I love to read nonfiction. There are so many fascinating books that fit that category. Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand was one of my favorites a few years ago. It was a great read about an amazing horse. Recently I read The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby. The story about this horrible disease drew me in. I found it a real page-turner. In my book group I’m the one known for choosing nonfiction books. But–and there is always a “but” isn’t there–here’s my concern. Are we already letting that perpetual pendulum swing too far from fiction when it comes to the classroom?
Will kids take any joy out of reading if all they read is nonfiction? You won’t get any argument from me that the skills that one uses in nonfiction reading carry over to everyday life. Recipes, directions, street signs, nutrition labels, and the list of what we read daily goes on. But how much joy is there in that? Yes, the books I mentioned were wonderful, but they were narrative nonfiction and told a story. They read like novels. That’s not the case for much of the nonfiction reading that kids do.
I think we need to be careful with kids and allow them to read lots and lots of fiction. Otherwise what happens to their imaginations and their capacity for dreaming? Where will inspiration from fictional characters such as spunky girls and adventurous boys be found? What about those who like, or even need, to escape into a book find their routes into them? As good as nonfiction can be, it’s rather difficult to use it as escapism.
Can we find the right balance? Can we teach the skills but give children the opportunity to be immersed in the world of fiction? Can we not do what we so often do in education, throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater?
How are you tackling this dilemma?