Monday, March 19, 2007

Nonfiction Read-Alouds

Charlotte of Charlotte's Library complained the other day about the chore of reading nonfiction aloud to her children: the genre tends to be divided, she observed, into two groups: the "banal learning to read books" and the "lavishly illustrated, lots of information in clumps all over the page, style", which can be a huge pain to read aloud.

As a hardcore fiction girl myself, I empathize. (come to think of it, I may have managed to get through six years of parenthood without ever cracking the spine of a "Magic School Bus" book.) But there are some nonfiction titles that are a pleasure to read out loud. Here are a few I've found:

Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinoasaurs! by Kathleen V. Kudlinski
I brought this home one evening for my daughter to look through, and we were both fascinated. Who knew so many scientists could be so...wrong? Or that reading about it could be so entertaining? I ended up reading it aloud through one whole bathtime.

Chameleons are Cool and The Emperor's Egg, both by Martin Jenkins
Both these books were Washington Children's Choice Picture Book Award nominees in different years (boy, they've really got to come up with a less unwieldy name for that award) so I've had the chance to read each of them many, many times, and they stand up really well even in a group setting. The illustrations are bright and lively and colorful, and the text includes little sidebar-like nuggets of information every page or two without being overwhelming in that DK way.

A Drop of Water, by Walter Wick
Well, the truth is, I haven't read this aloud in some time, or maybe ever. But it remains one of my favorite nonfiction books of all time. Wick is best known for his "I Spy" series, and the photos here--of an egg splashing into a glass of water, or droplets condensed on the head of a pin, a close-up of a snowflake--are astonishing. And the text is brief and straightforward.

Chickens Aren't the Only Ones; Color, Color, Color, and others by Ruth Heller
I don't know how Ruth Heller does it, but she manages to write about topics as diverse as color physics, egg-laying creatures, and a bunch of other scientific topics, all in bouncy, engaging rhyme.

If the World were a Village, by David Smith
This book is almost too easy to read aloud; the concepts pack quite a wallop and could keep a family or a class busy thinking and discussing for days. The premise is simple: If the entire population of the world was represented by a village of only 100 people, how many would speak English? How about Chinese? How many would be children, and how many adults? How long would each person's life expectancy be? How many would have clean, safe water to drink? The answers are often surprising and sometimes sobering.

These are just a few that come to mind off the top of my head. What nonfiction have you liked reading aloud?

1 comment:

web said...

I know that problem very well, because my son loves non-fiction, and still loves being read to. Those looooong pages of dry-as-dust text make me want to hide.

We have compromised very nicely lately on the Little House books, but I will check out some of your suggestions.