Monday, January 16, 2012

Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge

Last week I read Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca to my class.  Before I began the story I asked my students if they had ever heard of the Apollo moon missions.  Only 1 student had any prior knowledge of this historic event!  I was shocked and saddened!  How could this be?  The Apollo missions were and are a most sacred memory for me.  My dad would wake me early in the morning so I could watch the rockets launch on television. As a child growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I visited the Museum of Science and Industry and Adler Planetarium many times, but remember being so excited for a special exhibition that had a real moon rock!  I was 9 years old when Neil Armstrong spoke those historic words, "This is one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."  A couple of years ago I finally got to visit the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.  When I got to the Apollo display it was so emotional for me that I had tears in my eyes!

Watch a book trailer for Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11.

What does this story have to do with the Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge?  This experience and other's like it have got me thinking about why readers choose non-fiction and how they choose it.

I chose to read this book to my class because the basket with all the planet books is very popular with my students.  My students love reading about planets and are especially knowledgeable about Pluto and its recent demotion from "planet status" to "dwarf planet".  But mostly I think I chose this book because I love the topic and this book.  I wanted to share this with my students.  So after I got over myself, I realized that my students background knowledge was different than mine because they had different experiences than I, and that was okay.  Imagine, they weren't even born yet on 9/11.  And their parents probably weren't alive for the Apollo missions either!  I needed to get some perspective!  But I also realized that it is important as a classroom teacher and reading role model that I continue sharing books about topics I love.  After all, I do the same thing with my fiction books.  I get all excited when I share a favorite author or book.  My students know I love Patricia Polacco and that sometimes her stories make me cry.  

It is often difficult to get my students to read non-fiction that doesn't involve animals or planets.  Mostly, I think this is because they have limited background knowledge about many subjects and like many readers they prefer to read about subjects that interest them.  So I know I have to find more ways to get them to read other topics in non-fiction.  One way to do that is to read more non-fiction to them!  I don't read nearly enough non-fiction and when I do I realize it is usually tied into the content areas.  In recent years the amount of non-fiction picture books that are well written and beautifully illustrated seems to have exploded.  So, there are no excuses.  Non-fiction books can provide us a sense of who we are and how we are connected to the world. Non-fiction can connect us to the past and help us understand the present.  I need to read more non-fiction simply because it is enjoyable and can open up my students' eyes to the world around them.  Hopefully this will build their background knowledge and introduce them to new topics that they will fall in love with too.

To help me meet my goal of reading more non-fiction to my students I have decided to participate in the 2012 Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge that  Kid Lit Frenzy and Non-Fiction Book Detectives blogs are hosting this year. I follow both of these blogs and get tons of book ideas for my classroom from these sites. 

Here are my goals for the challenge;

1. I will read at least 4 new non-fiction books each month.  These books might be newly published or just books that are new to me.

2. I will post my reviews on this blog.

Want to learn more about the Apollo Missions, the moon and our universe?

The AAAS Science Netlinks has Lunar Cycle lesson plans that includes a hands-on activity modeling the phases of the moon with a light.  There are directions for observing the moon and background information for teachers.  There are nice interactive activities with printable calendars and worksheets.  My class observes the moon for a month.  I give each student a calendar with the moonrise and moonset times because on some nights the moon rises after their bedtime and they observe it in the morning!  I assign table teams different nights for moon observations and they give a report the following morning.

The AAAS Science Netlinks also has a lesson, called The Moon, which is centered around Frank Asch books.  What I really like about this lesson is that it has a link to Birthday Moons, where students identify and graph the moon phase of their birthdays.  There is also a link to Virtual Moon Phases, if you can't observe the moon directly.

Astronomy Picture of the Day: Each day a photograph or image of our universe is posted by NASA with a brief explanation written by an astronomer.  Share the wonders of our universe with your students!  Don't be intimidated by the science!  Be excited and curious!

The Space Place is a wonderful sight filled with interactive games, videos and other activities about the solar system.

NASA has whole section dedicated to the Apollo Missions including photos, audio and video.


  1. Thanks Debra for participating. Looking forward to your reviews.

  2. Hi,
    I just wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the Top 10 Blog Award. Stop by my blog to check it out.