Nonfiction for Children: Interest, Information, or Indoctrination?
John Beach, Department of Human Services and Counseling, The School of Education
The literacy performance of fifteen-year-olds in the United States is now lower than that of all other English-speaking countries in the world, and below that of countries such as Finland and South Korea (PISA). Nationally, fourth- and eighth-grade students continue to perform quite poorly, especially in higher level thinking and performance on nonfiction reading (NAEP). Part of the problem appears to be the neglect of nonfiction reading skills which is exacerbated by lack of motivation to read nonfiction texts. A study was conducted to identify how children’s access to nonfiction and adult attitudes toward nonfiction might impact these findings. Adults and children diverge significantly in their recommendations of nonfiction books. An analysis of nonfiction books from the annual American Library Association Notable Children’s Books, National Council of Teachers of English Orbis Pictus Outstanding Nonfiction Award, and International Reading Association Children’s Choices revealed significant divergences for topics, authors, and child-friendliness (1990 to 2008). Many of the nonfiction titles recommended by adults promote social activist agendas whose appropriateness for younger audiences is debatable. Children’s publishing appears to favor established curriculum links rather than providing books that address children’s personal interests. This results in much duplication of established topics and the narrowing of knowledge to sanctioned standards, as well as discouraging the independent reading of nonfiction for pleasure which sustains literacy development and success. In light of the mergers that have reduced the number of publishers currently operating, the Internet may be the only hope for children to access information that truly addresses their interests, curiosity, and need for developing reading skill in the nonfiction arena. Confidence in reading nonfiction is far more closely linked to success in workplace literacy than the traditional school emphasis on fiction.