Saturday, February 10, 2018


This year, I am teaching a seventh grade study hall/reading block. It's the last 45 minutes of the day. The kids are supposed to read for about half of the time, then do homework the other half. We instituted the study hall because our middle schoolers just weren't reading enough. The seventh grade curriculum includes one novel each quarter, and then some supporting articles, handouts, etc. It wasn't enough. And so we implemented the reading block. 

To be really honest, it's been a little bit of a struggle. It's sad and embarrassing to me that I'm supposedly an expert in reading,  and even have a blog about books, and the kids at my school aren't really readers. If you asked, I suspect that more than half of our middle schoolers would tell you that reading is boring. It's been hard work to sell the reading block to the kids and to our administrators. 

But things are changing, at least a little. At the beginning of October, when I started teaching the class, the kids could read for about ten minutes.  Now we have worked our way up to 35 minutes and the kids, or most of them, anyway, look forward to the time, or at least don't hate it anyway. 

I think a lot of the kids' success has to do with picture books. You see, at the same time as I was teaching the class, I was also starting my stint as a Round 1 CYBILS nonfiction judge. Between October 15 and January 1, I read almost 100 new nonfiction books, 70 of those picture books. As I read, I brought the ones I thought my middle schoolers would find interesting into school. I propped them up in the front of the room and when a kid seemed to be getting restless, I would grab two or three picture books and silently place them on their desk. 

My nf picture book ten for ten, then, is picture books for big kids. It includes some of the books they enjoyed. 

Tuan Ho was six years old when he and his mother and sisters fled Vietnam in 1981. ADRIFT AT SEA by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch tells the story of the family's perilous journey  in a leaky,  overcrowded raft with almost no food or drinking water.  The book ends with photographs and a "Where is he now?" Add this one to your immigration collection. 

ANIMALS BY THE NUMBERS: A BOOK OF ANIMAL INFOGRAPHICS is one of Colorado author and illustrator Steve Jenkins' newest books, and maybe, just hearing that it's by him is enough. I need you to know, however, that my students have spent hours poring over Jenkins' infographics, sharing them with each other, and following me around the room to talk about them. I really want students to know how to create infographics and I'm planning to use this as a mentor text. 

Duncan Tonatiuh is one of my new favorite authors/illustrators.  I especially love his unique illustration style, which draws is inspired by pre-Columbian art. DANZA is the story of Amalia Hern├índez, the creator of Mexico's famed  Ballet Folkl├│rico. If you haven't seen Tonatiuh's, SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL, that's a must have as well!

Jason Chin's multi-layered GRAND CANYON is fascinating. The reader journeys with a child who hikes with her father from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the rim. On each page, Chin uses multi-layered illustrations to weave in information about animals, plants, and geology of the Grand Canyon. One of those books you can read ten times and learn something new each time!

HER RIGHT FOOT is a poetic and artful look at the Statue of Liberty. This one prompted some great discussions about who really should be welcome in our country. Important at my school, where well over half of the kids are Mexican immigrants, but important for other kids as well.

People who have read my blog know I like a little science with my poetry. IF YOU WERE THE MOON consists of gorgeous metaphorical language (if you were the moon, you'd spin like a twilight ballerina), accompanied by a paragraph of factual information. I'd love to use this book in a study of interesting informational writing.  If you haven't read Salas' WATER CAN BE and A LEAF CAN BE be sure to check those out as well.

LESSER SPOTTED ANIMALS is one of those slightly quirky books that kids love. Listen to the first page.

"Fed up with the same old animals? Had enough of hippos? Bored with bears? Tired of tigers? Do you want animals that are fresh, new and exciting? Try LESSER SPOTTED ANIMALS, a book about the wonderful wow wildlife that we never get to see."

Each two-page spread includes a large, drawn picture of the animal, often with a cartoon bubble. There are two paragraphs of description, written in a comical voice that could definitely elevate kids' informative writing. There are tiny (1" X 1") boxes that contain additional informative drawings. I blogged in depth about the bookhere.  This one has also been released in Spanish!

Talk about a powerful voice! RED CLOUD: A LAKOTA STORY OF WAR AND SURRENDER by S.D. Nelson tells the story of a controversial Lakota Indian chief. Red Cloud opposed westward expansion and led the only band of Native Americans to defeat the U.S. Army, but  then made the controversial decision to move his people onto the reservation. A really quiet, but powerful voice!

Jonah Winter's RUTH BADER GINSBERG: THE CASE OF R.B.G. vs. INEQUALITY is a very unusual picture book biography. The many challenges in Ginsberg's life, beginning with her father, who didn't want her to go to college, her life as a student at Cornell University and then Yale Law School, and her nomination to the Supreme Court are presented as a court case. Another format that would be fun for kids to explore.

In THIS IS HOW WE DO IT, by Matt Lamothe, readers follow children from Italy, Japan, Iran, India, Peru, Uganda, and Russia as they journey throughout the course of a day. I thought my middle schoolers might think this was a little young, but they loved it.

So there are my ten nonfiction picture books. Of course you will want to head over to the PB10 for10 Community to check out other nonfiction posts! Thanks to Cathy Mere, Mandy Robek, and Julie Balen for pulling the community together.


Jana The Teacher said...

I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, but I loved this book! It’s awesome when a great picture book can take readers anywhere! Great list!

Mandy said...

Love, love, love you are using picture books with Big Kids! I was just explaining this to my high school senior today. Great job on increasing their reading stamina...everyone needs that.

Lori Sabo said...

Great list. Thanks

Linda B said...

Your reading time sounds successful, and with the picture books, they're being introduced to such varied topics! Good for you for trying this idea! And with wonderful books! I still haven't read Her Right Foot or Red Cloud, and of the rest, it seems to me you've chosen great ones. Adrift At Sea is harrowing and I loved Danza, This Is How We Do It and Laura's book about the moon. Thanks, Carol.

Mary Lee said...

I love that you are changing the world, one NF picture book at a time!!

Marsha Skrypuch said...

What a great selection of NF picture books that appeal to all ages. Thank you for including Adrift at Sea!

Anonymous said...

According to Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and what You Can Do about it by Kelly Gallagher, students (focus is on secondary school students) can fake reading for 10 minutes easily. They can't fake it for 20 minutes. So, once you get materials that kids like AND give them a minimum of 20 minutes a day for reading, they will read. Sounds like you are on the right track. I put Her Right Foot in my online buy list. Eggers' letter to the reader on Amazon is enlightening - I don't think many Canadian booksellers will be stocking this book in store, for example Chapters.

Carrie Gelson said...

Fantastic progress - book by book, minute by minute! Some fantastic titles here!

Mary Ann Reilly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Ann Reilly said...

This is a fabulous collection of books. I can see how middle schoolers would like each!