Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Children Using Non-Fiction Books

As you may all know, I write a column for Writers’ Forum on the types of research authors do for their books. I was also a primary school teacher for seventeen long years and now write children's illustrated non-fiction and teacher resources for primary school. So children, using non-fiction books for their own research and writing is something that fascinates me.

Margaret Mallett has written extensively about children using non-fiction for researching their own writing. She has written such books as:

These books are aimed at primary school teachers with an aim of teaching children how to use non-fiction books and list suitable non-fiction books to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum and Literacy Strategy.

It is true there are new, fun interactive ways to find information via the Internet and CDRoms. These interactive models work and provide variation. But, in my experience, children do still enjoy looking at non-fiction books to satisfy their curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Non-fiction books need to be widely available in the classroom to support other things they are doing.

Making non-fiction reading and writing exciting and relevant helps advance children's thinking and understanding. Young children require literacy activities that are embedded in practical activities, drama, role-play and outings. These connect children's experiences in school with wider society and provide opportunities to use and talk about texts.

Time should be made during the school day (OK! Don’t laugh – I’ve been there!) for the children to talk about specifically non-fiction books. As writers and teachers we ultimately want children to learn to be independent readers by looking at both fiction and non-fiction books. Listening to others and their interpretations of the books helps with internal reasoning and encourages a quest to find out more. The children’s hypothesis can be supported and reinforced by looking at more books.

Teachers should also read non-fiction books to the class and show the illustrations. Seeing the pictures and hearing the text triggers reflection and help the children by giving knowledge. Using illustrated non-fiction in the classroom is a highly successful way to engage children's interest, helping them to establish a personal foothold and provide a reference against which to check what they have found from other information sources.

Story sacks don’t have to be confined to KS1 they can be for any age and contain non-fiction books. Drama does not have to be solely linked to fiction but can be used to support what is happening in non-fiction texts too.

In my opinion, to foster a love of children’s non-fiction books we need to think about the way it is being used with the children in the classroom and at home.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nibweb survey of children's non-fiction publishing

I am a member of Nibweb, the Network for Information Book Writers and Editors.

In 2009 Nibweb is undertaking a survey of children's non-fiction publishing - its problems, its opportunities, and its future.

2009 is clearly going to be a difficult year for publishing - Children's non-fiction included. There are however particular issues that go beyond the immediate effects of the credit crunch.
  • Does children's non-fiction have a future in the age of the internet?

  • Will children and parents continue to buy the books, and will libraries stock them or install more computers instead?

  • Is the internet a better medium in for this material in any case?

  • How can we ensure that this area of publishing remains profitable, so that both writers and publishers can make a decent return on their efforts and that issues such as contract conditions and in house editing can be improved?

  • How can we best promote the excellent work of children's non-fiction writers, editors and publishers?

If you would like to take part in this survey and add your thoughts and experiences of the publishing world, please visit the Nibweb website at: www.nibweb.co.uk and click on the link for Survey 2009.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What children's non-fiction will survive the electronic age?

Here are some of the books that I believe will survive the electronic age. I have tried to highlight children’s books that I think will capture a child’s imagination and make them want to read more. I have mainly chosen children’s non-fiction book but, I have also included some fiction which are based on fact.

Eyewitness Guides
The Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guides are full of brilliant photographs that grasp a child’s imagination whilst giving them a realistic portrayal of the world around them. This type of dramatic visual stimulus encourages children to want to find out more.

Pick Me Up - Stuff You Need To Know...
I reviewed this book in 2006. See: Book Review - Pick Me Up. Again, it is a visually engaging book that describes itself as information for the ipod generation. This sort of resource is the way into children’s non-fiction as it gives snippets to capture the child’s interest and hopefully make them want to explore the issues further.

Walker Books' Read and Wonder series
Picture books, such as Spider Watching by Vivian French, Think of an Eel by Karen Wallace and others in the Walker, Read and Wonder series, convey factual information without appearing like a heavy duty reference book. The quality of the information is extremely good. The illustrations are lyrical as well as poetic. There is a rhythmic feel to the book that will engage a child to want to read over and over again.

Walker Books’ Start with Science series
Books such as, Oscar and the Bird: A Book about Electricity by Geoff Waring provide enough information to satisfy a thirst for information within pictures that are full of the wonder and intrigue. This is one of a series of books about Oscar the cat, which are open-ended to encourage further reading. Such books will encourage an interest in research and children’s non-fiction from a very early age.

Running Shoes by Frederick Lipp
This book shows what it is like in Cambodia using a fictional story to transmit the message. I believe introducing fact through fiction is a powerful tool and can help to engage a child’s mind and stimulate them to want to learn more.

Archie's War by Marcia Williams
Archie’ War is classified as fiction but, the information can convey to other children what it was like in Britain during World War One, by portraying life through the eyes of a child. It is full of oversize spreads with collages of period post cards, taped-on bric-a-brac, newspaper clippings, fold-out letters from the front and hilarious, highly detailed comic-strip style cartoons drawn with coloured pencils.

If you can think of any other children's non-fiction books you believe will survive the electronic age please feel free to leave a comment and tell me your ideas.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Children's non-fiction

For my first post of 2009, I thought I would write about something that is close to my heart - children's non-fiction.

Over the last few years there have been changes in children's non-fiction and how it is presented and used in the classroom. Today teachers will use a more interactive model of non-fiction and in my opinion this makes learning more fun and exciting.

New technology has bought multi-media texts to the fore and we can use moving images to enhance children's learning. For examle, we can actually see a digestive system working or what the night sky would loook like on specific days at a certain time. Multi-media texts have huge data bases containing large amounts of information readily available at a click of a mouse.

But, does this advancing technology mean parents are less likely to buy their children a non-fiction book, prefering them to do their research on the Internet? This is a worry for the children's non-fiction writer and may mean we have to consider ways to make the traditional non-fiction book more appealing.

Print books can benefit from these advances by becoming more spectacular themselves and already many include a CD-Rom to compliment the printed text.

But, what is the next step? What non-fiction books are going to survive the electronic age?