Nonfiction Rising,By Peg Glisson

Common Core-these days, it’s increasingly common when you can open a newspaper, tune in or listen to a news shows for Common Core to show up. Pro or con, folks aren’t shy about voicing their opinions, over and over again!

One good result of the Common Core State Standards is evident in the publishing world. CCSS’ emphasis on K-12 students’ reading nonfiction has led to an explosion of good nonfiction, often termed narrative or informational nonfiction. As a history major, I’ve always been a sucker for nonfiction, which is why I was so delighted to serve on the 2004 Sibert Award Committee. Our committee had a decent amount of nonfiction on which to reflect and proudly selected our winner and honor book.

Fast forward 10 years, to this year’s committee. I’m sure they had considerably more. Why? Common Core!

It has long been a fact that students gravitate toward nonfiction-and not just the boys! They want answers! “Why?”… “What?”…”How?” have long been behind many Readers’ Advisory requests, and often teachers and librarians were frustrated by their inability to meet those queries with quality age-appropriate materials. Fortunately, that’s not nearly as true today. The Common Core goal of preparing students for college and career demands students’ careful reading about the natural, physical, and social world in which they live.

The library world was a little ahead of the game in recognizing the value of good nonfiction, with ALSC and then YALSA establishing book awards for nonfiction. ALSC awarded the first Robert F. Sibert Informational Medal in 2001, to Sir Walter Raleigh and the Quest for El Dorado by Marc Aronson (Clarion Books). In 2010, YALSA awarded its first Award for Excellence in Nonfiction to Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers).

As I sat in the Ball Room of the Pennsylvania Convention Center on January 27, listening and cheering as the many awards were announced, I was struck by how many informational books were honored by the various committees. Here’s my unofficial list, based on

Caldecott Honor: Locomotive, illustrated and written by Brian Floca (Atheneum Books)

Coretta Scott King Author Honor: March: Book One, John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions)

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor: Nelson Mandela, illustrated and written by Kadir Nelson (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins)

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award: When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III and written by written by Laban Carrick Hill(Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holding)

Schneider Family Book Award (Children’s Book): A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, written by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.)

Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Award honor: Tito Puente: Mambo King / Rey del Mambo, illustrated by Rafael López, written by Monica Brown (Rayo, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)

Pura Belpré Author Honor:The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, written by Margarita Engle (Harcourt, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company)

And of course, the two informational book awards were announced, with the Sibert Committee naming four honor books along with this year’s medal winner, Parrots over Puerto Rico, written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, and illustrated by Susan L. Roth (LEE & LOW BOOKS, Inc.). YALSA awarded its medal for Excellence in Nonfiction to The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi, written by Neal Bascomb, (A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.) after naming five finalists in December.

Looking at the ALSC Notables List, there are many nonfiction books garnering a spot. Below are those not also honored by one of the Award Committees. (again my unofficial list, based on

Younger Readers:
Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song. Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Illus. by Brian Pinkney. Little, Brown
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein. Berne, Jennifer Illus. by Vladimir Radunsky. Chronicle

Middle Readers:
The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest–and Most Surprising–Animals on Earth. Jenkins, Steve. Illus. by the author. Houghton
Barbed Wire Baseball. Moss, Marissa. Illus. by Yuko Shimizu. Abrams
The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible… on Schindler’s List. Leyson, Leon. Atheneum
The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdös. Heiligman, Deborah. Illus. by LeUyen Pham. Roaring Brook
Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives. Rusch, Elizabeth. Illus. by Tom Uhlman. Houghton
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table. Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. Illus. by Eric-Shabazz Larkin. Readers to Eaters
The Great American Dust Bowl. Brown, Don. Illus. by the author. Houghton
Lincoln’s Grave Robbers. Sheinkin, Steve. Scholastic
Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard. Cate, Annette Leblanc. Illus. by the author. Candlewick
When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky: Two Artists, Their Ballet, and One Extraordinary Riot.
Stringer, Lauren. Illus. by the author. Harcourt
Treasury of Egyptian Mythology. Napoli, Donna Jo. Illus. by Christina Built. National Geographic

Older Readers:
Becoming Ben Franklin: How a Candlemaker’s Son Helped Light the Flame of Liberty. Freedman, Russell. Holiday.
Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers. Stone, Tanya Lee. Candlewick
Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People. Rubin, Susan Goldman. Abrams
Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty. Bolden, Tonya. Abrams
March: Book One. Lewis, John and Aydin, Andrew. Illus. by Nate Powell. Top Shelf

That’s impressive! So now what? Get to know these books, if you don’t already. Then promote, promote, promote-to teachers, students, parents. Let them know these are well-written, well-documented, and engaging books. Offer a Brown Bag lunch discussion on some of these for teachers or students. Use them in programming at the Public Library. Have your undergraduate or graduate students examine and evaluate them. Show them what great nonfiction can be!

When you do, teachers will easily see the text structures they need to be teaching, sidebars with graphs, charts, captions, and primary sources, and academic and domain specific vocabulary. With your encouragement, they will see how they can integrate or co-teach content areas. Parents will see their kids excited to be reading. And most importantly, kids will be closely reading appropriate texts because they are so good! Who could ask for more?

Updated 02/01/14

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