Tag Archives: nonfiction

Shelfie Saturday: Nonfiction #ShelfieShare

shelfieAs a young reader, I was a library-only kinda girl.  I browsed the mystery, fiction, and teen sections looking for distinctive spines–ones that had a pink “Classics” sticker, or an orange “Award-Winner” sticker, or a blue “Librarian’s Choice.”  These little guides led me to Jane Austen, Matthew Quick, and John Grisham, whose spines were not only colorful with library stickers but also well-worn from the hands of readers.

The thing about those spines was that none of them were in the nonfiction section, which loomed large with encyclopedias, reference books, and lots of sections about science, technology, or car repair.  Being a middle schooler who didn’t know about the Dewey Decimal System, I had no idea how to find interesting biographies, beautiful memoirs, or fascinating historical accounts.

Now that I’ve begun to love nonfiction and learn a lot from it, I’ve tried to simplify the search for great true stories in my classroom library.  We have one Nonfiction shelf and two Memoir & Biography shelves.  I try to keep collections, histories, and statistics-into-stories books all together on the Nonfiction shelf, while I move the stories of people’s lives onto the M&B shelves below it.  Sometimes the titles that belong on the Nonfiction shelf wind up on the Award Winners, Unique Teens, or Death & Dying shelves–because I love to mix true and imaginary stories in our library when they share themes.


You can see that our shelf is varied–topics range from sports to how the mind works to humor.  Some authors are dominant–Jon Krakauer, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink–but others are one-hit wonders whose titles are very popular–Mary Roach, Michael Lewis, Dave Cullen.  Their respective Stiff, Moneyball, and Columbine are three of my library’s most popular titles.

Our nonfiction shelf is also the home of the “Best American” series, which includes topics such as science, travel, and sports writing, but also a collection of simply “essays” from each year.  This series is a fabulous way to find a huge variety of good nonfiction mentor texts when students are doing informational or persuasive writing–there is always something to match any student’s interest.

This shelf is an eye-level shelf for good reason.  Students who wouldn’t normally gravitate toward the nonfiction genre find their eyes caught by interesting covers, titles, or topics–such as Missoula and It’s Not About the Truth, both of which deal with college rape culture, or The Sociopath Next Door, which attracts all my Sherlock fans, or Lost in the Meritocracy, which gives both motivated and disengaged students much to consider.  Once students discover this shelf, they often move toward the Memoir & Biography or Award-Winners shelves, which contain more sophisticated nonfiction structures.

I encourage all teachers of literature to build up their nonfiction shelves–their titles have much to teach our students.

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

315425I grew up as a reader, but I was a steadfast reader of fiction only–especially series.  I remember receiving my PSAT score report in high school, which strongly suggested that I begin reading more nonfiction in order to improve my vocabulary and reading comprehension.

So, not being informed about the wonderful nonfiction tomes I now know about, I began to read the newspaper.  That probably contributed to my majoring in journalism, and now teaching that subject in addition to English.

But it wasn’t until I took Penny Kittle’s class at the UNH Literacy Institute in 2013 that I fell in love with nonfiction (pardon me, Mr. Lehman and Ms. Roberts!).  I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and was enamored of his use of narrative to help me understand seemingly disparate facts.  I quickly read all of Gladwell’s other books, then devoured the rest of the booklist from Penny’s class–The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, and plenty more.

However, it’s not since Gladwell that I’ve found another nonfiction author whose collected works I’m dying to devour…until now.

I recently asked my students to brainstorm as many nonfiction genres as they could, then select three for us to focus on for this quarter.  One of their selections was a recipe.  I wanted to show my students lots of examples of writing about food, so I purchased Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.  I picked up In Defense of Food first, and was left defenseless.

This book rocked my world, and my worldview.  It’s a book about the food we eat, where it comes from, how it’s different than other cultures’ foods, and how it’s good and bad for us.  I learned about the wild inaccuracies of food science, the nutrient-depleting process of processing food, and the government’s allowance of all this because of their dependence on food marketers’ money.  I also learned about the evolution of America’s food culture–from farm fresh to TV dinner to fast food–and its deleterious health effects on our population.

So, after Pollan sufficiently freaked me out and made me swear to myself that I’d never eat any processed food again in my life, he presented a clear solution to my fretting and outlined some rules for eating healthily (the subtitled Eater’s Manifesto).  I learned how to shop smart, defy the American diet’s unhealthy customs, and consider my foods in the contexts of their meals, which can completely transform their nutritional value.

It wasn’t just the topic that fascinated me (admittedly, I love to cook)…it was the writing.  From knee-slappingly incredible food puns like “let them eat Twinkies” and “the silence of the yams” to his deft skill at citing other writing to support his own arguments, I was convinced.  The clear organization of the book mirrors his three basic rules about eating well, which he states in sentence number one:  “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  The complex narrative he weaves makes perfect sense, but is incredibly layered.  Through it all, Pollan made his claims and supported them sturdily, leaving me not only swept up in a great story, but thoroughly knowledgeable about what real food is and isn’t in America today.

I can’t wait to bring this book to my students through book clubs, a reading challenge, or a craft study mini-lesson…so I’ll booktalk it tomorrow to my Funyun-munching students with as much fire and brimstone as I can manage, and hope they hop on the Pollan diet with me.

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