Crumbled by Gilbert Ford
- How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy
- One Proud Penny by Randy Siegel
- This Is How We Do It by Matt LaMothe
- The World Is Not a Rectangle by Jeanette Winter
- The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson
- Danza! by Duncan Tonatiah
- Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael James Mahin
- Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome
- A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman
- Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart
I can't wait to see what the kids think about all of these titles. I'll be writing more about this project as we move through it as well as the work my students do as writers of nonfiction as they research and write their own informational texts.
Be sure to check back for updates!