Ask a Storytime Ninja: Non-fiction

This week’s question:

“How many people use nonfiction books in their story times and how do they use them – read in full or talk about the pictures? Any title recommendations?”

Melissa (@melissazd) says: It depends on the non-fiction book, and the ages of the kids, I think. Something like that Rookie series “It Could Still be a Lake” or “It Could Still Be a Tree” would be something very easy to read entirely, and not that different in pattern and structure than some lift the flap or question and answer picture books. If it’s a longer book I might do something like, “Here’s a book about autumn. What happens in the fall? [Flip pages] Look, here’s a pumpkin field–pumpkins are ready to pick in the fall. [Flip pages] Here’s football players–football is a sport that is played in the fall, but not in the winter or spring.” and so forth–I’d just call out the photos and talk about them. A great suggestion I heard once at a CLEL session was to start a nonfiction book by asking what kids already knew about the subject (What do you guys know about trees?) and then ending by asking them “Did you learn anything new about trees in that book?”

Lisa (@lmulvenna) says: I like to pull in poetry, which is nonfiction.  Douglas Florian’s poetry is great for tying into science.  A lot of the Steve Jenkins’ animal books can be used too when you do an animal story time.  You can also sometimes pull in a picture book biography (hello, Johnny Appleseed!).

If you want to read nonfiction, then I treat it like other books.  You want a beginning, a middle, and an end at a reading level that the kids will sit through and still pay attention.  While you can skip a bit here and there, I probably wouldn’t just talk about the pictures.  At that point, I would be better off using the flannelboard.

Nonfiction is becoming more important as schools adopt the Common Core state State Standards.  By 4th grade, the schools want the kids reading nonfiction 40% of the time.  Plus, kids read fiction and nonfiction differently, which means that they have different reading levels for each.  If you look at your story times as a way to promote early literacy and give skills that they need for school, then nonfiction should be pulled into your book rotation.  It doesn’t need to be an every program type of thing, but it does need to be there.

Abby (@abbylibrarian) says: I second what Melissa said and I’ll say that I love the Pebble Plus nonfiction books for their simple text and large, colorful photos. I just posted a list of STEM books for using in programs with preschoolers (and other ages):
I LOVE including nonfiction books in storytime (and don’t forget your book displays, too), but there are also ways to talk about nonfiction concepts while reading storybooks. For example, in books about animals you can talk about where the animals live or what the animals eat.

Anne (@sotomorrow) says: I’ve got  a few posts on my blog:
This one’s on poetry. This one’s on favorites from the rest of the nonfiction section.

Sue (@suelibchick) says: It depends on the book.  There are some NF books that read like a picture book.  I have done The Emperor’s Egg in my preschool story time, and just not read the tiny little printed information on the page.  Or I will skip a page, something like that.  What I did do was draw a 4 foot tall penguin to show them the actual height of one when I got to that point in the book.  After story time, I measured the kids against the penguin and drew a line like a growth chart so they could see how they measured up.

Jennie (@kidsilkhaze) says:
I love to work nonfiction in with my storytime! As to how much I read– it depends on the book.One of my favorite series to do is Looking Closely… by Frank Serafini. (I’ve actually done an entire Looking Closely… storytime.) I also love Actual Size and Prehistoric Actual Size by Steve Jenkins, and Life Size Farm and Life Size Zoo, adapted to English by Kristen Earhart. I also like the From Start to Finish series published by 21st century books. I did a happy dance when the second series was published in a larger size that would work for storytime!

When I can’t work it in with what I read, I do try to pull nonfiction titles for display, so they can be checked out afterwards.

Angela (@annavalley) says: If you count poetry and folk-tales (the 398.2 kind) as non-fiction, then YES!
I try to work in folk-tales, especially the Margaret Read MacDonald type stories, whenever possible. They are just good stories that kids might not hear otherwise. And I’ll use a page or two of a poetry book if I find one that I really like (for example, Doulgas Florian’s poetry books).And sometimes I use other non-fic, as others have stated. if I can find a good alligator book with loads of cool pictures I’ll use it in a storytime with other crocodilian books. I may not read the whole thing, but I’ll show pictures and maybe share the caption info. Those “Life-size” animal books are great to share.

Kim (@librarylady2u) says: I will echo everyone else and say that it depends on the book. I’ve used “Waiting for Wings” by Lois Ehlert and I will read it word for word. I’ve also used “Elephants Can Paint Too” by Katya Arnold. If it’s a longer non-fiction book, I may paraphrase more and ask the kids to help me talk about what is happening on each page. I like the “Actual Size” series by Jenkins too.

Allison (@allofthelibrary) says: I like reading non fiction at storytime.
A Seed is Sleepy and A Rock is Lively are some of my favorites.
Shorter biographies are great.  September 15 – October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month, so we are doing a Diego Rivera themed storytime next week.

Cate (@storytiming) says:
Truly excellent nonfiction storytime books are rare gems. They’re out there, but I feel like they get lost in the shelves. There are several reasons this happens, and they are too numerous to mention here since no 2 libraries are alike. If you shelve them among the juvenile nonfiction collection, they’re scattered among nonfiction books for 5th & 6th graders. I am very lucky to work in a library where the catalogers are top-notch. For the most part, the storytimeable nonfiction ends up in the picture book collection.  But the problem remains that the nonfiction gets swallowed up in the vast sea of fiction picture books.
If I ran the library, I’d either shelve nonfiction read-alouds in their own section shelved by topic. Alternatively (and this is probably the easier decision) I’d add a spine label to indicate a picture book is nonfiction. Something like this.
However, I don’t think either of these solutions this would fix the problem entirely for one important reason: I like to play a little fast & loose with the definition of nonfiction when it comes to storytime books. For example, one of my all-time favorite storytime books is Tillie Lays an Egg by Terry Golson. While this is a silly made-up story about a chicken who lays her eggs in funny places, the events were inspired by real-life chickens. I would call this a realistic fiction picture book or creative nonfiction. The story offers a snapshot of the author’s day as the owner of a small chicken coop.While I see this as nonfiction-like, I would never expect a cataloger with no storytime experience to see this book the same way I do. And to be perfectly honest, I’d prefer to stay out of the cataloging process as much as possible. That leaves me with the imperfect, but reasonable solution to READ ALL THE BOOKS. The truth is, I think there is no substitute for knowing your collection. I have a short list of my favorites, but this is the tiny tip of the iceberg. One day, I will compile a true list, but for now it’s all shut up in the leaky vault that is my noggin.

Here’s a link to my shortlist.


About Kendra

Children's Librarian in the Northwest. Lover of toddlers, twitter, and TV (T's, too, apparently!).

Posted on September 24, 2013, in Ask a Storytime Ninja. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I’ve used all these methods and one thing I also do is incorporate my flannelboard. I’ve used this to great effect with Steve Jenkins and Cathryn Sill. I copy and laminate a selection of images from the book and pass them out to the kids. As we read the book, when they see their picture they come put it on the board. Of course, this only works with a fairly small group (I’ve never done it with more than about 25 kids).

  2. I love to use non-fiction materials (for example, real videos of moose in Alaska via youtube as well as books) especially in the fall. There is a great new series by Cloverleaf books called Fall’s Here. The design is very attractive with bright, colorful illustrations and an easy to follow format. The text is informative and easy to read aloud. Great supplemental texts to most any fall themed storytime!

  1. Pingback: Sunday Storytime Challenge | Storytime Underground

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