Tag Archives: Nonfiction in the Classroom

Is This Going In My Permanent Record?

Lately I’ve been thinking about biographies and why it’s important to select quality children’s biographies, and I had a horrifying thought: What if a children’s biography were written about me? What kinds of details would be included? How about my “loose” housekeeping style, or my inability to get dinner on the table before 7 o’clock? I’m positive I remember sitting down to dinner at 6:39 p.m. one evening in early June!

On the other hand, what if the author only portrayed me as a goody-two-shoes Mormon miracle mother and wannabe schoolteacher who selflessly put her children’s needs above her own all the days of her life? Yuck! That’s not the kind of drivel I’d want written about me either. You see where I’m going with this, right? In a way, a biography is someone’s Permanent Record.

Is there one of these with my name written on it somewhere?

Is there one of these with my name on it somewhere?

I’m reflecting back on a simpler time in my life–the 1980’s–when my loving and well-meaning parents subscribed to a series of pseudo-biographical books called ValueTales. The one I’m looking at right now is entitled “The Value of Compassion: The Story of Florence Nightingale.” Here’s a direct quote for your reading enjoyment: “Florence knew this was not going to be easy, but she welcomed the challenge” (p. 41, for anyone who wants to see it with their own eyes).

I have a few questions for the author of this book. Were you there with Florence during the Crimean War? Did you hear her say, “This isn’t going to be easy, but I welcome the challenge, by gum!” LAMPAre you actually her trusty oil lamp Lucy, who fanned the flames of Florence’s desire to alleviate suffering and save lives? (Note: Lucy is actually a fictitious talking oil lamp, a character invented by the author in an effort to “simplify” difficult concepts for children’s immature minds.)

Fortunately for us, it’s a new century: We now know that children don’t need simplified information. In fact, their minds crave the retelling of complex, genuine experiences. FlorenceLAMPFurthermore, they engage and understand much more readily when the information is presented in a fair, unbiased manner; when the historical figure is presented as a whole person, rather than a caricature of evil or a paragon of virtue; and when the illustrations that accompany the text complement the book’s theme. 

As luck would have it, a Florence Nightingale biography was published for children earlier this year, written and lovingly illustrated by Demi. I’ve perused it online, and I look forward to reading it in person sometime soon. Curiously, the book’s Amazon preview fails to show any images of Florence talking to an oil lamp.

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Florence Nightingale, by Demi. 2014: Henry Holt & Co.

Posted by Karen Rapier, an elementary education major at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT

Meet Steve Sheinkin… next year!

Because we want to give this year’s audience attending UVU’s Forum on Engaged Reading, a preview of next year’s program, I want to introduce you to Steve Sheinkin, SteveSheinkinone of the Keynote Presenters for UVU’s 2014 Forum on Engaged Reading.  I “found” Steve on Ink Think Tank itt-logo — a great website that is a true “think tank” of nonfiction authors.  In Steve’s bio, he confesses to being a recovering textbook author… whose mission is to simply prove to kids that his­tory is actu­ally cool.”  You’ll probably recognize a couple of his books:  The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story About Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery (Square Fish Publications, 2013) and Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War (Roaring Brook Press, 2008).

Notorious Benedict2MiserablePres

Whether or not you recognize those books, you’re sure to be interested in his most recent one, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers (Scholastic, 2013), and the one just before that (a Newbery Honor Book), Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon BombBook(Flashpoint Publications, 2012). These books aren’t “your mother’s nonfiction” — these are “thrillers and adventure stories first” so that Sheinkin’s readers will want to read them!

 lincolns-grave-robbers

Since the Common Core State Standards have shifted the focus of teaching comprehension and writing of complex nonfiction, it’s refreshing to find authors like Steve, who lure kids (and their teachers) in to the wonderful world of facts and details that make history come alive.

If you join us (UVU’s Forum on Engaged Reading) in October of 2014, you’re sure to become a Steve Sheinkin fan, as I have. SteveSgiving.talk In preparing for this blog post, I read a blog post by Sheinkin, himself, where he refers to his writing as detective work.  “… a nerdy kind of detective work,” he says, “but still… My job is to find stories, and I read books to look for clues, follow leads, gather evidence.” Wow, what an example for our students!

I’ll end this blog with just a bit of serendipity: at the end of Sheinkin’s blog post, author Jim Murphy makes a comment…  and guess what?  Jim Murphy is Keynoting this year’s Forum on Engaged Reading (Sept. 19 & 20, 2013).  So, Dear Reader, I hope you have become a believer: our conference — “For the Love of Reading” — is just a gift that will keep on giving, to you and to your students!  See you there!

Posted by Nancy Peterson, Professor of Teacher Education at Utah Valley University, and Co-Chair of UVU’s Forum on Engaged Reading