Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books: Part 1

I recently had a conversation with author Melissa Stewart about sharing nonfiction titles in the classroom. We were discussing ways to introduce more nonfiction titles to our young learners.

I started thinking about some of the things I do, looked back through blog posts and classroom photos and realized that I was potentially going to write one of the longest blog posts ever written! For ease of reading (and writing!), I have broken things up into three distinct posts and will share these over the next week:

Part 1: Everywhere you look . . . let there be nonfiction!

Part 2: The importance of the nonfiction read aloud

Part 3: Interacting with nonfiction: getting students reading, thinking and talking together (Updated: this post is now split into 2 parts)

3A: Generating excitement, making choices and having time to read

3 B: Reading and working with the texts 

The intention with each of these posts is to share a practical “how to” list of how to read more, celebrate more and use more nonfiction picture books in the late primary/early intermediate classroom. For reference, last year I taught a Grade 2/3/4 class.

Always, my goal is to increase an interest in and a love of nonfiction reading. I am sure that many of you are already doing many of these things – probably many of them differently and better than me! But it is always informative to read about what is happening in other classrooms to help us think more about what is happening in our own. Please feel free to offer suggestions and ideas in the comments.

Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books:

Part 1: Everywhere you look . . . let there be nonfiction!

Know your books.

There are so many fantastic nonfiction titles being published and keeping current is important if we want to nurture a love of nonfiction in our students. One of the biggest issues for teachers wanting to share more nonfiction with their students is where to begin. What books are out there? Are they a good fit for specific grades/readers/interest levels? What books are wonderful read alouds? Which books are ideal for independent reading at different reading and interest levels?

It is hard to know where to start. Best piece of advice – start with the educators, authors and illustrators who have not only started but are immersed in the land of nonfiction books. Let their passion and knowledge inspire and inform your choices.

  • Read blogs (see a list of recommendations at the bottom of this post)
  • Check out the new titles in your favourite bookstore and public library.
  • Pay attention to best of lists (see below) and award winners (again see below).
  • If you are on Pinterest, follow boards that highlight nonfiction titles

Read nonfiction picture books for your own enjoyment.

We are passionate about titles that we have read and enjoyed. Set a goal to read more nonfiction titles and you won’t be able to resist sharing. One of the best things I did was join Alyson Beecher‘s nonfiction picture book challenge last year. Alyson challenged educators to read more nonfiction picture books and share updates by participating in the #nfpb20i4 (this year’s twitter hashtag) meme. Here is a link to Alyson’s challenge for 2014. The best thing about participating in this challenge is being part of a reading community who is excited and passionate to share nonfiction titles with students and educators.

Bring these books into the classroom!

Children need to look up and find nonfiction titles in their learning environment, not just associate nonfiction with one section of the library where you go to learn research skills. I regularly rotate nonfiction from the library into my classroom displays. But I also purchase new nonfiction titles for our classroom collection. When I buy new books, I am conscious of making sure I have both fiction and nonfiction titles. Sometimes I go shopping strictly to add new nonfiction books that represent current student interests. Students will often ask me to find more titles about a particular topic or “a book that is like ________”(some current favourite). In my classroom this year, there was a lot of interest in insects, gardens and life in the ocean. I keep a little notebook full of sticky note requests and take it with me when I go book shopping. Often I take photos of a book shopping spree so these pictures help illustrate the balance in my book purchases.

Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books: Part 1 There's a Book for That Book talk nonfiction books.

I keep a basket of books to book talk by my chair at our carpet area. The students know that they aren’t supposed to peek and what is in the basket is always a source of anticipation and excitement. There are always fiction and nonfiction books in this basket so that I ensure I am giving equal “rave about/celebrate” talks to both genres. On certain days I will just book talk some new nonfiction. Other days I book talk a variety of titles. The consistent thing, I am book talking every day. If I have limited time, I set a timer and grab a pile and challenge myself to “sell” those books before the timer goes off. The students think this is hilarious. I think it is highly effective because about 95% of the time all of the books have been nabbed and landed in student book boxes or in reader’s hands by the time I am finished.

What do I highlight when I book talk nonfiction titles? Some of these things (depending on time available and purpose)

  • information about the author and illustrator/photographer: What motivated them to write the book? Have we read their work before?
  • some of the features in the book i.e. maps, timelines, close up photography, etc. I also use this time, when possible to review how to use some of the features in the book. For example, I might be sharing a book about grasshoppers. I will wonder aloud how high they can jump. I then ask students about how I might find that information. They might suggest the index, table of contents or page headings. We would go through the process of actually looking to see if we could find the answer to my question.
  • ways to interact with the book i.e.  skipping to a life cycle chart as an overview of the stages of life before reading sections in more detail
  • ways to buddy read a title (i.e. how to take turns reading sections/what kind of questions that might be asked, turn taking looking up words in the glossary, etc.)
  • suggestions of other books in the room on the same topic/theme or asking students if they can think of any other books in the room on same topic (as they get to know our library better I do this more and more)

I also might

  • read aloud an interesting fact or two
  • share my favourite photo/illustration and ask a few questions about it
  • “quiz” the students and take guesses before sharing information in the book i.e. “Does anyone want to guess how long a mountain gorilla lives in the wild?”
  • read aloud a passage that reinforces something we have just learned so that students know that they can increase their knowledge on a topic we already know something about

Think about your book displays

I have a shelf of nonfiction titles right beside our carpet area where we gather for many lessons and read alouds. I believe that proximity leads to curiosity so I was strategic about placing these titles close.

Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books: Part 1 There's a Book for That

I also use a tiny bulletin board in another area of the classroom to display the book covers of the nonfiction books we are in the middle of reading or have just finished. Because we do so much reading, writing and talking about these titles, I like highlighting the covers in a place of importance.

Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books: Part 1 There's a Book for That

On top of one set of bookshelves is a display stand of nonfiction titles where I can display books with the covers facing out. It sits beside an identical stand of fiction picture books. This is deliberate – to convey the message to students that we read widely – choosing both fiction and nonfiction titles.

Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books: Part 1 There's a Book for That

Also near the carpet area is an every changing book display of books from the classroom and school library that we have recently read or book talked. As you can see in the photo below, both fiction and nonfiction feature prominently. We know from our own reactions when we walk into a library space that our eye is drawn to books that are displayed covers out. Be conscious of what students see when they look around the classroom.

Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books: Part 1 There's a Book for That

My students also see that I have bins dedicated to nonfiction titles in my own teaching areas. They get excited about peeking into these bins and making read aloud requests.

Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books: Part 1 There's a Book for That

One of my favourite memories of this school year was after we read Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman Later, I found one of my students snooping through my Picture Book Biography bin. “Do you have any more of those girls can’t or people can’t kind of books?” she asked. Of course, I did. We went on to read Every Day is Malala Day and our discussions and learning continued.

Every Day is Malala Day Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books: Part 1 There's a Book for That Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books: Part 1 There's a Book for That

Further reading/information:

Blogs that highlight a lot of nonfiction titles:

KidLitFrenzy and all of the blogs that regularly participate in the #nfpb2014 challenge. All of my posts from 2014 are here and from 2013, here.

The Nonfiction Detectives

Celebrate Science

Librarian’s Quest

Delightful Children’s Books

Under the category of picture books Mary Ann Reilly shares fantastic themed lists by subject and grade level ranges on her blog Between the By-Road and the Main Road

Best of Lists:

The Nerdy Book Club: Nonfiction Picture Book Winners:  2013 winners

School Library Journal’s Best Nonfiction of the year: Here is the 2013 list

Waking Brain Cell’s best nonfiction list: Top 20 2013 titles 


Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

Cook Prize (STEM) Award 

Pinterest boards featuring nonfiction picture books:

My boards: Nonfiction and Wishlist: nonfiction picture books

2014 Best Children’s Nonfiction by Tasha Saecker

Best Non-fiction for Kids by Pragmatic Mom

Great Nonfiction for Kids by Choice Literacy

Melissa Stewart has started a board that highlights blogs that share lots of nonfiction: Blogs Worth Reading

Some posts on my blog which feature a number of favourite nonfiction titles:

Wonder Inducing Nonfiction Read Alouds

Swoon Worthy Nonfiction Picture Books

If you are a blogging teacher or a reader of blogs consider following and participating in the #nfpb2014 hashtag and link up on the blog KidLit Frenzy every Wednesday. There is also a Nonfiction 10 for 10  blogging event that has run for the last two years in February. This is hosted by Cathy Mere from Reflect and RefineMandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning  and Julie Balen of Write at the Edge. Follow on twitter with the #nf10for10 hashtag. My #nf10for10 post this year was The Wonder of Women. It featured 10 picture book biographies about women in history.

I am passionate about sharing lots of nonfiction titles with my students and increasing their excitement about reading nonfiction books.  I welcome any feedback. In particular, please feel free to suggest favourite blogs, lists and Pinterest boards that others might enjoy.

Happy nonfiction reading!

Next post? Part 2: The importance of the nonfiction read aloud

8 thoughts on “Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books: Part 1

    • Alyson, thank you. I am honoured you want to share this. “Happy Dance” back at you! As always, thank you for all of your inspiration and for sharing such a love of nonfiction titles that we can share with our students.

  1. This is fantastic Carrie. I will be including it in my blog post on Sunday. I know this was a huge time commitment but it will be of value to many. I am honored that you included my blog.

    • Thank you so much Margie! It was my pleasure to include your blog. Your reviews are always so comprehensive – the books seem to materialize right off the computer screen!

  2. Carrie,
    This post is a wonderful collection of simple ideas to get our kids excited about non-fiction. Perfect as we get ready to flip the calendar and prepare for the new year. Your post made me think about how I am a bit guilty of letting the chips fall where they may when it comes to my kids’ reading preferences. You have given me several ideas about how to equalize the time and attention given to fiction and non-fiction. You are such a balanced girl!!

    • Thank you Stephanie. I am absolutely passionate about books in general but think that we do our children a disservice if we don’t provide lots of access and exposure to nonfiction titles. These books often don’t get discovered on their own, yet they quickly become favourites.

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