When I was hanging around elementary school, I noticed yet another way that non fiction was under utilized. Read Alouds are a wonderful bonding time in the classroom. Teachers often read from a book for 20-30 minutes a day (if they’re lucky to have time in the schedule) and the kids sit on the rug, learn good listening skills and, hopefully, get completely sucked into the story.
Read Alouds are usually fiction. Non fiction is doable albeit more difficult. Non fiction with lots of sidebars and important captions does not lend itself easily to Read Alouds. Fortunately there are plenty of other choices that work splendidly. As mentioned in a previous post, for shorter selections to finish in one day I chose Odd Boy Out by Don Brown and Eleanor by Barbara Cooney which both worked well. I watched the school librarian do a fantastic job of reading, Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words by Dennis Fradin. She used an overhead projector and read the book aloud while the children saw the pages of the book on the screen. She added details of Hamilton’s family home in a nearby town and the actual location of the duel, which she had personally visited.
The book I chose for a read aloud over a few days was Leonardo’s Horse by Jean Fritz. I think this book works well as a read aloud for several reasons. The unusual dome shape design of the book itself immediately intrigues kids. Leonard DaVinci was someone all of the fifth graders had heard of but there were plenty of interesting things yet to learn. Jean Fritz knows how to tell a good story. The mix of past and present had the kids shouting out several times, “is this true?” Oh yes.
And, I, their reader, had an extra interesting tidbit to share. When the book first came out in 2001, I took my daughter to our local bookstore for a book signing by Jean Fritz. She was wonderfully warm, attentive, and full of stories. She told us how she was lucky enough to actually attend the unveiling of the horse sculpture in Milan, Italy. The illustrator of the book, Hudson Talbott, had cleverly added her, wheelchair and all, to the cheering crowd in the illustration. My side story added just a little bit of interest to my overall rendition. And it encouraged all eyes up on the book as the kids eagerly looked for Ms. Fritz in each illustration—and happily finally found her!
It was a good reminder for me of the multifaceted nature of all good teachers, librarians, and non-fiction writers. The best of the lot are readers, writers, historians, and detectives all rolled into one. While BIC (butt in chair) is an essential mantra for all writers, non fiction writers are also faced with the glorious moral imperative of getting out into the world and learning new things. If nothing else, it makes you a better teller of tales, especially the true ones.