“I like adventures. Not atlases!” was my 11-year-old nephew’s reaction to recent probing by this auntie of his reading habits.
I should have known better. Anthony Horowitz warned in a recent interview about the perils of “auntie’s choice” when it comes to what kids read: “Children choose the books they want to read. Children’s books belong to children; they’re not something that your auntie picks out for you at Christmas any more.”
And of course said nephew is a big Alex Rider fan. But perhaps I could persuade him to broaden out into the world of non-fiction if Anthony Horowitz follows through on a suggestion that came up at the Battle of Ideas festival. When an audience member raised the question of non-fiction for children, Anthony responded that he had long considered writing something for children about the Trojan wars or perhaps even biography. Excited by the prospect? You betcha. And it brought back all the non-fiction books which formed part of my childhood reading.
That is the beginning of Shirley Dent‘s lovely recollection of her own childhood reading of nonfiction and fiction. I have to confess to having been a narrative girl — be it Helen Keller’s autobiography, a book on Albert Schweitzer, or one of those Childhood of Famous Americans (don’t worry, I know they are faction) — I liked my facts presented as story. I can’t remember any books of the sort Shirley describes, but I suspect I read them too just as she did, right next to the stories I was also reading.
These days my students, like the above-referenced-nephew, gravitate to fiction, but I do see them with nonfiction as well — biographies of real-life folks that interest them (sports, entertainment, and history personalities), weird fact collections, and quirky books of all sorts. A couple of years ago I had a student who read avidly only the Horrible Histories books. And this year the compendium book Show Off is captivating them. Yesterday one of my 4th grade boys took it home for the weekend. For two 6th grade girls’ take go here and here.