Today is St. Patrick’s Day, which is an official feast day in Ireland, and is a celebration of Irish culture all over the world. Other than everything green, St. Patrick’s Day can be celebrated by learning a little more about what’s behind all those shamrocks and leprechauns.
Information books, also known as non-fiction, are an often underused category of children’s literature, which is unfortunate because there is a plethora of well written and engaging information books available to youth. One important reason to try to expand your knowledge of non-fiction is the appeal these books hold for boys. In 2005, Lee Galda, a professor of children’s literature at the University of Minnesota was quoted about the worth of nonfiction in the Washington Post (Strauss, p. A12):
A lot of teachers think of reading as reading stories. And in fact, a lot of boys, and not just boys, like nonfiction. But we keep concentrating on novels or short stories and sometimes don’t think of reading nonfiction as reading. But in fact it is, and it is extremely important.
This is not new information. In 1998, author and teacher Stephanie Harvey published Nonfiction Matters: Reading, Writing, and Research in Grades 3-8. This text is designed for teachers to integrate more nonfiction into their classrooms and to pay attention to the power of nonfiction, which “demands that learners select a real topic that interests them” (Harvey, 1998, p. 4). It also demands that there are good topics of interest available that are well written and researched.
So, back to St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland. One of the premiere nonfiction authors for is Susan Campbell Bartoletti. This award winning nonfiction author penned Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850, an amazing information book that is ideal for middle grade readers and us is about the potato famine that, among other things, caused a wave of Irish immigration to the United States. Other great information books about St. Patrick’s Day and Irish culture include:
- Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of the St. Patrick’s Day Symbols by Edna Barth. This is a great start into the history of the holiday and what all the symbols actually mean.
- The Story of St. Patrick’s Day by Patricia A. Pingry is a board book designed for much younger readers with similar information as the Barth text.
- Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola featuress his signature artistic style and tells the story of the man behind the holiday.
- Ireland (A to Z) by Justine Fontes introduces younger readers to everything Ireland and includes an index of Gaelic words to help children really understand Irish language and culture.
Of course nonfiction isn’t the only way to educate children about Ireland and St. Patrick’s day. There a number of great folktales from Ireland as well as great early readers, picture books, and fiction stories, but today I thought nonfiction deserved some focus.
To check out great information books for children on any topic, check out the Sibert Informational Book Medal winner and honor books awarded by the ALSC or the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children, which is awarded by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). It should be noted that Bartoletti has won both of these awards for Black Potatoes and has been honored by both for other information books. If you find book you really enjoy, check out what else they have written. Once bitten by the nonfiction bug, authors tend to write a lot of books about many topics. Once you’re bitten, you’ll want to read and share many of them.
Go gcuire Dia an t-ádh ort! (Best of luck to you!)
Harvey, S. (1998). Nonfiction matters: Reading, writing, and research in grades 3-8. York, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Strauss, V. (2005, March 15). Educators differ on why boys lag in reading: Gap stokes debate over teaching approaches, curricula. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35057-2005Mar14.html