As our Raising Star Readers column kicks off another school year, educators and caregivers both continue to face the kind of challenges few of us could have imagined last fall. Here, Ann Angel describes how her Reading Team is countering the “pandemic bubble” by adding nonfiction books to their list of favorite reads:
Hey there, parent or grandparent, raise your hand if you’re a pandemic teacher. I’m guessing many hands just went up. My hand is up, too, and I hear from many other grandparents that as the school year begins, we’re providing childcare and the classroom for toddlers, kindergarteners, and even some grade schoolers. At least we know that although we may be isolated in this pandemic, we’re in this together.
While we hadn’t really planned to be called into service this way, there are some amazing upsides to educating our little ones. The best upside is that we get to sift through and share new books and authors with our kids and grandkids. In my new role as Nana and teacher, I’m seeing such a wonderland of nonfiction books, and I’m learning about the universe alongside my little students. For instance, I now know that diadem snakes have windpipes that open into the bottom of their jaws so they can breathe and eat at the same time; an octopus has eight brains; and the earth’s inner core is made of solid iron, which grandson Teddy always reminds me is also what Ironman’s suit is made of.
Entertainment, art, and education are all combined in some of the best illustrated books I’ve come across. Marion Dane Bauer’s The Stuff of Stars is surely the most beautiful weave of these elements, with abstract illustrations by Ekua Holmes that allow a glimpse of nature made of star dust. You can make out the forms of horses, feet, birds, butterflies, and a caretaker hugging a child. The first time I read this with my grandson Teddy, he exclaimed at the exploding stars, “I’m beginning to love this book!” It has become a favorite, and Teddy and I enjoy finding new images every time we share it. He reads along with me, loving the idea that before there was you, there was a universe, and we’re all made of star dust. (Note: this book actually inspired the name of this column.)
Other favorites that focus on a single element include Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move by JoAnn Early Macken and illustrated by Pam Paparone, a poetic perspective of the way seeds travel and implant across the land. Sheri Mabry Bestor has captured details from the world of insects with Good Trick, Walking Stick! and Soar High, Dragonfly!, both colorfully illustrated by Jonny Lambert. Sidebars provide additional details about these insects and encourage kids to discover the tiniest creatures in our world.
With well over 100 pages of illustrated information, the DK books from Penguin Random House provide hours of fun for my younger grandkids when we’re together in our pandemic bubble. Andrew, 6, Teddy, 4−1÷2, and Emma, 4, might not always have the patience to sit through listening to all of the text, but they do pick their favorite animals, planets, and explorers to share with one another. Two favorite books include the DK Smithsonian Did You Know? Amazing Answers to the Questions You Ask and My Encyclopedia of Very Important Things. I’m guessing that, if they don’t grow up to become explorers, they could well end up environmentalists or zoo keepers or even actors, seeing as part of reading always entails acting out everything from lightning strikes to snakes breathing through their mouths.
And of course, kids can learn anywhere, so we are also making the most of time outdoors. Why not take your books and your Reading Team outside to enjoy the early fall weather?
There is such a wide variety of nonfiction available for all age levels. Feel free to leave your favorites in the comments below so we can all build our nonfiction libraries.
Bookology is always looking for new Reading Teams to help us celebrate the joys of reading aloud together. Contact Lisa Bullard for further information if you’re interested in participating.