A Library Session on Nonfiction with Palashas and Akshas at CFL

Nonfiction: “The Literature of Fact.”

Nonfiction has long been neglected in school libraries around the world. According to studies, at the elementary and primary levels, very few books in nonfiction are available for children to read either in class libraries or in the main library except for encyclopedias and fact books. This is unfortunate because young children are drawn to interesting narratives in nonfiction as well and an early ease and familiarity with this genre actually strengthens the stamina and readiness to read nonfiction as they get older. Another factor that inhibits early reading of nonfiction is the non-availability of well written and well produced books in this genre. However the good news is that across the world more and more writers and publishers are waking up to this lacuna and a stream of books with attractive and unusual approaches are entering the market.

As a librarian, the first inkling I had of this shift was when I came across more and more books that I could not automatically place in fiction or nonfiction. In other words, there are now more and more books where the content is nonfiction but the style and flow mimic fiction! They are now known as ‘blended’ texts.

We started the session by asking each child to search and bring one item of nonfiction. We were careful not to say ‘book’! We also asked them to stre……etch themselves to every corner of the library and their minds in selecting their item. (One interesting observation was that many made a beeline to the section where nonfiction used to be shelved) They all came back with a good variety which included magazines, books on art, dance, music and craft, a dictionary on the origin of words and “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

We then went on to ask them what they felt nonfiction is.

 Their responses:

Something true, real life experiences, factual, something that happened, educational, inspiring, not fiction.

We then asked why did they feel it was given a name which implies it is ‘not something’.

One child said it could be because it covers a wider range.

We then went on to talk about the format or particularities of nonfiction. Their responses:

The structure is different. It does not have a beginning, a middle and an end.

It can be read in bits. It need not be connected like a story.

The content is different.

We can look up something in it.

There are real life photographs, dates and information.

I then shared with them some of the features of the new trend in nonfiction.

1. Nonfiction has literary merit. There is an elegance in the writing and children remember and quote interesting words and phrases from the text just as they might do from a fictional work. They also get familiar with the vocabulary that is used to describe in different kinds of disciplines. In fact, it is a very vital aid in early reading and vocabulary enrichment.

2. The art work is presented imaginatively and the overall production draws the reader towards the book.

3. The authors are now getting known. Readers are beginning to remember and look for specific writers rather than themes.

3. Real life and current incidents are taken and a story is woven around them. For example, the Chilean mine disaster. So the facts exist but the conversations may not have actually happened.

4. Biographies have taken on a new look and are coming out in graphic form.

5. Magazines, brochures, cave paintings and many other forms are now being seen as fitting into the nonfiction category.

The next session was to ask them if they feel sufficiently intrigued by nonfiction, how would they popularise it and get others to read it? Their responses:

Displays, book talks, reading aloud of excerpts, posters and teachers setting project work around books.

Finally, we introduced them to three other ideas and in groups they took them on and after some preparation shared them with the others in a presentation mode.

1. Readers’ Theatre (A variation)

Children choose a nonfiction item and prepare a skit where the book is highlighted.

2. Guess the fib.

Children choose and read out four different sentences from a nonfiction item. One of them is a fib. They read out all four and the others have to guess which one is the fib.

3. Pass the book.

Each child in the group has a sheet of paper and a book. They go through the book and write one or two sentences about the content and quality and their response. Then they pass on the book to the next person and everyone does the same thing with their book until all the books are done. They then read out all the responses to each book and the others have to guess which one is being talked about.

At the end, they were asked to display the material they had selected and also borrow one nonficton.

It was for me a very enjoyable and revealing session.

Thank you for giving me the time with these two groups.

Usha Mukunda

March 12th 2014.