Monday, March 12, 2012

More Thoughts on Poetry in Nonfiction

Since my last post – an interview with Laura Purdie Salas author of A Leaf Can Be -- I can’t stop thinking about poetry in nonfiction. Not that poetry is categorized as nonfiction, but that poetic language and verse are used to convey factual information. Salas does a wonderful job capturing the many occupations of a leaf in her rolling rhyming scheme, but many other writers use free verse and lyrical prose in much the same way. An Egg is Quiet comes to mind, and Nicola Davies’s Bat Loves the Night. On her website, Davies says, “Writing picture books is like doing very difficult yoga for your brain! Everything you want to say must be fitted into a small number of words, and those words have to sound lovely when they are read aloud. It’s more like writing a poem than a book; every word has to earn its keep and be put in exactly the right place.”

I like that – lovely words in exactly the right places.

As I was doing a little surfing about nonfiction and poetry I came across a couple of interesting sites. The first is an article called “Making Time for Nonfiction Read Alouds” by Franki Siberson.

As a writer I think it is important to know what librarians and teachers think about our work. Siberson noticed that she rarely read nonfiction out loud to the children, and made a concerted effort to pull in more nonfiction so kids would hear all sorts of writing and enjoy all sorts of writing. She gives a nice list of different kinds of nonfiction that she likes to read to her class.

The second site I came upon bothered me. It is at Studyzone, and is a test prep quiz. “Let’s practice deciding if what you hear is fiction or nonfiction.” This is the sentence that bugged me – “Remember, fiction is an entertaining, make-believe story that is not real; nonfiction is true information that gives you facts to explain something.” Huh!

So, nonfiction isn’t entertaining??? You can’t learn anything from fiction??? I know this is for small children, but do we really need to drive that wedge between pleasure and learning when it comes to reading and books?

The fiction example reads: “Sarah Jane is my cow. Last week she told me a story about how she got her blue spots…”

The nonfiction example is: “Cats make great pets and are easy to take care of. Cats need to be fed several times a day….”

But what if the passage read: Sarah Jane is my cat and I love to take care of her. Each morning when she hops on my bed, nuzzles my face and purrs in my ear, I know it’s time to feed her.

I thought the news about amazingly-written and enjoyable-to-read nonfiction was common knowledge, but I guess not. We still have more work to do.

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