Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reaching Out to Reluctant Readers with Nonfiction

Some children don't like to read.

While that seems like a pretty obvious and simplistic statement, the reasons for WHY they don't like to read are complex and unique to individual children. Some may have a learning disability and may find reading to be a painful, frustrating, and even embarrassing process, especially when asked to read aloud in class. Some kids are involved in so many activities that they simply can't find the time to sit down with a book. And some find reading to be excruciatingly boring, given all of the other high-tech visually stimulating forms of entertainment out there.

Regardless of the reason, there's no arguing that knowing HOW to read is a crucial life skill, and the more you read, the more well-rounded and successful you'll be in many aspects of life.

If you find that your child is struggling with reading, talk to him or her about it, and try to get to the heart of the matter. If you suspect a learning disability, talk to a reading specialist, your child's teacher or principal, or another professional who can help assess the situation and provide services if necessary. But even if your child does require help from experts, there are still things you can do to help him or her develop a love for books or reading, and one of these is introducing your child to nonfiction.

Why nonfiction?
According to Dr. Susan B. Neuman, "Some children prefer nonfiction. They enjoy learning about how things work — spaceships, machines, scientific phenomena. You’ll find that these children ask lots of questions when you read them nonfiction, and they develop a rich vocabulary on these topics. Nonfiction books are filled with wonderful real-life pictures and clear illustrations that will fascinate your child." **

Another great thing about nonfiction is that many books are broken up into chunks with accompanying illustrations or photographs. This is great for kids who are either hesitant or unable to read long stories. They can flip through the book and choose to read what interests them the most.

Perhaps the best benefit of nonfiction is that it demonstrates to reluctant readers that you can find a lot of great information in books and that reading can actually be enjoyable.

Choosing nonfiction
With all of the material available out there, how do you go about finding reading materials for your child?

Here a few quick pointers:

  1. Go straight to the source and ASK your child.
    What topic would he/she like to learn more about? What interests him/her? Perhaps it's insects, a sports figure, dinosaurs, or cooking.

  2. Once you get an idea about what your child likes, seek help from a librarian, teacher, other parents, etc.
    Don't take it all on yourself to find reading material for your child. Your local children's librarian can help you find books on the topic that interests your child, and because he/she is around books all day, he/she can quickly point you in the right direction.

  3. Don't worry too much about the book's suggested reading level.
    Sometimes we want to make sure that our children are reading at the appropriate level, and we may pass up books that are either above or below our child's reading level. With reluctant readers, the goal is really to get books into your child's hands, and good nonfiction has compelling pictures that your child will enjoy even if he/she can't read the text. If your child has difficulty reading the text, reading with him/her is a great bonding opportunity. Plus, you'll be around to answer questions and discuss the book's subject matter. If the book is below your child's reading level, that's still okay. It doesn't mean he/she is not learning. I can't begin to tell you how much I've learned from the nonfiction children's books I've read.

  4. Don't limit yourself to books.
    Because books can sometimes be overwhelming, try audio books or magazines. Even look for information on the Web. If a nearby museum has an exhibit on the topic of interest, plan a visit. In real life, we don't get all of our information from books, yet we're surrounded by words.

  5. Most importantly, make it fun.
    Forcing your child to read or learn information that's not interesting to him/her will backfire on your efforts to instill the joy of reading in your child.

Nonfiction Suggestions
Here are just a few wonderful nonfiction books I've recently read and highly recommend. Check out the left sidebar of this blog to find more of my nonfiction book reviews.

Guess What Is Growing Inside This Egg by Mia Posada
Designed for younger children, this beautifully illustrated book features rhyming clues that invite children to guess the animal that is growing inside the egg. (read my full review here)

Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
This book presents all kinds of interesting information about animal sibling relationships. For example, did you know that nine-banded armadillos are ALWAYS born as identical quadruplets? Did you know that cheetah brothers hunt together throughout their lives while the sisters separate from their families when they're two years old to start their own. (read my full review here)

Do Not Open: An Encyclopedia of the World's Best Kept Secrets by John Farndon
Do Not Open comes in its own silver vault that begs readers to open it, and the book itself is chock full of fascinating facts from ships and aircraft that have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle to the eerie similarities between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. (read my full review here)

Nonfiction Blogs

I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids): A blog authored by current authors of nonfiction who strive to provide children with interesting and compelling nonfiction.

Nonfiction Matters: A School-Library Journal blog, that is "a place for lovers (haters, doubters, and creators) of nonfiction for younger readers to gather and think together about how to make it better."

** Neuman, Susan B. "Enticing a Restless Reader." Scholastic, Inc.


  1. All good reasons, Jill. And, here's one more! Some kids just prefer non fiction. My son certainly does. This did lead to a problem, however. Most non fiction is written at a higher reading level than fiction for reluctant and emergent readers. Making that jump to a higher reading level took some time :) And, for a parent, reading adult-level books on rocks, snakes, and airplanes can be deadly dull.

  2. Very interesting post and information! And you've given me some good books to check kidlet doesn't seem to have a big nonfiction preference, but she does enjoy it.

  3. Excellent points, Kelly. I see more and more good nonfiction for kids, but there definitely needs to be more for reluctant and emergent readers.

    Ignoramoose...I'm interested in hearing what you think about the books if you get a chance to see them.

  4. I am standing up applauding this posting. I think too often teachers overlook non-fiction in reading classes, thinking they have a mandate to address literature. However, you are correct. If a children can connect with non fiction, then by all means.

    I have been doing research this summer for an article I am thinking on writing on reader response theory. Most of what I have read has focused on fiction, but here the question must be raised---how does reader response theory work with non fiction? Obviously, children can't "interpret" non fiction. Science is or isn't. Still, it can definitely affect the depth of internalization.

  5. Thanks so much Stewart! And I'd be very interested in learning how the reader response theory works with nonfiction. Good luck with your article.