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NewsFeb 9, 2023

Touting nonfiction for young readers

Professor Mary Ann Cappiello champions including more nonfiction in children’s curriculum

Colorful childrens books on a shelf

By John Sullivan

Citing an “information literacy crisis,” Dr. Mary Ann Cappiello is among the educators urging the expansion of nonfiction texts in classrooms across the country.

She and her colleagues’ work — which has included asking the New York Times to add a children’s nonfiction category to bestseller lists — resulted in the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) issuing a position statement championing the issue. Dr. Cappiello co-chaired the position statement writing team this fall, which was composed of education professors, classroom teachers, and children’s nonfiction authors.

According to a Jan. 24 article in Publishers Weekly, Cappiello, Penn State University’s Xenia Hadjioannou, and Austin, Texas, classroom teacher Kari Johnston “noted an information literacy crisis that impacts understanding local and global issues:

“Children need to learn more about sources, information and research processes from an early age, and nonfiction books are an ideal teaching tool for supporting this learning in developmentally appropriate ways,” the educators told Publishers Weekly. The team, the publication adds, “also noted the relevance of nonfiction in a post-pandemic society where teachers can ‘engage students in meaningful inquiry and exploration of the world around them and their roles in it.’”

Lesley’s Graduate School of Education has championed the expanded use of nonfiction in the K-12 classroom for almost two decades, offering students the rare opportunity to take a course specifically centered on nonfiction literature for children, tweens, and teens.

Cappiello notes that Lesley students are often surprised to see the creativity and artistry at work in today’s nonfiction, particularly in picture books.

“Some students start the class with reservations. Maybe they don’t read a lot of nonfiction. Maybe they’re unfamiliar with the genre,” Cappiello says. “But once they begin to explore the books, they realize the potential for rich student engagement. And they see how powerfully their students respond to these books.”

“For teachers instructing students on developing strategies for engaging with nonfiction, the report recommends nurturing readers with interactive read-alouds and boosting their vocabulary with books that build upon their content knowledge,” the Publisher’s Weekly article states. “Suggestions for effectively using nonfiction in writing instruction include incorporating it into their lesson plans and encouraging students to pen their own nonfiction.”

In a Jan. 19 article in Education Week, Cappiello said students need “a rich diet of all genres.”

“Rather than prescribing a certain ratio, Cappiello said she’d rather teachers be aware of high-quality nonfiction texts and know when and how to incorporate them into their curricula,” according to the Education Week article.

“Nonfiction for children has never been more vibrant or vital,” Cappiello told the New Hampshire news outlet SeacoastOnline a year ago, regarding the push for a children’s nonfiction bestseller list. “Children need ready access to these high-interest, developmentally appropriate, well-researched, and well-written texts.”