Exploring the Literature of Fact: Children's Nonfiction Trade Books in the Elementary Classroom

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Exploring the Literature of Fact: Children's Nonfiction Trade Books in the Elementary Classroom, by Barbara Moss. New York: The Guilford Press, 2003, $23.00, paperback.

More than ever before, teachers have a number of nonfiction books available to them for classroom use. Moss argues that nonfiction titles account for nearly half of the books published for children yearly. Yet, teachers seem to be more familiar with selecting and teaching fiction. With the increased quantity of such books, how do teachers with very little time sift through the pool of informational texts to find the gems? And once they find them, what do they do with them? How do teachers teach nonfiction books in ways that help students grasp new concepts while enjoying the literary experience? Barbara Moss's Exploring the Literature of Fact: Children s Nonfiction Trade Books in the Elementary Classroom provides assistance to those teachers, both preservice and inservice, who are interested in selecting and using well-written and informative nonfiction in the K-6 classrooms. Moss, a university professor of children's literature and content area reading and former middle and high school classroom teacher, clearly has students' personal interests and achievement at the heart of her book. Exploring the Literature of Fact includes annotated book lists, emphasis on multicultural titles, teaching tips, glimpses inside classrooms, and samples of student work. The book consists of six chapters: Chapter 1, Exploring the Nonfiction Genre; Chapter 2, Choosing Nonfiction Trade Books; Chapter 3, Bringing Nonfiction into the Classroom; Chapter 4, Helping Students Read Nonfiction Strategically; Chapter 5, Guiding Student Response to Nonfiction; and Chapter 6, Content Area Learning through Nonfiction.

The book begins with a detailed discussion about the various aspects of the genre and the ways in which nonfiction can complement textbooks. Moss describes the limitations of textbooks, reminding readers that although teachers rely on them heavily, they often contain inaccuracies, outdated material, poor organization, limited information and dull text. With such limited textbooks, Moss suggests that teachers turn to nonfiction trade books as they offer several advantages: userfriendly styles, in-depth information about topics, accurate information, and lively prose that motivate readers. Moss claims the nonfiction genre has changed drastically over the last twenty years, rendering it more appealing to students and useful to teachers than ever before. Dividing the nonfiction genre into two types of books, informational and biography, Moss defines the various forms the two types of nonfiction take. For example, informational books can come in the form of concept books, nature identification books, photographic essays, and craft and how-to books, while biographies may be classified as "cradle to the grave" biographies, partial biographies, single biographies, collective biographies or autobiographies.

A significant aspect of the first chapter is the discussion of available multicultural nonfiction. In subsections labeled African and African Americans, Asian and Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos and Latino Americans, Moss examines literature by and about each cultural group. Although there are significant titles included in each subsection, the discussion reveals the dearth of nonfiction works by and about people of color being published despite the outcry for quality multicultural literature for use in school settings today.

The real strength of the book is the description of classroom activities and lesson plans that Moss says have been "field-tested in classrooms either by [her] or by classroom teachers [she has] worked with over the years" (p. vu). A number of these activities are found in Chapters 3 through 5. In Chapter 3, Moss suggests practical ways teachers can make nonfiction titles a part of classroom instruction through: read-alouds, book talks, displays, sustained silent reading, nonfiction author studies, and technology-the World Wide Web and television. …


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