Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mapping NF

The other day one of my graduate students posted about a gap he was noticing -- nonfiction older than short chapter books and younger than YA. I can think of books that fit there, but his observation made me think of a really useful project: mapping NF. That is, the reading options in fiction -- from picture books read by adults, back to easier text to lead into reading, from leveled readers into chapter books, with side paths via Graphic Novels, into genres and onward is very well defined. Of course new authors and style periodically add twists and turns. But any librarian, many parents, literacy coaches, teachers can talk with a young fiction reader, figure out his/her interests and skills, and suggest a clear set of next options -- with branching alternatives. The same is far from true for nonfiction.

For nonfiction we have the familiar and overly familiar bursts of passion -- trucks, dangerous animals, books of records, dinos, Vikings, space, war (though not well served) -- then comes school and assignments, crossed now by narrative nonfiction -- nonfiction that can and does bring the traditional fiction fan into the game.But not notice: islands of very specific interests, then school reports, then something resembling fiction. Needs outside of those of the NF reader sweep through -- reports, research, assignments; "reads like a novel" page turning. Nothing wrong with either -- we need to learn, and it is a treat to be swept along by a book. But neither are necessarily the sequence of reading steps the nonfiction reader would choose to climb.

I think we need to look carefully through ages and stages of reading (of course taking into account the wide range of young readers and their equally broad spectrum on interests), then look at what kinds of nonfiction are available in the library, bookstore, internet. Where are there gaps? What kinds of books are missing? What might a NF reader want -- not in subject necessarily, but in treatment? We need to map the NF reading ladder as carefully as we have surveyed the sequence of fiction choices.

I am thinking of asking of my grad students to start on this next semester -- any thoughts on resources we might use? 

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