Motivating the Lifelong Reading Habit through a Balanced Use of Children's Information Books

Article excerpt

As literacy educators, we have a tendency to use mostly fiction books as our chief source of materials for motivating the reading habits of our students. When we examine children's reading interests and the books they choose for their independent reading, we discover that many children enjoy, and even prefer, to read information books. Coupled with students' strong interests in information books is the growing selection of quality children's information books available in today's school's libraries. This article explores the rationale for balancing the use of information books in literacy programs with a focus on how we can use information books to encourage and motivate girls and boys to do more independent reading. Ideas for practical applications of this rationale for both classroom teachers and school librarians are provided in the hope that all elementary literacy teachers will start using more information books to motivate their young readers.

Introduction This book strengthened my dream to become an astronaut when I grow up. (grade 5 boy)

This book is great. It tells all about how our planet Earth was formed and the ups and downs about this world. I never knew that people have to start worrying about Earth, (grade 4 girl)

I liked when this book showed the inside of the Statue of Liberty. I would really like to see up there, (grade 2 boy)

Literacy educators know that children like to read information books (Reese & Harris, 1997). These few quotes above give a glimpse of the reaction children have when they are given opportunities to read information books for their pleasurable reading, as well as adequate instruction in how to explore the wealth of ideas and information found in contemporary information books. Literacy in these classrooms is nurtured through the concept of "whole literature" (Crook & Lehman, 1991) in which information books are included across literacy programs both for instruction and for motivating young readers. Supporting this growing understanding are several studies (Monson & Sebesta, 1991; Morrow & Gambrell, 2001; Sanacore, 1992) that show that for many children information books are a strong reading interest and even a reading preference.

Unfortunately, as literacy educators, we have tended to rely primarily on the wealth of picture storybooks and novels to motivate young learners to become lifelong readers (Duke, 1998). We seem to accept the narrative text as the main tool we use for literacy instruction and for the independent reading activities we give to our students. We traditionally leave information texts for later in literacy development and for when we want students to "do a project" or find specific information. This tendency ignores the interest and excitement shown in the responses of children like those quoted above who learn from these books, who enjoy reading them, and who seek them out when they visit their school library media center (Doiron, 1995). Although I would never argue against the inclusion of quality picture storybooks and novels for teaching literacy and encouraging children to take up the reading habit, I suspect we may be missing a great opportunity for catching some children by neglecting to include information books in a more central role in our literacy programs. This article explores the rationale for balancing the use of information books in literacy programs with a focus on how we can use information books to encourage and motivate girls and boys to do more independent reading. Implications of this rationale for balancing the use of information books in literacy programs are then explored in the hope of sparking elementary literacy teachers to start using more information books to motivate their young readers.

A Balanced Perspective on Fiction and Information Books

Literacy educators today are encouraged to balance their teaching pedagogy (Cooper, 2001) to include direct teaching, learner-centered methodologies, formal and informal assessment approaches, word work and work play, decoding and comprehension, reading and writing, listening and speaking, viewing and representing, as well as finding the time to make uses for new information technologies and a wealth of children's literature. …